We enjoy simple-fair, done well, at the West End’s Island Grill.
Look, we all know that there are more gastro-pubs in London than you could possibly want, and whether or not you bemoan the loss of real pubs and their smoke-infused carpets that no one under-25 can actually remember, it’s hard to deny the appeal of a thick burger or some perfectly beer-battered fish and chips to go with your craft pint. Still, let’s not forget about the slightly higher end pleasures of a proper for-purpose brasserie, where you don’t have to quote your table number at the till only to be told, as I so often have been, “we’re all out of fried chicken with the pickle slaw and lightly spiced mayo”: cue the Island Grill at Lancaster London.
It’s pretty much everything you might expect: not many surprises. But hey, you don’t always go to dinner to be surprised, and when the simple classics are executed this tastefully, originality is of little concern. We kicked things off with that autumn classic, roasted butternut squash risotto, which had just the right consistency (avoiding that common dinner-party issue of excessively gloopy, wallpaper paste style texture) and is an inevitable winner in that it recalls a Perugian October sometime in the 1950s that you never had, but can think fondly of nonetheless.
Avoiding the inevitable burger temptation – because I’ve had enough of those this year, with and without the egg-washed brioche bun – I went for pan fired Seabass with a homemade ricotta and spinach gnocchi. Gnocchi naysayers who can’t face the wonderful heft of the stuff will, unsurprisingly, not appreciate this one, as it wasn’t the airiest example. But, for me, who sees the winter as a time to put on a protective layer of hefty overeating, it was perfect.
Now, as I’ve told you before, Lancaster London is fond of the bees. They have their own beehives on their roof, so it would be wrong, really, to not opt for the honey panna cotta; it was delicious if on the sweet side (to be expected), and the edible flowers were an artful touch. Oh, and for wine we had a charming bottle of Sancerre “Le Manoir” from the Loire Valley that was just the right style of light and grassy. So, if you’re in the centre of town and fancy something with a little more panache than pub-grub but not with so much panache that your food comes to you on a slate daubed with brightly coloured smears, you could do much worse than Island Grill.