Tom Parker Bowles & Olly Smith: Mangiare fuori
Tom enjoys the unshowy confidence with classics on offer at the newest of old friends
Bloomsbury’s Café Deco: free of pomp, pretension and fuss
There’s a satisfying simplicity to everything at Café Deco, a small Bloomsbury restaurant where things are stripped back to their essence, free of pomp, pretension and fuss. The room, with its neat bar, colourful floor and vast picture windows, manages to be both functional and suffused with warmth. Just like the short, handsome menu, which skips across Europe with knowing aplomb.
Head chef Anna Tobias trained under Jeremy Lee, Ruthie Rogers and Margot Henderson, a blessed culinary trinity. And their influence looms large. Classic recipes, done well, with abundance and generosity. A square of pristine pissaladière, all caramelised onion, intense anchovy and flaky puff pastry, is as strident as it is satisfying, the sort of bracing bite that kick-starts the tastebuds and whisks one to sunnier climes. A devilled egg, heavy on the mayonnaise and cayenne, would make Satan smile, a British classic, immaculately done.
Good ingredients are taken for granted, rather than shouted about. There’s little need for breathless descriptions of breeding and provenance. Fidati di me, says Tobias, and we do. Charcuterie sees fatty, chewy coins of salami, and the sweetest culatello, cut thin as fluttering silk handkerchiefs. Squid and cuttlefish, immaculately fried, have crisp, golden crunch and that elusive whisper of sea. ‘Tastes like Italy,’ says my friend Matthew Fort. Fidati di me, that’s as exalted as his praise gets.
I eat beef stew and mash, superior spoon food, the softly trembling chunks of meat clad in a richly splendid sauce that would make Granny grin. Not a casserole, or a daube, rather old-fashioned, monosyllabic British stew, tinged with hoar frost and nostalgia, the sort of modest, self-effacing dish that shuns the limelight, but deserves the applause. Matthew’s partridge is equally unshowy, expertly roasted, with a pile of braised red cabbage and a blob of medlar jelly, the end of autumn, with a taste of the winter ahead.
More stew, this time with an Italian accent, cannellini bean and purple sprouting broccoli, a lovely verdant mess, properly seasoned, with a glug of grassy olive oil and a subtly acidic bite. The wine list, as you might imagine from the team behind 40 Maltby Street, is both interesting and well-priced. Rather like Café Deco, one of those rare and wonderful restaurants that despite being just a year old, feels like the oldest of friends.
About £35 per head. Café Deco, 43 Store Street, London WC1; cafe-deco.co.uk
DRINKS: Olly’s New Year fizz
Buy British bubbly and support our homegrown vineyards. The quality is excellent and producers such as memorably named Breaky Bottom, local to me in Sussex, are ace. For richness and intrigue, pick bottles with a bit more age – my M&S 2016 Cava pick is a great value option. Non-vintage Champagne (look for NV on the bottle) is balanced and ready to drink, but pick lesser-known options such as Italian Pignoletto for a fruity steal to keep everyone knocking back the bubbly into 2022. It’s a welcome glimpse of wine’s tantalising future.
WINE OF THE WEEK Vintage Cava 2016 (12%), £ 12, M&S. I can’t really fault this Spanish fizz on price or quality. Rich and vibrant as a golden peach, it’s handsome value for money.
Specially Selected Pignoletto Spumante DOC (11.5%), £6.99, Aldi. The ultimate crowd pleaser, and a bargain. Pristine and scented as pear blossom.
Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2017 (12%), from £17.99, Majestic. Rich fizz with depth and almond-lemony layers. Outrageously good South African value!
Les Pionniers NV Champagne (12%), £19, Co-Op. For under £20 this is my top pick for non-vintage Champagne on British shelves right now. Downright delicious.
Cloudy Bay Pelorus NV (12.5%), £ 24, Tesco. Fantastic aromas of coffee and cocoa beans, this is bubbly brilliance to rival the world’s best.