28 Jul Heritage, London: Everything is high altitude at this Alpin…
Heritage, 18-20 Rupert Street, London W1D 6DF (020 3995 7500). Starters £9-£21; mains £23-£50; desserts £8-£14; wines from £30
Sweeping generalisations about countries are risky, but I’m willing to chance it with Switzerland: it’s expensive, tooth-achingly polite, efficient and profoundly committed to dairy fats. Heritage, a new Swiss-inspired restaurant, lovingly crafted from wood, leather and weapons-grade cholesterol, manages three out of the four, though the lack of efficiency wasn’t their fault. Shortly after the starters had been cleared, we were approached by the restaurant’s owner. We’d already escalated from the humble waiter who served my companions before I arrived, to the restaurant’s manager when I got there. Now we had the boss.
For the second time in a week, he said, building works along Rupert Street here on the edge of London’s Soho had killed all the power, including to the kitchen. The lights were only being kept on by an emergency supply. This meant they could not complete our order. One main course was fine, but a fish dish was out. The potato gratin we’d ordered could be served because there was enough residual heat in the oven. At the end, when he tried to offer the whole meal for free, I demurred. He could comp the cost of the replacement for that fish dish. And that way I could write about the meal because, while they handled the outage exceedingly well, it really didn’t impact upon the essentials of our night of Alpine joy, served amid the humid depths of a London summer.
Which is the first oddity: why would you open a restaurant serving food specifically designed to get you through a blizzard, in the depths of summer? A quick declaration of interest. My wife’s mother was Swiss. Fondues have been eaten unironically in my house for years. I know about the virtuous interplay of different cheeses. I know all about the booze-fuelled cheese comas that follow. I live for booze-fuelled cheese comas.
And now here’s Heritage, an orgy of varnished dark wood, banquette and heel click. They are bringing us delightful deep-fried balls of Gruyère, because cheese dropped in the deep-fat fryer is a solution to most things. We have (bought in) bread and butter whipped with truffle oil, and a wine list that doesn’t believe it’s possible to offer anything below £30 a bottle. We also have speeches, tableside. Particular dishes are recommended, as if they are children who’ve just aced sports day. This whole “can I recommend” thing never ceases to baffle me. So you’re not recommending the other starters? Surely, they are all your children? It surely can’t be because the steak tartare you’re promoting is the second most expensive choice. That would be tacky.
I ignore him, and choose the rosti with maple-glazed lardons and a Tomette de Brebis cheese. He tells me it’s a good choice and then recites all the things we’ve just read on the menu. I won’t bang on about this, because you now get the idea. It’s the kind of service that is desperate to please, but can’t help making you flinch. We get a proper slab of rosti, the crust of golden fried potato giving way to something softer in the middle. The cheese is rolling away in all directions. The bits of smoked bacon are salty and sweet. It is a nutritional outrage and therefore completely marvellous, as it should be for £14.
The fondue arrives and it is just plain odd. There are many regional variations. The one you favour depends on your back story. This time generalisations really are risky. My wife’s family cleaves to a mixture of relatively bland Emmental for bulk because it melts efficiently into the white wine to form a coating emulsion, with handfuls of Gruyère for flavour. The fondue at Heritage is a mixture of Gruyère and elastic Raclette. The result is one of the most irritating fondues I have ever attempted to eat. It forms endless ribbons and strings, like Spider-Man is trying to get the hang of his kit, and failing. Alongside the bread there are drop-dead gorgeous plates of lovingly roasted carrots, courgettes and new potatoes. The fondue struggles to cling to the bread and fails completely with the vegetables, which want nothing to do with it. It is a food-engineering experiment gone wrong. The problem lies with both the choice of cheeses and the burner, which is a tea light. You can barely warm your hand on a tea light, let alone a startlingly small mug of melted cheese. It sets as we work. We clear it but are exhausted by the struggle. It’s a lot of effort for £16 a head. Oh, the humanity.
We follow that with their star dish, slices of fillet steak self-cooked over a brazier of smouldering charcoal, because that’s fired up with a blowtorch and now they have no other power. It’s £50 a head (£44 on the online menu, but even I’m becoming tired of noting such sloppiness). There are pleasingly pokey grain mustard and horseradish sauces on the side, plus a strangely sweet bone marrow jus. We have been encouraged to get a side of the burnished potato gratin for £9. We do as we’re told and find ourselves with more stringy cheese and more potatoes. If you like the meditative business of grilling pieces of prime animal for yourself, and can blank out the stupid cost, it’s not a bad way to pass the time.
Two of the desserts are robust Teutonic slabs of cake. We have a cinnamon sponge in a salted toffee sauce, and a very fine cherry cake beneath a dark chocolate shell. The latter is let down by a cherry sauce so overly sweetened the sugar is crystallising out. Our other dessert is a blood orange sorbet with a glug of eau de vie. We stare at it. The only selling point of blood oranges is the deepness of the colour. This is pale yellow.
I ask the waiter if it’s definitely blood orange. He insists that’s what it said on the side of the box. I assume he means on the box of fruit, but no; he means on the box of sorbet. He tells me they bought it in from Woods Foodservice. Then they poured on a measure of eau de vie. Then they charged £14 for it. At which point the power comes back on, the air-conditioning kicks in and we sit staring at a £14 bought-in dessert, mouthing “WTF” at the table. We feel very politely and rather elegantly fleeced – which is exactly how the last thing you eat can leave a nasty taste in the mouth.
Just down from Heritage on Rupert Street is Xu, a Taiwanese restaurant from the team behind the ever-popular Bao. The interiors, all varnished wood and beige leather, are gorgeous; the menu is equally attractive. Do not miss the Char Siu Iberico pork, or the Shou Pa chicken, a charcoal-roasted bird with ginger and spring onion and aged white soy. But frankly everything is good (xulondon.com).
Further evidence that Deliveroo is determined to dominate the restaurant sector. It is getting into selling ingredients form suppliers to restaurants. According to the company, a year-long trial has shown their procurement service can save businesses up to 20% on their raw ingredients. As well as the UK, the service will be offered in France, Spain and the United Arab Emirates.
The fall out from the collapse of Jamie Oliver’s restaurant group continues. At least 70 staff are taking the company to an employment tribunal over the terms of their redundancies. Meanwhile, Dishoom is to take over and expand…