Shepherd’s in Westminster
In America, people like to joke about politicians and golf. The most important decisions, they say, are hammered out over 18 holes and away from the formalities of the office. We do things a little differently here, but the principle is the same. The infamous Blair-Brown deal, the conclusion of an immense leadership struggle that shaped this country for over a decade, was supposedly agreed during a meal in Islington and countless other pacts have been drawn out between courses. Ask any Westminster veteran about it and you’ll get a coy smile, the very same smile you’ll get if you ask them about Shepherd’s. This was once the kind of place where the fate of the country was decided over a nice glass of Tokaj and a spot of rice pudding, until it closed its doors in 2013.
Now Shepherd’s is back and hoping to court as much attention for the quality of its food as it did for the infamy of its clients. The interior has been transformed into a swirl of muted golds, greens and browns, mixing tradition and modernity into an elegant whole. The menu looks to do much the same: its dishes, based on traditional British cuisine, are given a little twist of something different.
A starter of venison tartare is simplicity itself, relying on the quality of the meat to carry the dish through. It does so admirably, its gamey notes combining wonderfully with the scattering of sorrel and blueberries that it’s served with. It’s followed by Thinly Sliced Scottish Scallops with pickled melon and tiny peaks of creamy ricotta. The melon is a particular treat. Its lightly pickled exterior provided just a moment of bitterness, contrasting beautifully with the sweet flavour within.
Impressed, we opted for fish again for the main course, choosing a simple Roast Cod Fillet. It was cooked to perfection, with tender flakes falling apart at the touch of a fork. Its delicate flavour was complemented beautifully by a rich and smoky spring vegetable minestrone. The steak that followed, served with crispy chips and a red wine sauce, was the only dish that didn’t quite live up to expectations. The meat itself was beautifully tender and flavoursome, but it came medium-rare, bordering on rare, despite us ordering it medium. The sauce wasn’t quite up to scratch either: thin and somewhat watery. In the end, we abandoned it altogether and paired the steak with a side of surprisingly tangy Cauliflower Cheese, whose texture and potency were better suited to this robust partner.
It was a momentary blip however, and we were soon back on track thanks to a superb Organic Peanut Parfait accompanied by a warm chocolate mousse. The latter stole the show through its sheer elegance: stunningly light in texture but maintaining an intense flavour so often missing in the bland, overly creamy concoctions that fall under the same name. Its ever so slightly bitter edge cut through the peanut beautifully, balancing the dish and stopping the sweet nut from cloying. An English Apple Crumble kept the good vibes flowing with its vibrant fruit filling, nestled beneath a thick crust of buttery topping, spiced with subtle touches of cinnamon and nutmeg. It might not have pushed any boundaries but the comforting familiarity was executed perfectly. A soft slick of milk ice cream added a certain creaminess to the dish, though its delicate flavour felt a little overwhelmed.
A bottle of 2012 Canneto Rosso di Montepulciano accompanied our meal, a berry-packed Italian red that worked well with the lightness of the fish and venison, just as advised by our waiter. This was indicative of the good service: the staff were charming and friendly, unobtrusive when necessary but not afraid to have an opinion when it counted.
With its menu of simple but deceptively delicious British food, this Westminster institution may very well be as famed for its food as it is for its politics. Given its reputation as a stalwart of the latter, we can think of no higher praise.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Daniel Masters
To book a table at Shepherd’s, Marsham Court, Marsham Street London SWIP 4LA, call 020 7834 9552 or visit here.