Old Compton Street is the epicentre of gay life in London’s Soho, a perfect place to watch all manner of queer goings on. In September last year, the street welcomed a new all-day eatery in the form of Old Compton Brasserie, which offers casual, cosy and well-priced dining for a break from the bustle, every day until late.
Visiting with a friend for a pre-theatre dinner, I’m glad to escape the drizzle and dreariness of an autumnal afternoon and step into the bohemian wonderland created by Grapes Design.
Warm light floods the lofty space, exposed brick walls reveal some of the building’s history, and pop art pieces depict some of Soho’s most famous (or infamous) socialites.
The large horse-shoe bar (with several dapper barmen, I notice) is a central focus wherever you’re sat — whether in a plush red-leather booth, around one of the marble-topped, copper-trimmed smaller tables, or up high on the mezzanine level.
The food menu is thankfully not overwhelmingly extensive (a few dishes done well, but still causes a little consternation when deciding what to opt for).
Luckily, there’s no rush as we happily sip a cocktail from an illustrated ‘Faces of Soho’ menu that includes the Francis Bacon (Tanqueray, Martini Rosso, Cynar and Pedro Ximinez), Ronnie Scott (Courvoisier VS, Macallan, agave and chocolate bitters), and Bernie Katz (Tanqueray, raspberry Eau de Vie, almond and lemon juice), which catches my eye and proves just the right balance of sweet and tart.
There’s only one choice for my Venezuelan companion though: the Ruby Venezuela (Ciroc berry vodka, rhubarb and apple juice, rhubarb tea and Prosecco), named after the late drag performer who was artistic director of Madame Jo Jo’s and used to host shows that would involve 15 costume changes a night.
I almost suggest we try and have one cocktail for each costume change to honour her, but decide the sugar rush might cause a heart attack.
With a little help from our server, we finally order starters and mains. I opt for a kedgeree scotch egg with curried mayonnaise to begin with, and then the Pigs in Blankets, with buttered mash and onion gavy, and a sharing side of buttered green veg.
The scotch egg is — for this northern, meat-eating boy at least — a perfect entrée, delicately spiced and with a slightly runny yolk. The sausages and mash defeat me slightly, but I chomp through most of it and the bangers are, well, bangin’.
On the other side of the table, chicken liver parfait arrives first, followed by an Onglet steak, with sweet potato puree, walnuts, spring onion and capers.
I’d never normally be hankering after steak of any kind, but the way it’s presented and the fact that my friend is so effusive in his praise when our server checks on us (I almost ask “U ok hun?”), prompts me to make a mental note to try it on a future visit.
Swigging the last glasses of a bottle of French white wine, dessert is a sharing showstopper: a mammoth berry pavlova with white chocolate sauce.
As a notorious chocolate fiend, the chocolate orange mousse with mango sorbet was calling to me, but it’s amazing how much a recommendation from a cute waiter can change one’s mind… Layers of chewy meringue, tangy fruit and rich cream end the Old Compton Brasserie experience in indulgent fashion. For now…