Until relatively recently, storied Store Street with its pedestrian but serviceable sandwich shops was a mere conduit between literary Bloomsbury and medialand Fitzrovia; it was hardly a gastronomic destination. But food-wise the street has undergone a slow-burning croissantification in the last decade. Even the petrol station became a Byron before turning into a branch of Macellaio.
New addition Café Deco by Anna Tobias and the team from 40 Maltby Street was one such sandwich shop and in its current iteration it operates as both a take-away and dine-in bistro (when Covid tiers permit – oh how 2020/2021). I was lucky enough to visit with a companion just before the tier we all feared was announced.
Immediately on entering it whisked me away to those small but perfectly formed bistros in Paris (e.g. Clown Bar, Chez La Vieille), right down to the plain walls, rustic seating, tiled floor and counter bar. They have certainly made efficient use of the space available to them, even if that sacrifices a degree of comfort. We were relegated to stools by the window, having to eat askew from a table the width of a plank of wood. It’s not the most practical set-up for sharing plates but we coped.
Oh how we coped. Café Deco has a less-is-more daily-changing blackboard menu with the kind of modern British dishes you’d expect from Anna Tobias – the self-styled champion of ‘beige food’ whose background includes stints at The Blueprint Café, The River Café and Rochelle Canteen. That CV alone should give an indication of what to expect; indeed none of the dishes we tried would set the world alight with their innovation, but it’s as clear as consommé that she excels in preparing deceptively simple but faultless comfort food.
We dived in with a selection of British artisanal cheeses and delicious charcuterie for around £18 and a “little duck liver toast” at £4. These may not be complex dishes to plate up but the charm is as subtle as the Mona Lisa’s smile. The hard work goes on behind the scenes to ensure good provenance of ingredients and a mise-en-place for effortless delivery.
Salmon blinis always make for a classic party treat. This was another simply assembled but well-sourced dish anointed with a sprinkling of chopped chives.
Roast duck with swede cake was lovingly cooked and reasonably priced for a main at £19.50. Ditto the fish stew (really a bouillabaisse) with hake, mussels, fennel and a powerful aioli which evoked sorely missed memories of holidays in Provence. Perhaps a few flecks of Maldon sea salt would have elevated the stew even further but it was still a triumph.
Desserts greeted us like reunited relatives. A sticky toffee pudding, with requisite gooeyness and custard ice cream, and an apple galette with Jersey cream, were the hug we hadn’t asked for but didn’t realise we needed. Perpetual yo-yoing between lockdowns and partial freedom will do that to you.
All of this was washed down with wines from a funky list curated by Gergovie Wines. Trying to find something that would tie each dish together like a beautiful ribbon, the ‘Les Pierres Chaudes’ Pinot Noir from Alsace went down very nicely with its fresh acidity and light red fruit notes despite a little initial fizziness.
The service was, at times, a little static. We waited 20 minutes for our Negronis – sitting so close to the bar we felt tempted to make them ourselves – but this can perhaps be forgiven on a busy wintry night in the first week of opening; the server redeemed himself by suggesting and swiftly serving two excellent after dinner drinks to complete proceedings (a Muscat and Kümmel respectively). Like the wine, Café Deco may take a while to open up (probably literally – who knows when normality will resume) but I’m sure it will become a go-to haunt for any gourmand looking for a cheeky mid-week lunch or dinner. In the meantime, they’re still open as a shop and ‘traiteur’ for all your wine, cheese and mortadella needs – crucial in these times. Do give quiche – and Café Deco – a chance.
43 Store Street
by J A Smith