Matthew Bayley visits Lorne in Victoria
On the hunt for an exciting but uncomplicated lunch in London’s Victoria
Simple food, done well. That’s what the bloke i’m sitting opposite at dinner says he wants. ‘it’s not too much to ask, is it?’
what he really means is no more michelin-star chasing. no more dishes so pretty you feel bad about st icking your knife and fork into them. nothing primped and preened and teased and tweezered. Just simple food, done well.
As mission statements go, it’s not quite Take Back Control or make America Great Again. But when you’re out looking for something to eat and somewhere to eat it, it’s hard to beat. That said, the same man who is espousing this philosophy once described some croquet as we share data celebrated tapas bar as ‘cheesy bacon balls’, so his opinion might best be discounted.
nevertheless, it’s an approach that the owners of lorne, close to Victoria train station, seem to have adopted.
eating anywhere near a British railway station is, for the most part, a dismal proposition. we lack the french t radit ion of g ra nd st at ion brasser ies and seem to have resigned ourselves to scof f ing £5 past ies while st a r ing up balefully at the departures board.
Until recently, Victoria and its immediate surroundings were no exception to this r ule. But in the past few years the area has undergone a renaissance of sorts. And this is important and very welcome. The Teleg raph has its office t here, and it’s of ten been felt t hat we had more chance of being run over by a tour ist wit h a 19-stone suitcase t han
of finding something decent to eat.
But now we have the Nova development, just a stone’ s throw from the main station entrance, where luxury apartments sit above a collection of new restaurants and bars, all packed since opening a few months back. And on the eastern side, we have Wilton Road.
Once home only to a Nando’s and a Sainsbury’s, this Pimlico thoroughfare is now quite an interesting case study in restaurant-based regeneration, albeit one that revels in its barely disguised scruffiness. First we got the spectacular A Wong, which since it opened four years ago has laid claim to the title of London’ s most inventive Chinese restaurant. Then we got a lobster-roll place, some gourmet cafés and a Rosa’s Thai. Now we’ve got Lorne.
On the site of a former Indian restaurant, it has the familiar narrow dimensions of an urban curry house with a slightly cramped entrance leading to a main dining a rea at t he back. But t here all similar it ies end. The whole place has been kitted out in a modern Scandi style so comprehensively – pale wood on the floors, tables, chairs and shelves – I half expected Sarah Lund to be demolishing an open her ring sandwich at the next table. But it’s not uncomfortable. Low-lit and with cushions on the benches, Lorne feels cosy and intimate.
A successful independent neighbourhood restaurant–that keeps the same customers coming back – is a difficult needle to thread, particularly in an area not known for them. It needs to be welcoming and familiar, yet interesting enough to bring a smile to your face at the thought of returning. Does t hat mean simple food done well? A glance at the menu suggests that, at Lorne, it does.
In the modern tradition, what you see on its menu are dishes consisting of ingredients separated by comm as (offering no clue as to how any of them
I was left wondering if the recent tsunami of Asian and US barbecue culinary trends has assaulted our palates
have been cooked). So we ate pork terrine, pistachio, mustard, turnip, apple, sorrel (£9) and quail, mountain yam, barley, butternut squash (£11). And we followed them with cod, hispi cabbage, mussels, potato, espelette, and sirloin, ox heart, onion, beef fat hollandaise (both in the low £20s).
Every dish that arrived was accomplished, precise and handled with a light and elegant touch. Service was quick, smiling and attentive. But I have to admit that what we ate left us both feeling underwhelmed. Nothing surprised or amazed us; nothing left us hoping for more.
The delicate roasted quail leg rested prettily and pinkly next to a brightorange squash purée. But it didn’t sing. The chunky terri ne felt similarly underpowered. The cod was better – there was a fiery edge to the espelette pepper-enhanced sauce, crunch in the cabbage, and the mussels brought both salt and sweet to the party. But the beef dish–which on paper looked intriguing– blended on the plate into a collection of mild and forgettable flavours.
I was left wondering whether the recent tsunami of Asian and US barbecue culinary trends has assaulted our palates with so much chilli and soy and salt and sugar that perfectly executed French-style dishes just don’t cut it.
Happily the meal ended on a high note. Thinly shaved spiced pineapple and mango sprinkled with a lime granita was a great blast of icy refreshment. And a thick wedge of apple and almond tart looked pretty under layered icing, and tasted even better.
There is no doubt that Lorne is trying to offer a singular experience for this part of town: high-end yet comfortable, reassuring yet out of the ordinary. The couple behind it, chef Peter Hall and sommelier Kate Exton, both have serious form–at Mayfair’ s The Square and The River Café. There is obvious talent here and they deserve to succeed. If only so Telegraph staff can get a good lunch.
Below Cod, hispi cabbage, mussels, potato, espelette
Above Quail, mountain yam, barley, butternut squash.