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Lanes Restaurant - in the City

Clifford Mould checked out this newish City slicker

If you're interested in bloodstock and the rearing of competition horses, you look at their bloodlines. At  Lanes Restaurant in the City, both the management and the NZ born chef Hayden Smith are out of Quo Vadis by Marco Pierre White. I'm sure Marco would relish the analogy between himself and a top stallion, for his progeny are running successful restaurants all round the capital and beyond. A word of warning: don't muddle this Lanes with the Lanes Restaurant at the Four Seasons on Park Lane. The latter is one of the best of London's new generation of contemporary hotel dining rooms. For our many overseas readers, we should explain that "the City" refers specifically to the old "square mile", the centre of finance, as opposed to  the "West End", where most restaurants and theatres are located.

Lanes in the City has a comfortable bar area with the obligatory deep leather sofas - you half expect to find the cast of Friends chilling out over a Tequila, or sipping one of a whole raft of different vodkas, or nibbling on the attractive selection of bar food to keep the wolf from the door. We made ourselves comfortable in the restaurant, where simple white napery contrasted with the old photographs of metropolitan life.

As modern menus go there's a fair range to choose from, with seven Starters, or ten if you count pasta dishes of which two were in fact risotto. My friend went for the smoked goose breast, which was presented like a carpaccio with a balsamic reduction and nicely roasted vegetables, but with rather too oily salad leaves.  I liked the sound of Bouillabaisse with Cod Ravioli, but decided to put the Risotto of Cod Brandade to the test. I'm glad I did - the risotto was as good as it gets, with creamy but slightly crunchy rice and delicious flakes of not too salty cod providing the necessary variance in texture.

From the mains we had a choice of salmon, halibut, snapper, trout, or scallops and prawns. The early May weather being more reminiscent of November, we decided on meat, sadly rejecting braised pork belly, seared rib-eye and roast duck in favour of lamb and guinea fowl. The lamb came in two mighty pieces that might well have defeated lesser mortals, but not my policeman guest who had spent the day not pounding the City streets, but lecturing at City University about fraud - plus ça change! The lamb came on a caponata of caramelised root vegetables, and the meat was perfectly cooked with a delicious stuffing. Similarly advanced meat preparation skills had been applied to the Guinea Fowl which had been expertly boned out and stuffed with a mousseline of itself and mushrooms. The flavours of the funghi and the truffled sauce lubricating the bed of tagliatelli and purple broccoli were intense. These two dishes were both satisfying and interesting, showing off the kitchen brigade's expertise to great advantage.

Puddings nearly defeated us, but when they arrived, appetite revived and we cleaned our plates. A caramelised banana crème brulée arrived with the fruit and the custard wisely separated on the plate and had my friend in ecstasy. The quince crumble intrigued me. Where had the quinces come from? This aromatic relative of the pear is in season from early Autumn. Well never mind, this was a triumph and like all such dishes I rushed home to try it out. Hayden told me to bake off the crumble in a tray on its own, that way you avoid soggy crumble - his was almost like crushed biscuits. The whole thing came in a filo case and the soft fruit with its very particular flavour was quite memorable. If you can't find quinces, use apples mingled with some finely sliced dried apricots.

We drank a bottle of one of my favourite Beaujolais wines, the Morgon from Domaine Jean Descombes. On the short but well chosen list you could find  Mad Fish from Margaret River, both Semillon Sauvignon and Pinot Noir; Stump Jump White d’Arenberg; and Tignanello as well as Champagne, Port and dessert wines. The service was first rate - having the owners working on front of house makes a real difference to the motivation of the staff.

It doesn't seem that long ago that the City was a bit of a gastronomic desert. The mad rush of taxis to the West End before lunch is now a thing of the past, and Lanes is yet another manifestation of a welcome trend. Lunchtime is their busiest time, so expect no promotional menus then, but instead try the supper menu, 2 courses for £15, or three for £20.50, with all dishes except one stolen from the a la carte menu.

Clifford Mould May 2004

The cost of our meal: £105.36 including G&Ts before, the bottle of Morgon at £22.50, three courses each from the carte, two espresso coffees and 12.5% service.

Lanes is open Monday to Friday for lunch (12noon to 3pm) and dinner (5.30pm – 10pm). The bar is open 12noon – 11pm.  Private events can be held in the Board Room by arrangement, and the whole venue is a popular location for private parties on Saturdays when a late licence is available until 2am. 

Lanes Restaurant & Bar, East India House, 109-117 Middlesex Street, London E1
Tel: 020 7247 5050.

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

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