29 Romilly Street
A legendary venue in the 19th Century, Kettners was frequented by the dandy likes of Oscar Wilde and Edward VII. Having gone through several transformations in its life, including a pizza parlour, Kettners has now re-established its intimation of a past era with chic brasserie style décor and food. The venue is what it’s all about. Situated in the heart of Soho, Kettners sprawls across three floors and several rooms including a champagne bar, members’ bar and a number of private dining rooms. The white washed walls, marble table tops, subdued lighting, countless mirrors and white piano give the whole place an air of Parisian chic.
Visiting on a Friday night, the place was packed with a surprising mixture of people; couples, families and friends, young and old. As champagne was knocked back from old fashioned coupe glasses and the chatter and laughter of diners filtered through the rooms, I could clearly envisage what the place must of felt like 100 years ago. Every corner of the restaurant exuded a sense of drama. I could imagine whispers of debauchery, ladies of the night blending in with the aristocracy. Glasses clinking, stomachs groaning and eyes flitting across the room, asking who’s who and who’s where. Ok, my head was running a bit wild. Of course now, Kettners is a more civilised Soho institution, with smiling waiters gliding around in their over-sized bow ties and even a pudding bar for goodness sake! There is nothing more polite than a pudding bar, albeit a slightly sparse one on the night we visited.
As for the food, well there were highs and lows. Our starters were beautiful. An artichoke arrived panned out with a puddle of silky lemon butter sauce. And a delicate dish of baby soft mozzarella with grilled courgettes worked effortlessly with a sharp and sweet marjoram lemon sauce. My main course of crisp sea bass, rested on a bed of fresh ‘aromatics’ (finely chopped olives, tomatoes and herbs). It came with a crunchy fennel salad that had a further boost of aniseed with a scattering of fennel seeds. The flavours combined subtly creating a light and tasty dish to savour. Unfortunately my friend’s duck confit was less pleasing. The duck itself had the perfect succulent and crispy texture to be expected, but sadly it was overly salty even for a dish that requires quite a number of those sea salt crystals. After one bite, I was surprised my friend managed to eat half the dish. The accompanying sarladaise potatoes were also overcooked and far too greasy to complement a duck confit. I passed my sea bass over to him, so that he could redeem his tastebuds and eradicate the saline aftertaste.
When it came to dessert, the waiter insisted we order the pavlova with mango and passion fruit. So we did, along with a chocolate, pear and port upside-down cake. I was disappointed to find the meringue crunchy rather than chewy, but maybe that’s a matter of taste. Either way, sugary meringue, whipped cream and fruit is always going to please your pudding tooth. I was more impressed with the upside-down cake, which wasn’t very sweet or moist. It was more like a highly addictive dry fruit cake – perfect for this time of year. Despite a few glitches in the food, we were enjoying the buzzy atmosphere and evocative setting so much we didn’t want to leave. So we headed to the bar area for a refreshing champagne cocktail and let our imaginations run wild again, musing about the past spectacles this Soho haunt might have witnessed.
A three course meal for two without wine will set you back £60 - £70.