Michael Deacon at The Lampery
SAMUEL PEPYS WAS a man of gargantuan appetites. First, for sex. He made love to countless women, and in countless places: pubs, the theatre, even church. His wife once walked in on him while he was, in his word, ‘imbracing’ one of her friends. When boasting in his diary of his conquests he would slip into a leering mishmash of languages: ‘There did what je voudrais avec her, both devante and backward, which is also muy bon plazer.’
Even more colossal, however, was his appetite for food. With belching relish his diary details the monstrous feasts he would devour in pubs and lay on at home (at one dinner party, he and his guests consumed ‘a fricassee of rabbits and chickens, a leg of mutton boiled, three carps in a dish, a great dish of a side of lamb, a dish of roaste d pigeons, a dish of four lobsters, three tarts, a lamprey pie […], a dish of anchovies, [and] good wine of several sorts’). In 1666, while the Great Fire raged around him, he hastily dug a hole in the garden and buried his most cherished possessions: several bottles of fine wine and a large Parmesan cheese.
What a man. I was excited, therefore, to hear that a restaurant had opened in London as a tribute to Pepys. The Lampery is on Seething Lane, the street where its inspiration lived. Its website is effusive: it proclaims Pepys as no less than ‘ the world’s first food blogger’. I suppose he was, sort of. In the same way that the walls of Ancient Egyptian tombs are adorned with the world’s first emojis.
The website also promises that The Lampery’s ‘whole offering’ is ‘inspired’ by Pepys, and that this is ‘one historical dining experience not to be missed’. On arrival, then, I was a little puzzled to find that the venue was not a jostling 17th-century tavern loud with meadsodden merrymaking, but the restaurant of a glass-fronte d 21st- century hotel, immaculately soulless, largely empty and with pop music murmuring from speakers overhead. I glanced about at the scattered tables of businessmen ( jackets removed, but ties still neatly knotted). This didn’t quite look like the night of wench-mad Restoration carousing I’d hoped for.
The menu didn’ t feel entirely authentic, either. Since we’d been promised that the ‘whole offering’ was ‘inspired’ by Pepys, I was intrigued to note the inclusion of the currently fashionable Latin American dish ceviche, and, indeed, mac and cheese (the first recipe for which was published 66 years after Pepys die d) and bake d Alaska (invented in the 1860s). Bear in mind that Pepys lived so long ago, his idea of a radical gourmet trend was tea: he first tasted it at the age of 27, recording it in his diary as ‘a Cupp of Tee (a China drink )’. The dishes Pepys wrote about include neat ’s tongue (from a cow), ortolan bunting (a small bird), umbles (a deer ’s liver and kidneys) and syllabub (dessert made with cream and wine). None of those at The Lampery. Instead, it looked more or less like an average, semi-upmarket hotelre staurant line -up: steaks, salmon, cauliflower-cheese gratin.
So where was all the stuff inspired by Pepys? Where was the one historical dining experience not to be missed? The waitress suggested a starter called ‘London Particular ’: pea and ham soup, in allusion to the ‘pea-souper ’ fogs that smothered London in Pepys’s day (and, indeed, the following three centuries). I ordered it. It wasn’t bad: super creamy, and floating with thick shreds of livid ham.
For main, the choice was clear: the signature dish, ‘Lampery Pye’. As the website proudly trumpeted, Pepys loved lamprey pie, so I couldn’t wait to try it. Hang on, though. Lampreys are fish. So why did the menu list the contents as beef and prunes?
I asked the waitress. She smiled bashfully. In reality, she said, lampreys were ‘a bit horrible’, so the restaurant – despite naming itself after the pie – had decided to serve a version of it without them.
I ordered it anyway. It was very small. Still, I couldn’t really taste the prunes, which was something. I didn’t dislike it, but I’d come here to be whisked away in a culinary time machine, and instead I was stuck glumly in 2017. I also had a side of beef-dripping chips, which, perhaps to compensate for the minuteness of the pie, were as thick as bricks.
For pudding, I tried both the apple crumble (perfe ctly fine, reasonable crunch) and, history be damned, the baked Alaska. It was so screamingly sweet I gave up on the third mouthful.
Since my visit, the Lampery’s PR has protested that I came during the ‘soft launch’ period: the restaurant equivalent of theatre previews, when the ‘kinks’ have yet to be ‘ironed out’. This was not made clear when I booked. But, in any case, the menu they ’re going with is word-for-word the same as when I visited.
It’s a pity. I honestly think you could make a go of a proper, authentic, Pepys-y restaurant, in a Pepys-y venue, with a Pepys-y atmosphere and a Pepys-y menu. Tourists would love it. Even if the food was foul, and gave you a bout of authentic 17th-century dysentery, it would still feel like an experience worth having. An education. Fun. Not a whole lot of that here.
The dishes Pepys wrote about include neat’s tongue, umbles and syllabub. None of those here
Above The restaurant’s signature dish, Lampery Pye. Below Apple crumble