Stanza nearby and hope to have it up and running by mid-February 2010. Naturally I will be bringing you a review of the new location as soon as possible, and in the meantime I wish Andy & Alessandra the very best of luck settling in at Stanza.
I'm only too aware of the fact that my reviews of late haven't been about anywhere particularly thrilling; chains, cheap eats and revisits to old haunts don't exactly make for interesting reading (but if you have been reading, thank you nonetheless). So, it's really exciting to be able to write about somewhere new, special and absolutely, flawlessly fabulous. I'm calling it Andy Campbell @ 23 Romilly Street because (statement of the bleeding obvious alert) the chef is Andy Campbell and his restaurant is located at the new-ish private members' club at 23 Romilly Street in Soho. I don't know if that actually is the name; there's no sign, no branding on the menus and certainly no logos anywhere in the place, but this seemingly unintentional anonymity only adds to my delight at having found it, apparently before other food bloggers have got in on the act.
How I found this exquisite jewel of a restaurant is a story in itself. A few months back, after a night at the theatre with Elaine my glamorous fashion designer friend and her really-quite-famous film star boyfriend Jerome, Alyn and I bundled off at Jerome's invitation to his friend Frances's club night for tranvestites, transexuals and friends, called Lola, downstairs at 23 Romilly Street (if you followed all of that sentence and are with me so far, then ten points to you). It was one of those madly wonderful, spontaneous nights where we found ourselves having the time of our lives in a place where we would normally never have gone but afterwards couldn't wait to go back to. Fast forward to last week and we finally found ourselves having arranged to go back, but this time with Alyn fully cross-dressed as his feminine alter-ego Sivade. Now here's a uniquely modern dilemma: where can one go for dinner, and feel comfortable, and not be hassled, with a stunning 6'6" transvestite and a man who can't walk down the street in L.A. without being mobbed by sci-fi fans? The answer, it transpired after some discrete inquiry, is Andy Campbell, handily situated just a couple of flights upstairs from Lola.
OK, I'm doing an A.A. Gill here and going all around the houses without actually saying anything about the restaurant, so let's get down to business. Firstly, the welcome: Alessandra, Andy's partner in life and business, greeted us warmly without so much as a quiver let alone a bat of an eyelid and showed us to our window table in the dark wood-panelled, dimly chandelier-lit room. It's a very attractive, L-shaped space, sumptuously carpeted and adorned with an eclectic range of art from modern abstracts to a marvellous oil of HM The Queen. There are only about half a dozen tables, making this a thoroughly intimate space, and the couple of other tables that were occupied had as diners a very well-known tailor and a similarly celebrated jeweller - as much royalty in Soho as Elizabeth II herself. We ordered cocktails from a long and tempting list, and the long-ish wait for them was fully justified by the knowledge that they had to be fetched from two floors down from the cocktail bar run by world cocktail legend Dick Bradsell. The wait gave us plenty of time to consider the menu, a fairly concise affair with a strong emphasis on modern European cuisine and home manufacture, mostly classic dishes but with one or two genuinely unique home-grown creations.
One such of the latter was my and Elaine's choice of starter. Ask yourself, have you ever had - or ever even thought of wanting - a salad of feta, mint, fennel, strawberries, poppy seeds and lemon oil? No of course you haven't, and why would you? On paper it's an utterly ridiculous, disparate, inharmonious combination which all sounds a bit Celebrity Masterchef. But we went ahead and tried it because, not in spite, of its utter bonkers-ness and were very glad we did, because it was genius. Salty cheese, tangy fruit, punchy fresh herbs and savoury seeds all combined deliciously with the slick of citrus oil to stimulate every taste bud. Less crazy but just as good were Sivade and Jerome's choices of chicken liver parfait - a generous, mousse-y, obviously home-made swirl of it - and Caesar salad, a fresh, unfussy, perfectly-executed example of this too-often bastardised classic.
Mains were similarly super. Elaine, the solitary veggie in the group, loved her goats cheese and red onion tart, chosen from the starters and made up into a main by the addition of some tasty herb salad, while Jerome enjoyed a huge serving of confit chicken leg with dauphinoise potatoes and green beans. I wolfed down my whole baked sea bream with sweet potato and chorizo mash, loving every mouthful of tender white fish and rich, spicy potato, but perhaps the biggest success of all was Sivade's home-made Merguez sausages with cous-cous, a trio of coarse meaty delights atop a mound of light, fruity grains which found favour even though, as the lady herself put it, "I don't usually like cous cous". All of this was served at a leisurely, well-judged pace by the utterly beautiful, husky-voiced Alessandra. My only slight grizzle about the otherwise excellent menu selections available on our visit would be that apart from the decadent (and no doubt delicious) fillet of beef for two at £45, there was no red meat on the menu; I'd have liked to see a steak or maybe lamb choice to complement the fish and poultry options.
By the time we'd enjoyed our cocktails, two courses and a few bottles - was it two? Three? - of a very pleasant French Sauvignon Blanc (at a very reasonable £17 a bottle), time had imperceptibly flown by at such a rate that we had to sacrifice desserts in favour of making it downstairs to Lola before the bar shut. No delay though in awaiting the bill; Alessandra bade us to go on down and said that she would bring us the bill, to which we could add our drinks at Lola and pay all together, another example of the superlative service which typified the evening. As for that bill; well, with all the food, far more drink than was necessary and of course 12.5% service, we escaped for around £40 a head - neither cheap nor expensive, but perfectly reasonable. This was one of those rare restaurant experiences though where, to be honest, the cost was irrelevant; in a time when restaurants come and go at an alarming pace and customer service and innovation have become secondary to profit margins and up-selling, one can't put a price on places like Andy Campbell where everything - food, service, ambience and experience - come together so perfectly and so, well, deliciously.
I started this blog to share my dining experiences with anyone who might be interested, and for my own enjoyment even if no-one else ever read a single word. Finding a gem like this one, and being able to share it with an audience however small, makes the whole endeavour worthwhile.
Details of Stanza, Andy & Alessandra's new restaurant, can be found at http://www.stanzalondon.com/