My friend Elsa had noticed the Evening Standard was offering meal deals at a number of restaurants throughout January and suggested we take up one of the offers. There were some great places to choose from but some I knew already – like Quaglino’s and Cantina del Ponte – so I thought it would be fun to try somewhere new. I suggested the Royal Exchange – right by the Bank of England – in the City sounded a fairly exciting place to try out and not somewhere I’d normally think of going. So Elsa and I arranged to meet there this evening.
Coincidently I was in the same area on Saturday when I did the London Coffeehouse Tour so I knew the best route. I always think a trip to the City is quite a mission from West London but it’s straight through from Richmond on the District Line to Mansion House and then a very short walk. Easy!
I’ve walked past the Royal Exchange so many times yet I never knew you could just walk in; in fact, on my way there tonight, I was wondering, How do you I get in! Well, the answer is you walk straight through the doors at the front. Inside is a galleria worthy of Milan (and Elsa, whose Italian family live in Milan, thought so too) – it’s simply fabulous and proved a wonderfully atmospheric and stylish venue for our evening together. There was a central bar area serving seafood and champagne and on the first floor is a more formal restaurant.
The Royal Exchange was founded in 16th century by Sir Thomas Gresham, a London merchant, to provide a place for merchants to trade. It was awarded a ‘royal’ status in 1571 by Queen Elizabeth 1 but the original building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. A second building was also destroyed by fire in 1838 and the building we see today was opened by Queen Victoria in 1844. It’s no longer an ‘exchange’ but in 2001 was redesigned and reopened as basically a shopping mall – like an Italian galleria! – with offices too. You can see that the courtyard where the Grand Cafe spreads out across the floor was once open to the skies in its original incarnation. Today, more practically, it’s covered. But you can sense how the original would have looked when people were trading there.
The Evening Standard ‘Dine Out’ meal deal was a set menu at £15 for 2 courses; £20 for 3, including a glass of wine. There was a good choice of three things for each course. I chose a ‘Classic Prawn Cocktail’ for my starter. I could happily have had the other choices too but couldn’t resist a bit of Retro. And it was good too, attractively served in a tall martini-style glass.
Elsa went for the Roast Butternut Squash Soup with Gruyere Beignet, which she said was good.
Elsa chose whole grilled plaice with fennel salad and Cafe de Paris butter for her main while I went for a Venison Cottage Pie served with Sautéed Brussels Sprout with Chestnuts.
It was very tasty. The cottage pie would have benefitted from a slightly thicker potato layer with a little less cheese – it was very cheesy. But the meat and gravy were delicious and perfect for a winter’s evening. We chose the same dessert: Yogurt Mousse with caramelised apple, oats and cinnamon.
This was good too: not too sweet and nicely light at the end of the meal. I had a coffee and we each ordered an extra 125ml glass of wine on top of the one that came with the meal and altogether the bill came to £57 (including service), which I thought was a good price for what we had. We also noted that the ‘deal’ was good in itself. Sometimes ‘deals’ come with the bare minimum and by the time you’ve added in some veg and other extras the ‘deal’ mounts up. But this was genuine. We didn’t need any extras and the portions were good sizes.
I just loved the venue: it felt continental and cosmopolitan; there was a great buzz and yet the tables were well spaced so you could talk privately and easily without being overheard. The service was excellent: attentive and friendly. It’s a good discovery – though of course not especially convenient for this West Londoner! But if you’re in the area it’s the kind of place to meet people for breakfast or lunch as well as dinner or maybe just a drink. All the shops are the super expensive luxury kind – but then it’s nice to look! I also felt it was somewhere I’d happily pop into if in the area on my own and know I’d feel comfortable. And really, if you want a good ‘being in the City of London’ experience then what a great place to visit just for the history (click here for Royal Exchange website). As for the Evening Standard – get online (www.standard.co.uk) and check out their other great offers running until 16 February (but not including Valentine’s Day on the 14th).