The Quality Chop House was a Clerkenwell institution long before The Eagle, London’s fabled first gastropub, opened diagonally opposite. Whilst dating back to 1869, technically speaking the QCH is like Trigger’s brush in Only Fools and Horses: the restaurant has had the occasional hiatus and various changes over the years. Even today this former working class café continues to evolve with the recent addition of a self-standing wine shop next door.
At its constant core, I suppose, has always been an unfussy pared-back approach to things, using the word “quality” to deservedly describe the reliable sourcing of its ingredients rather than a display of hubris. Today, it retains the lovingly-restored old school ambience of a Victorian pub (if you can picture, say, the Princess Louise in Holborn), the kind of recherché crockery used by Primeur, and food that is similar in spirit to Noble Rot. (Forgive the dropping of resto references but as Michel de Montaigne said, “I quote others to better express myself”).
The main ground floor dining room comprises narrow, church-like booths. Perpendicular and hard, these would make anyone of, shall we say, ample derriere uncomfortable, but the more svelte amongst you will have no problem. There are at least cushions and other modern accoutrements such as air con (mercifully set to Arctic mode the summer’s day I visited).
The slight discomfort is really the only penance you pay for the fantastic food and service, all at a sensible price point. The wine list is fairly short and Old World leaning, but also decently priced (specials and more esoteric numbers are available on request).
Whilst waiting for the meal proper, I snacked on some Mangalitza croquettes with a serviceable Negroni as my sharpener. The croquettes were divine, with just the correct amount of oozage therein, held in place on the plate by a wild garlic puree. An excellent start to proceedings.
Next up, burrata with pickled cucumber was delicately balanced, light and elegantly presented – also proving that the kitchen’s skills extend beyond meat.
But really, for the QCH, it is the meat you come for. It was pleasing to see onglet on the menu the day I visited. It is such an underrated cut of beef at times: taken from the diaphragm, it is tender and full of flavour. Served almost rare with nothing else on the plate but a little pan jus, it was cooked to perfection. It had also been well-rested. An accompanying side of baby gem Caesar salad assuaged any sense of guilt from the meat consumption, and was tossed with just the slightest suggestion of the requisite anchovy.
The lunch closed with fig leaf and red wine ice cream: not a dessert I would ordinarily swoon for, but this adult’s version of raspberry ripple married something innocent-sounding with almost sinful delight.
Nothing here is exactly reinventing the wheel – there’s inspiration from elsewhere, nods to the classics, and dishes that might even seem like a wartime relic such as mince on toast. But every dish is delicately balanced – nothing over-seasoned, nothing bland – and consistently good. When every course is faultless you know this is a kitchen that cares.
What’s more, the value is astoundingly good: three courses, a snack, drinks and service came to £50 bang on the nose. You can’t say fairer than that for food of this quality in this postcode.
The service was also efficient and friendly. At no point did I have to try and catch a server’s eye and each course was served promptly. It was quiet though – there were just a couple of City lawyers lunching on another table (hopefully not billing their clients for it). A restaurant’s service can only be truly tested when it’s busier but I got enough of an idea to know it would be as good at peak periods. And I will be back anyway. It’s game season for crying out loud and they now have an adjoining wine shop. You would be mad to pass the QCH by too.
88-94 Farringdon Road
by J A Smith