Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. When it comes to restaurants, harking back to lost traditions brings with it a lot of potential pitfalls – the least of which are an overly themed décor and poorly researched and executed dishes. In a word: the results can be all concept and no content. Thankfully, such is not the case at the Quality Chop House in Farringdon.
Chophouses, established in the 18th century and popular straight through to the early part of the 20th, were eateries where men would go for lunch if they were at work, and also for dinner if there was no one to cook for them at home. In fact some chophouses would only allow men. And while this particular aspect of the tradition has not been upheld by current Quality Chop House owners Will Lander and Josie Stead, many other elements have.
Admittedly, the duo had a head start. The Quality Chop House has actually been around since the 1870s, and had already enjoyed a few heydays before losing its way as a meatball restaurant several years back. Over time the interior has remained largely unchanged: from the straight-backed wooden benches to the ‘progressive working class caterer’ sign that hangs in the front window. And when Lander and Stead reopened it a year and a half ago, it was with the intention of restoring it to its former chophouse glory. As owners they also had another advantage: Lander is the son of hugely influential wine writer Jancis Robinson and restaurant industry writer Nick Lander. Meanwhile, Stead came hot of the grill from her role as general manager at Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner, and she also has a knack for finding the best vintage tableware to add a touch of warmth and eclectic charm to the setting.
"No amount of insider knowledge or savoir-faire can substitute for a pitch-perfect menu, which is exactly what you get here"
But no amount of insider knowledge or savoir-faire can substitute for a pitch-perfect menu, which is exactly what you get here. A longstanding favourite is the Longhorn mince on dripping toast. Packed full of flavour and utterly indulgent, it is a chophouse classic and a meat lover’s dream. There’s also devilled offal on toast and plenty of game – not to mention less traditional, though no less satisfying dishes such as red mullet with white beans, confit garlic and an oxtail dumpling (which punched far above its weight as a small side item). And, of course, there are the chops – including a daily special one that’s served with a glass of red wine for £13, a nod to the kind of fare that would have been historically on offer at this restaurant for over a century. For dessert, a clementine and chestnut mess was an excellent take on a classic, and as expected with Lander on board, the wine list is topnotch. Though hardly a proletarian paradise anymore, the secret to the Quality Chop House’s current success seems to be that classic dishes are done with care, and when they do stray from tradition, the results still uphold the spirit of the place.
And now, there’s something else to get excited about. Much to our delight, the Quality Chop House has just launched a market shop and butchers. Having taken over the property next door, on display are the full carcasses that are exclusively used at the restaurant, and you can take home meat from the same suppliers (at remarkably agreeable prices). The shelves are stocked with homemade concoctions such as mushroom ketchup, chicken liver and foie gras parfait, and whipped lard, as well as a tight selection of French and British cheeses, farm butters, vegetables, and a charcuterie. Carefully stocked – sparse even – the QCH shop nevertheless seems to have everything you could possible want – and some things you might not even think to have – for putting together a meaty meal at home. Yet another reason to visit this historical gem, where tradition is very much alive, in the best possible sense.
The Quality Chop House is at 92-94 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3EA
Text by Ananda Pellerin