Tutton's, London, UK
“You know what we’re doing, don’t you?” said my friend L as we ordered gin and tonics. “You know what we’re actually doing right now?”
I tired to think of something clever. As so often happens, reader, I failed.
“What?” I replied, rapier-like.
“We’re having dinner in Covent Garden.”
This was, on the face of it, and in all other ways, undeniable.
This might seem like a facile observation until you think about the fact that having dinner in Covent Garden isn’t really something that Londoners do (not that I was a Londoner at that moment, but I had 14 years of Big Smoke living under my belt).
It’s like A New Yorker heading out to Times Square or someone from Barcelona heading for some authentic tapas along Las Ramblas. It’s not something you do as a city dweller by and large – head for the most tourist-logged place you can imagine and order dinner.
It’s a testament to Tutton’s that I hadn’t really noticed. It might have been the summer evening, a window seat and seeing an old friend, but it didn’t feel like Covent Garden. It felt like walking into a welcoming dining room in a cosmopolitan city, but not one where everyone is weighted down with gift bags from the London Transport Museum or are asking the servers how early they need to get to Madam Tussaud’s.
In short, I felt like a local, despite not being one any more. Tutton’s doesn’t even real feel particularly London, it just feels reassuringly European, with a varied breeze of accents wafting around and a menu that has Britain trading friendly blows with the best of France and Italy.
L and I start at opposing ends of jolly England, her with a Dorset crab salad with a retro-tinged prawn and avocado accompaniment, and I with Lancashire roasted beets, mostly as I mis-parsed the phrasing and wondered what ‘Lancashire-roasted’ meant as a adjective. No hyphen. Just beets from Lancashire. That have been roasted.
L heads off to the bathroom. I strike up some chat with the very charming waitress, who tells me in broad European that her name is “Jooo-steeen”. I stab at Belgian – it seems polite on a par with asking Americans if they’re Canadian or Australians what part of New Zealand they’re from. She’s French, naturellement.
L is back, though she was suspiciously a long time. “There are caverns and tunnels,” she says, excitedly. Yes, a sizeable network of cellars and runs underneath the restaurant, a stark contrast to the spanking Russel Sage-designed interior.
For our mains, we stay patriotic. It was very tempting to order Dingly Dell Belly of Pork and Bubble and Squeak, not least because it sounds like the title of a childrens’ book. I had a rich and satisfying seafood risotto (with Cornish crab – take THAT, Dorset crab) and L plumped for a big slab of perfectly cooked Lamb, the salsa verde potatoes that came with a particular hit (especially with me and my errant fork).
Joo-steen pops by as and when. “So are you going to be working here for the foreseeable future?” we ask.
“Ahhh, non,” she replies in half French. “I like working here but I want to head to a town with more to do outside. I want to hike and ski and stay in a chalet for the season, but first maybe some time in the South of France.”
“Ah, maybe. I hope someone will take me.”
Sure thing. Life’s tough when you’re movie good looking, young and bright. We were sure that yes, someone would take her.
The portions are too generous for ill-disciplined types like us to fully enjoy the dessert menu, so we shared a Kentish raspberry cheesecake.
Contented, we bade our au revoirs to Joo-steen and headed for a nightcap. But where to go? “I don’t know,” said L as we stepped out onto the market square. “Everywhere around here is just so…touristy.”
Paul Oswell was a guest of Tutton's.