Old Soho looms large at Quo Vadis. This elegantly bohemian members’ club heaves with history, despite the fact that its public dining room received a thorough makeover at the start of 2023. Previously a dark and moody mystery, with the restaurant’s floorspace doubled, this once rather poky room is now wonderfully welcoming, featuring new red leather banquettes, crisp lighting and contemporary wall art courtesy of printmaker Kate Boxer. Even the stained glass on the windows has been pared back so that passers-by can now peer in and gaze upon glamorous wine-swilling pals and oyster-slurping folk who look like artists – even if they’re not – feasting on congenial chef Jeremy Lee’s indulgent takes on classic British food. Quo Vadis 2.0 is lighter, brighter and altogether more inviting.
A storied site, these Dean Street terraces have been everything from a brothel to a home to Karl Marx. They became a restaurant in 1926, and passed through the hands of Marco Pierre White and Damien Hirst in the 1990s, before ending up under the capable auspices of the Harts Group, which runs the equally well-regarded likes of Barrafina, El Pastor and Parrillan. A revamp, then, of this London institution has been a long time coming, but the timing is pretty much perfect. Lee has been rustling up some of London’s finest food in the QV kitchen since 2012, but has recently become something of a celebrity due to the publication of his much-lauded book ‘Cooking: Simply and Well, for One or Many’. Nigella, naturally, called it an ‘instant classic’.
Let us also not overlook the simple pleasure of the most entertainingly designed menu in London
Going by my Friday evening visit, the upsizing looks to have been an instant success. As the street outside heaved with drinkers tumbling into the neighbouring Sunset Strip or chancing their luck with a sherry at Barrafina, the room was pleasantly full, but never uncomfortable. Cheery service was boosted by the almost immediate delivery of our first orders, two of Lee’s menu staples; a sublime smoked eel sandwich and baked salsify dusted with a cloud of parmesan.
We followed it with one of Lee’s legendary pies. Dark, meaty and almost medieval, it was packed with hunks of hare under perfect pastry. A plate of hake, mussels, clams and sea-vegetable velouté wasn’t cheap – at £36 it sits at the top end of the mains which begin at £21.50 – but it proved that Lee can do subtle as well as showstoppers.
Desserts showed his fondness for resurrecting a 1970s classic. Our île flottant with caramel, praline and custard was a Julia Child-worthy creation. We doubled down on the sweetness and washed back the gooey meringue with a glass of sauternes. Blissful.
Let us also not overlook the simple pleasure of the most entertainingly designed menu in London: an A3 card covered in witty illustrations by John Broadley that makes ordering at Quo Vadis almost as much fun as eating there.
The vibe One of the last vestiges of old-school Soho – expect to dine alongside actor and artist types getting merrily sloshed.
The food Classic British food ramped up a notch or three.
The drink Wine and an extensive cocktail menu, as well as house aperitivi and eau de vie. Drinking here isn’t just tolerated, it’s encouraged.
Time Out tip If the menu seems overwhelming, opt for whatever pie is on offer – you can’t go wrong.