Restaurant Review: Kettner’s Brasserie
THERE’s always something special about visiting an old restaurant – not just ‘old looking’ but genuinely venerable, as is this Soho institution, one of the capital’s oldest.
Originally a series of four Georgian Townhouses, Kettner’s was opened in 1867 by the chef to Napoleon III – Auguste Kettner – and went on to become infamous as the rendezvous of choice for colourful characters of the time. Oscar Wilde dined here – it’s mentioned as his venue of choice in his trial notes – and King Edward VII even ordered a secret tunnel to be built between Kettner’s and the Palace Theatre, where his mistress Lillie Langtry performed.
It would remain to be seen if the food here lived up to the venue’s glamorous reputation, but for starters its aesthetics certainly did, quickly explaining why so many passing local executives pause for a peer through the window and at the mounted menu, their next dinner jolly in mind.
It’s all very early-1900s retro elegance, with tasteful lighting softly illuminating the white marbley tables, framed mirrors and smart grey banquette against the wall. A polished grand piano sits near the entrance lobby while an ornate spiral staircase leads to two sprawling upper floors housing a warren of secret spaces and private dining rooms, all furnished in their original Georgian splendour.
The proof is always in the pudding though, so it was with added interest that I perused the menu and then awaited the results of my order. When my starter arrived – a warm duck confit salad with french beans and cider dressing – I was amazed at how much duck the dish contained, and as the meat was cooked perfectly it turned out to be one of the heartiest starters I’ve had the pleasure to eat in central London.
Any worries that the meal had peaked too early were extinguished by main of roast venison, again cooked to perfection, and accompanied by a crisp potato rosti, roasted figs and a subtle cocoa sauce that complemented the rest of the dish with flair.
Finishing with a superb orange and fig sticky toffee pudding served with salted carame ice cream, the meal would I’m sure have impressed Napoleon’s chef, the original restaurant owner, who also would have appreciated the Gallic charm of one of his compatriot waiters, who attended to me and my partner with enthusiasm.
The final surprise here was that the menu is certainly not inordinately expensive, as diners might expect at such a plush venue, so my return is pretty much guaranteed the next time I’m traversing Soho with dinner in mind.
It’s little wonder then that Kettner’s still manages to attract the local business crowd and nearby theatregoers in their evening droves, as it’s done since its 19th century heyday.
Kettner’s Brasserie, 29 Romilly Street, London W1D 5HP. www.kettners.com
By Kris Griffiths