This review was originally published in August 2018. Neptune has since closed and is now the Galvin Bar and Grill.
We may be just over the ‘hump’ of 2018 but I feel safe in saying this has been a stellar year for new fish restaurants in the capital: Parsons, Cornerstone and Neptune form a holy trinity of fishy eateries demonstrating sheer excellence in just their first few months of trade. This at least gives us something to be happy about in these trying times.
And so Neptune. The Arcade Fire of restaurants. A masterclass in preliminary hype and soft launch marketing. For all the glitz and glamour, Pride parties, celebrity appearances and social media #fomo, do the fish cookery, drinks and service stack up? In a word, yes.
It’s the flagship restaurant within The Principal in Russell Square, the former Hotel Russell now transformed after a massive four year makeover. The hotel also houses coffee shop Burr & Co, a new palm court and Fitz’s Bar (which I would happily review were I not already a regular – but I do recommend it for an aperitif en route to the restaurant). This is also consistent with Bloomsbury’s wider makeover in the last few years: what used to be an understated square of squares, with frankly not much going on gastronomically, it has dramatically changed with The Gilbert Scott at the King’s Cross end, Noble Rot on Lamb’s Conduit Street, the revamp of The Bloomsbury Hotel on the Fitzrovia/Soho border and the transformation of Store Street. Neptune is no shrinking violet. It has burst onto the scene allowing itself to be pitched as London’s coolest new restaurant with an almost astonishing level of hubris. Before I dined there I worried that Neptune would be like the kid in class wanting to be cast in the school play first – loud and forthcoming but lacking any real acting talent – and one wonders if quiet Bloomsbury is ready for this interloper.
There is a lingering essence of decadence about Neptune – an ambience of 1920s inter-war opulence but seen through a 1970s disco lens
Neptune has its own entrance on the Guildford Street side of the hotel as well as being accessible through Fitz’s Bar. As you walk in to the restaurant you immediately notice the soft nectarine-peachiness – a colour palette that’s a refreshing change after the teals and dark greens that have dominated interior design for the last 10 years, whilst also being quite reactionary. It reminded me of bathrooms of my childhood. The ‘blush’ tones are somewhere between the sophistication of a bottle of Coteaux d’Aix and cheap cornershop rosé. Perhaps the idea is to make everyone in the social spectrum welcome, and in that sense it’s democratic – the prices perhaps less so. My colleagues and I were guided to our table on a slightly raised section almost like a stage, sinking into seats that were far too low for the table (and with no posterior-raising cushion proffered). You could almost imagine Tony Montana from Scarface holding court in one of these semi-private scallop shells, knocking back bottles of Champagne just because he can. There is a lingering essence of decadence about Neptune – an ambience of 1920s inter-war opulence but seen through a 1970s disco lens.
Neptune is run by chef Brett Redman and business partner Margaret Crow, formerly of party pub The Richmond in Hackney. Redman also oversees Elliot’s in Borough Market, and like Elliot’s, the wine list is entirely natural.
But of course the main attraction is the fish, more than ably cooked by Redman and team. Scallops served in their shells were accompanied beautifully by kaffir lime butter and fresh peas. The John Dory, an ugly beast of a fish, held its own in a divine garlicky broth (nota bene: not recommended without a breathmint after). Meanwhile the crayfish and caribineros red prawns, whilst fiddly, were deftly prepared.
My colleague was impressed by his halibut with Jamon and braised lettuce, the fish being cooked perfectly and the ham and lettuce complementing the star of the dish well. Sides of Cornish mids with plentiful seaweed butter also delighted.
Alas, the desserts were a different story. Whilst my colleague’s chocolate and salted caramel delice was not overly sweet, my mille-feuille was far less successful, with pastry that was quite obviously burnt. It troubled me how that even got past the pass. It reminded me of a terrible burnt mille-feuille I had at L’Escargot when it reopened a couple of years ago: my French friend who dined with me that night was so offended by this insult to pastry that we vowed never to return there for that one offence alone.
the service was attentive and knowledgeable but not obsequious
I have since learned to be a bit more forgiving. Indeed, in all other respects, Neptune was a first class experience, including a special mention to the service which was attentive, knowledgeable but not obsequious.
All of this comes with the backdrop of a party atmosphere. With a no deal Brexit on the horizon one wonders if this fin de siècle hedonism has a touch of foreboding about it, like the many hours of pleasurable sailing on the Titanic before it sank. There are turbulent times ahead but I’m reasonably confident Neptune will succeed. There are errors – nothing earth-shattering but errors nonetheless. Sort out the mille-feuille and the seating and Neptune will be knocking on the door of perfection.
Corner of Guilford Street and Russell Square
by J A Smith