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Paternoster Chop House, London EC1

Conran hits the spot again - and Clifford goes back for seconds!

As I arrived in Paternoster Square, under the shadow of St Paul's, the Cathedral's bells were going full ding dong - a wild anarchic clangour that echoed around the modern buildings, challenging their contemporary conformity, emphasising in sound the contrast between  the geometrical symmetry of office windows with the Baroque curlicues of Wren's masterpiece. Sir Terence Conran knows a thing or two about design, though I suspect that even he would neither expect nor wish to be compared with Wren - his spatial world is a different one, where utilitarian functionality becomes handsome in its own right. Very Sophoclean, that. Those gleaming kitchens, exposed at one end of a dining room, with grills that spout orange flames alongside a cornucopia of shellfish on ice, have become a restaurant cliché. But, hang on, it was the Conran team who were the leaders of the modern (London) restaurant revolution in the early nineteen-nineties. If others chose to imitate, then it is they who made it a cliché. I liked this airy dining room with its rich leather seating, slate floors and simple oak tables

What Conran also manages to do, is to chime in with the mood of the moment. The trend is moving away from the fancy, back towards a more robust style of cooking, using well sourced local ingredients. That's fine if you live in the country, but don't worry, London has good markets and suppliers and Chef Peter Weedon at The Paternoster Chop House has gone to great trouble to find fresh fish from daily catches off the South Coast, suckling pig from Lancashire, oysters from West Mersea and from Loch Fyne, while the 42 day dry aged sirloin steak was the centrepiece of my guest's dinner. This being the game season, I was delighted to find pigeon, partridge and pheasant on this menu which changes daily according to market availability.

Peter Weedon has gone back to archival recipes in his quest for authenticity, so the emphasis is on grills and roasts as well as traditional British favourites such as potted veal, Barnsley chop, steak and kidney pudding, fish pie, and rice pudding (with baked damsons). We started with Brundish onion tart, a Suffolk version of quiche that had miraculously creamy custard embedded with well caramelised onion and a good crisp pastry base. I had grilled breast of wood pigeon with pickled girolles which were just piquant enough without masking their fungal delicacy. The waiter warned me that the pigeon breast would be pink. The bird seemed to have recently had a blood transfusion, which is OK by me, but why do waiters have to issue such warnings more as a challenge: "It comes pink, sir - (and don't even dream of asking for it medium let alone well done)"?

My main course was a brilliantly executed stuffed pig's trotter: braised in red wine, bones removed, then stuffed with the edible parts of itself enhanced with chicken mousseline. It was served on a bed of champ (mashed potato and green stuff) with a delicious thick gravy. My plate went back to the kitchen clean. The properly aged sirloin from Glen Fyne had that taste of beef that's like no other. How often is meat just a bland vehicle for a cunning sauce? This was simply grilled and had the true flavour of the Highlands. We shared both a side order of roast parsnips and a companionable silence as we munched our way thoughtfully through this admirable provender. 

Returned for seconds

True to my word, I went back again because I wanted to try the steak and kidney pudding. I wasn't disappointed - the meat was tender, the kidney/steak ratio was perfect and the suet crust was light and fluffy. It comes served as an individual pudding encircled by a rich gravy, but there are no accompanying vegetables so you need a couple of side orders bringing the cost of the dish to £21.50 which is perhaps a little excessive for such homely fare. 

To start I tried the oysters - very sea-fresh and properly presented on a bed of ice. To finish - rice pud - no nutmeg flavoured skin, but very creamy and perked up with delicious damson confit

This has been my favourite restaurant of the month.  

Puddings are also traditional: my friend enjoyed the "Cambridge burnt cream", invented at Trinity College, and from whom the French got the idea of crème brûlée, or so the legend goes.  I was pleased to see quince on the menu, combined with apple in a crumble which was nice, but would have been even better with proper custard instead of clotted cream which was a unit of cholesterol too far. Next time I shall try to leave room for the sloe gin and Banbury cake - you can't get more English than that.

The wine list is very comprehensive, with wines ranging from a petit chateau Bordeaux at £15.00 to Haut Brion 1982 at £500.00. I was sad to see not a single English wine in this otherwise very English restaurant, but we greatly enjoyed a Portuguese red wine from the marvellous estate of Quinto do Crasto at the very affordable price of £21.00. 

This is a restaurant I could go back to time and time again, there are so many classics on the menu that I'd like to try. In spite of having opened only one month earlier, the place was almost full on a midweek evening. The location is good, and the service (apart from that bloody warning!) was excellent.    

Clifford Mould November 2004

The Paternoster Chop House, Warwick Court, Paternoster Square, London EC4

Tel:  020 7029 9400 Fax: 020 7029 9409 www.conran.com

Starters under £10.00; Grills and mains £15.00 - £20.00; Puddings £5.50
Open Monday to Friday for elevenses, lunch and dinner

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


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