Richoux, 172 Piccadilly, London W1J 9EJ (020 3375 1000). Starters £6.95 to £12.95, mains £8.95 to £19.95, desserts £6.75 to £7.95, wines from £24
The day after my dinner at Richoux, I went to Google Street View to try to answer a simple question: what exactly was the place that had made me spend so many years, with my nose in l? air, convinced was unworthy of my attention? I found it in an image from August 2014. There was a sandwich board outside on the pavement in Piccadilly in London offering ‘Any breakfast with a hot drink and juice for £9.95’ . It was illustrated with an eerily anemic and grossly unappetizing photo of Benedict eggs. Beneath its industrial-looking dollop of pale hollandaise, it looked like something you might wish to treat with a broad-spectrum antibiotic, rather than eat. Everything seemed rather desperate and needy.
London is full of places you would instinctively choose to come across: “Scottish” steakhouses offering sides straight out of the freezer, Chinese buffets where Day-Glo orange food festers under heat lamps, branches of Pizza Hut where they will whip you a pie with a crust stuffed with cheese burger cysts. They always seem full. I often felt like running and yelling at the punters to save myself; to tell them that they could do so much better. But that would be the act of a berserk, spit-spotted madman and anyway, if they couldn’t bother to do basic research, what did I care?
The fact is that I had always had Richoux in this category. I didn’t know what it was for. Maybe that was grossly unfair. After all, I had never even set foot inside. Over the years, the brand has grown. There were other Richoux branches in Knightsbridge, St John’s Wood, Mayfair and even Port Solent, but the pandemic did for them. In January 2021, the parent company was placed in conservatorship and all closed.
The Richoux name and Piccadilly premises were purchased by Naveen Handa, a member of the family behind the Cairn group of hotels and restaurants. What he did with it is wonderful. He has created a stylish, great-value brasserie that deserves its prime location on one of the capital’s grandest streets. He installed two chefs, Jamie Butler and Lewis Spencer, both from Moor Hall in Lancashire. They, in turn, put that cutting-edge cooking experience aside and instead wrote a perfect menu of beautifully executed dishes. After 113 years in business, Richoux has become an instant classic.
Although I’ve never eaten there, I’ve peeked inside several times over the years, and it always seemed rather dark and austere with lots of heavy wood and dark colors. It’s not like that anymore. The elegant alcoves on each side of the room have been kept as well as the brass light fixtures, but the whole has been lightened: peach walls, pale blue banquettes, new scallop shell floor tiles. They kept the dessert cabinet just inside the door and stocked it with snowy meringue and jam covered cakes and Butler’s Creme Cruffins, a cross between a croissant and a muffin.
The closest thing to innovation here is a plate of raw tuna and watermelon, cut into equally sized pink and purple cubes, then drizzled with lime, peppery olive oil and a little mint. . Otherwise, it’s an old friends menu; of dishes that you could imagine eating with pleasure any day of the week and most likely at any time. Have the French Onion Soup for £6.95, topped with a garlic crouton loaded with grilled Gruyere cheese, or a Caesar salad for the same price. There’s beef carpaccio, or creamy burrata with the loss of tomatoes. A jumbo shrimp cocktail is the best, put together with care. There’s some blitzed and seasoned avocado on the bottom, then crisp leaves of gem lettuce, topped with squeaky fresh shrimp under just the right amount of Marie Rose sauce and finished with a dusting of smoked paprika.
And for a main course? There’s a grilled fillet of sea bream with salsa verde, or a thick, crispy skinned salmon fillet on a black rice salad, with a little pickled cucumber and artichoke, both for £15.95. Do you feel full? The ribeye costs £19.95, but for five less there’s also a flat iron. They tell me they’re out of it but they can replace it with flank steak, one of those cuts of steak that trades tenderness for flavor. Bring all your own teeth. It’s perfectly cooked and comes with an arugula and parmesan salad, a shiny metal goblet of good fries and an unstoppable béarnaise.
Or just stop here for a chicken club sandwich or croque monsieur or smoked salmon with scrambled eggs. One of those, and a glass of wine, and you’ll barely break £15. I really love the diversity and vibrancy of the London food scene. But sometimes reading through those menus full of innovation and thrills and charred umami, tahini and hispi can be downright exhausting. Sometimes I just want someone to bring me something good to eat. Le Richoux’s menu promises good things to eat, executed in an elegant dark blue sans serif font. Until now, the Zedel Brewery just up the street in Piccadilly Circus had had this territory pretty much to itself. They now have some serious competition.
My companion for dinner was late. To be fair, he’s always late, which is odd because he’s a gifted jazz musician with extraordinary timing. Tonight he was so late that we had to forego dessert or we would miss the concert we were attending. Therefore, I came back a few days later and raided the dessert counter, as it’s my job to do so. I brought the good stuff home. The star is the individual apple tart tatin, with a crispy caramelized pastry and sweet, caramelized fruit. It’s £4.95 to take away or £7.95 to eat in with ice cream or custard.
Or maybe a piece of that cake with its layers of light sponge cake and mascarpone cream, finished with a soft Swiss meringue, its surface torched to a caramel brown. Don’t miss the sugar-crusted, jam-packed wonder that is the cruffin. Oh, have it all. Regularly I am asked to recommend a “nice” place to eat in central London, by which I assume they mean somewhere classy and civilized and unchallenging and not too expensive. Richoux is my new best answer.
The venerable Castle Hotel in Taunton, owned and run by the Chapman family for three generations, has appointed a new chef, who happens to be an elder. Andrew Swann started at the Castle as a kitchen assistant in 2000. Since then he has worked for Zafferano and L’Escargot in London, among others. “I fell in love with cooking when I started my career here,” he said. “And being able to come back so many years later to continue this journey is really special to me.” The castle kitchens recently underwent a £150,000 refurbishment. To see hotel-le-chateau.com.
Sandwich maestro Max Halley has teamed up with restaurant group Burger & Lobster to create two limited-edition lobster rolls that will be available through June 6. The lobster cocktail costs £26 and includes lobster, Marie Rose sauce and all the accessories. The fish and chips lobster roll, for the same price, combines tartar sauce, mashed peas with mint and crushed salt and vinegar chips. To burgerandlobster.com.
The arrival this month of the mandatory calorie count on the menus of restaurants with 250 or more employees was eagerly awaited. Many restaurateurs have complained that this will lead to high costs both for calculations and for reprinting menus. The solution to the latter lies in the approach of the National Ivy Collection Group. They have kept the calorie-free menus, but provide a card with a QR code for nutritional and allergen information.