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Bond's Restaurant and Bar, EC2

Michael Pelham discovers a young Serbian Chef who really knows how to cook

In the old days, eating in the City used to mean lunch, (for nothing was open for dinner then), at a chop-house or a pub or in one of the few City clubs. Unless, of course one was being entertained, in an elegant and leisurely way in the private dining-room of the Chairman of some great commercial enterprise.  London has long been a tale of two cities and I am referring, of course, to the City of London, the square mile of the commercial centre, where the Romans built their walls, and not to the City of Westminster.

All that has changed.  The private dining-rooms remain, but lunch in the City now is brisk and often alcohol free, at least for the hosts.  City workers who seek lunch away from the office can now choose between a great variety of attractive restaurants, wine and coffee and sandwich bars, often comfortably furnished with arm chairs and with newspapers provided, as an alternative to sitting up at the bar.

In the evenings, too, life has changed.  Hotels and restaurants have opened up within the square mile and places like Smithfield are full of attractive bars and restaurants which are often buzzing until mid-night.  Even at week-ends now, when the City used to be a ghost town, there is still much activity and, apart from food, there is often splendid music to be heard, often free of charge, in some of the beautiful City churches.

Bond's at 5 Threadneedle Street is one of those contributing to this transformation.  This elegant hotel, wine bar and restaurant is a stone's throw from the Old Lady herself.  (The Bank of England has  long been known as "The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street). Incidentally, the Bank of England was one of the few places where, if one was fortunate, one could dine in the City.  The officer of the guard, provided by the Brigade of Guards who used to protect the bank at night, could invite one or two guests to dine with him in the Bank's own mess room.  Those days are long past and it is no longer thought necessary to have soldiers on guard at the bank.

You enter Bond's by a corner door which looks like the entrance to a bank (which it probably was) and find yourself in an elegant, high ceilinged room, now a wine bar, with fine Corinthian pillars but, in contrast, elegant modern tables, attractive discreet lighting and comfortable chairs, as well as a bar.  At 8.30 pm it was full, cheerfully noisy and animated and was still quite busy at 11.00 pm when we later emerged from dinner.

Beyond the bar is a dining-room, with the same interesting contrast between Victorian grandeur and post-modern chic.  The wine glasses, peppers and salts and unusual napkin holders on the table and the spectacular scarlet gerberas in huge vases all make an excellent first impression, as do the attentive and chatty waiters and waitresses who seem to come from a wide cross section of western and eastern Europe.   The young chef, Tom Ilic, is from Serbia (via The New End in Hampstead) and is full of interesting views and ideas and has created an unusual and attractive menu.

The menu is short - six starters and six main courses - which is fine, unless one has too many no-go areas (garlic and vinegar, for instance).  A good point was that our friendly Portuguese waiter was able instantly to answer authoritatively and with enthusiastic interest our questions about the various dishes - a notable plus. The braised pig's cheeks and chorizo, with garlic and parsley mash was different and pronounced excellent and tender and full of flavour.  It was attractively and artistically served with a baton of crackling on top, with a wonderful jus. Later we learned from the chef that it took some four hours to make.  This was serious cooking.  The foie gras terrine with fig marmalade and brioche was perhaps a less adventurous choice but had the authentic goose liver flavour and the figs were an unusual and agreeable addition. The bread was interesting: green olive and coriander, and mixed seeds - served with different olive oils. A complimentary and pleasing addition was a small cup of white onion soup with chervil oil.  It was delicious - a great flavour, nicely seasoned and a good texture.

For a main course, my companion had seared diver caught scallops, veal sweetbreads and kidney, pea velouté.  I have to say that I am not absolutely certain that I can tell the difference between diver and net caught molluscs, but doubtless the subtlety is there.  "Spear caught" fish is acclaimed - superior by inference to all other methods - although I think that I shall personally continue to try and attract salmon and trout with a wet or dry fly.  However caught, the scallops were tender, quite large and delicious, served with no coral, the sweetbreads and kidney were cooked beautifully and the pea velouté was a good added flavour.  It was a fine creation.

Rather than a main course, I had a second first course (having had a substantial City luncheon).  It was Cannelloni of suckling pig, sautéed langoustines, with home made ketchup, delightfully served in its own little nest of a hollowed-out onion.  I need not have worried that it would be too slight: it was quite substantial and more than filled the available gap. Again, an imaginative and attractive combination.  Pasta can be an excellent vehicle for good sauces, such as wild boar or, in this case, suckling pig.

Other first courses available included Cornish crab with gaspacho vinaigrette; lobster carpaccio, caviar, avocado relish, tomato essence; beetroot cured wild sea trout, mackerel tartare, horse radish crème fraiche. Other main courses included John Dory with frog legs fricots and wild garlic cream; poached monkfish tail and crepinette of Squab pigeon with seared tuna nicoise. A good looking vegetarian menu is available.

There is an attractive dessert list.  I had a bitter chocolate fondant with passion fruit sorbet, which was outstanding.  My companion had a remarkable mini baked Alaska with roast plums and almond and amoretto ice cream, also delicious.  Calvados and Granny Smith bavarois with apple and fennel purée, or cheese, were also available.

Coffee and assorted teas out of a charming art deco teapot, concluded an unusual and excellent dinner.

I have not so far mentioned wines.  Bond's have a good and varied list from traditional and New World countries.  They carry for the most part quite a hefty mark-up, but there are modest wines, for instance a Pays d'Oc and a house Chardonnay at a very reasonable £13.50.  For the braver, there are, for instance, a Chateau Lamarque '97 at £47, a Volnay 1er Cru '97 at £62.50 and Gevrey Chambertin at £94.   In the white corner, a Sancerre 2000 is £28 and the St Aubin '99 £56.50.  The house champagne is £35 or, for Flaming Ferraris, when good bonuses return, the Roederer Cristal sells at £380 and the Chateau Lafleur Pomerol '85 at £1.175.  There are plenty of very acceptable and reasonably priced wines by the (large) glass, (£4.75 to £9) including some good dessert wines which are also available in half bottles.

First courses cost from about £9 to £15.  Main courses are from about £18 to £23.  There is a two course set lunch for £23.50 which, for this standard of cooking, is good value.

It was an excellent evening in agreeable, spacious surroundings.  The atmosphere at lunch time (they are always fully booked) is of course more animated and time pressured, but in the evenings there is still plenty of life, with more time and space to enjoy it. And it is nice to go home past the Mansion House and Christopher Wren's great masterpiece, St Paul's, both splendidly flood-lit.

Bond's Restaurant and Bar
5 Threadneedle Street, London EC2 

Tel: 0207 657 8088  

Michael Pelham, April 2003

Michael Pelham is Master of the Stationer's Company, one of the City of London's historic Livery Companies

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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