London is one of world’s finest food cities. Fact. No. Don’t even come at me with your sneering takedown of British food – doubly so if your last experience was somewhere in the 1970s. While all the positives may well come crashing down after March 2019, now that the promised post-Brexit world of milk and honey has mutated to “with luck, we might have lettuce”, for the next few months at least, London is still a great place to eat.
There are a few of downsides to that. First, there are so many new openings, you’d need the constitution of a hungry ox (and a decent lottery win) to cover them all. Secondly, there are hundreds of “hidden gems” that have either always been knocking it out of the park or, over the last few years, have upped their game considerably, spread across the city’s random postcodes, and you’d need the constitution of two hungry oxen (and Richard Branson’s Amex) to cover them all. Thirdly, all of the above, and that desperation to find new places and cool places, means there’s a raft of restaurants that you went crazy over when they opened… and then kind of forgot about. And I’m afraid that, or me, 28-50 slipped into this latter character.
When I first discovered the original outpost just off Fleet Street, I was in there a lot. You mean I can try amazing wines I couldn’t otherwise afford in 75ml measures AND quaff seriously decent bottles at seriously decent prices? AND I can eat well executed small plates while I’m doing it? That’s about as perfect as perfect gets, sometimes. And then, this being London and me being a fickle food writer, my head got turned by assorted other new kids on the block and 28-50 drifted slowly from my memory, save for the odd quick glass of wine if I was killing time around Marylebone.
And, following a recent dinner there, I can’t tell you how stupid I feel. Under the guidance of Aggi Sverrisson, he of Texture and Michelin-starred Icelandic cuisine fame, 28-50 remains a brilliantly simple force to be reckoned with. Is it cutting edge? No. Is it hipster with a craft beer list the size of the barman’s beard? No. Is there an open grill and Neanderthal-size cuts of meat grilling in plain view? No.
What there is though is a menu of appealing dishes, cooked well, with good ingredients, big, clean, simple flavours, and all alongside great (and value-for-money) wine matches. It’s not going to trouble the people from that tyre company, it’s not going to catch the imagination of the Instagram “influencers” or their hangers-on. It’s just… well, it’s just nice. And I know that sounds like faint praise but it’s not. It’s a genuine appreciation of something that’s doing it all right without fuss.
Seared scallops (available as a starter and a main), come with quinoa, herbs, lemon puree and avocado. As I say, no bells and whistles, just great textures, clean favours and scallops that appeared to be perfectly cooked. I say “appeared” as, frankly, I didn’t get a look in which probably also speaks volumes. On the plus side, that also removed any obligation to share my Thai Pomelo salad – with prawns, coconut, lime leaves, ginger and peanuts. Being picky, I’d have liked a little more heat but the results were bright and refreshing, and the Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur Lie proved a fine foil. The Savoie, Jacquere Monfarina did, I’m assured, similar positive things to the scallops.
Mains were also very good but were somewhat overshadowed by a couple of side dishes. Skinny fries were chosen for cynical reasons – “I always think it’s a good indicator” explained my dining companion – and they were, almost inevitably, very good indeed, with cynicism giving way to a nod of approval. And then there were the “sand carrots”, ordered for quizzical reasons, i.e., “What the hell is a sand carrot?” Perhaps not surprisingly, they’re carrots grown in sand which, apparently, gives them a softer texture and a sweeter flavour. They arrive cooked just so, a hint of al dente, a hint of caramelisation, a trickle of butter. We look at each other and seriously consider swapping the mains – seared yellowfin tuna (Romesco sauce, sea herbs, violet artichokes, breadcrumbs and green olives) and Cornish cod and shellfish (saffron dressing, shaved fennel & rocket) – for two more portions of carrots. That’s not to say the mains weren’t good. They were. As with everything this kitchen touches, they were spot on. It’s just that these were the carrots of dreams… and there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. Wine matches were also spot on – a Pinot Noir from the Alsace for the tuna, an Aussie Semillon for the cod – and, yes, also worked perfectly with the carrots. Ahem.
Given Aggi’s involvement, there’s a couple of Icelandic menus on offer at 28-50, fish heavy, with lots of rye bread and skyr, that ingredient-du-jour. Having never worked out what it is beyond “it’s a bit like yoghurt”, we opted for the Baked Skyr for dessert, plus chocolate madeleines, with crème Anglaise. And, yes, skyr is, basically, a little like yoghurt but so much more that that too, sort of like labneh without the cheesiness. It’s damned good, whatever it is, ditto the madeleines which were light but also pleasingly chocolatey, a feat that many places struggle, and fail, to achieve.
So, basically, while studiously avoiding trends of every description, 28-50 remains a crowd-pleaser of the highest quality. It’s back on my list and, if you’ve been as idiotic as me, I’d heartily suggest you do the same.
15-17 Marylebone Lane