Would I like to write an article about the food at the Institution of Civil Engineers? Well, I have had some strange requests during the course of my writing career and this one was right up there with such projects as a review of an empty binder and a very expensive saucepan lid.
What do civil engineers eat? I guessed they would be drinking builders’ tea but the food element was not so easy to imagine. Sports stadium stew? Multi-storey car-park crab cakes? No, I just was not getting a picture of anything other than a portakabin of dusty donkey-jacketed, hard-hatted, theodolite-wielding blokes.
Brasserie One is indeed housed inside, on the lower floor of the Institution of Civil Engineers, but that building is as far away from a portakabin as you could get. It’s typical of the imposing grey stone buildings of Westminster. Solid, with steps and brass plaques. The entrance hall is an exercise in neo-classical architecture and art. It was built between 1910 and 1913 as the result of an architectural competition won by James Miller, RSA. Sweeping stairs, oil paintings and heavy wood polished to glowing warmth. The Institution is part of the Film London Partnership and has been used as a London film location for various productions.
We found our way to the cloakroom and deposited our coats. Still no donkey jackets but, rather, lots of men in suits. Off to the brasserie. A contemporary contrast to the grand public spaces. This was light and modern in muted magnolia tones with dashes of vibrancy supplied by the multi-coloured glass shades of the table lights.
The brasserie is frequented by the members of the Institution and those in the know. It isn’t a restaurant that you’ll likely just stumble over. It is, however, open to the public as is the café just next door. There are also private dining rooms which lend a new meaning to the phrase ‘fine dining’. That term often in reality means that the gravy is wiped from the edge of the plate and the ketchup is in a glass bottle. Fine dining at the Institution of Civil Engineers, on the other hand, is a memorable experience. Antiques, more oil paintings, polished tables and an ambiance reminiscent of embassy functions. They have private rooms here to suit anything from small groups to mass gatherings. Its location and exquisite style has assured that these function rooms have welcomed royalty, heads of state and the great and the good from every strata of society. The packages available are all, however, surprisingly reasonable.
One Great George Street is flexible and contrives to meet every possible entertaining need. There is a screening room, and with prices starting at £25.00 per head with refreshments, it’s within the budget of most event organisers. If you have a large group of close friends then it’s possible to hire the whole of the building. If you have 259 chums then you will be accommodated, as there is space to wine and dine 260 in either the State Room or the Great Hall. There are various function rooms available depending on size of party. All are well-appointed and striking.
But we were not throwing a bash and there were just two of us so we settled for Brasserie One. A menu which changes every week reflected what was good at this spring season. Open from 12.00 until 14.30 every week-day, Brasserie One can seat up to 67. If you are just after a snack then the cafe next door provides sweet and savoury lite bites.
I was struck by the prices. £12 or so for some main dishes is far less than one would expect to pay in comparable establishments. It is a neighbourhood where one could be rubbing shoulders with media types or even a peckish politician. I settled on potted shrimp as my starter and it was a generous portion of buttery and well-seasoned shellfish, attractively served in a deep square ramekin. My guest enjoyed his Palma ham with peppery rocket salad, garnished with the classic sweet pear and walnut.
My main course was Omelette Arnold Bennett. This was a hearty plateful of fluffy egg surrounding opaque white smoked haddock. Once again the freshness of the simple ingredients and the more than adequate portion size gave one that warm, cosy feeling of all being well with the chef and his kitchen. David Wilkinson has been Executive Chef at Brasserie One since 2000. He says “It’s my first role as Exec Chef, and I can honestly say with hand on heart that this has been the most enjoyable job I have ever had. The progress that we have made here, not just in the kitchen but also in One Great George Street in general, has been amazing. It’s been a great experience, albeit challenging, building up the exceptional team we now have. All this experience has enabled us to cater efficiently for capacities previously not considered, with the quality and standard of the food we offer having improved immensely.”
My partner for lunch craved a bit of meat and was not disappointed with his pork cutlet which he proclaimed juicy and flavourful. It was a thick chop garnished with creamy mash, roasted root vegetables and braised apple. He hardly had room for dessert.
The sweets on offer here also change with the seasons, like Mango Panna Cotta dressed with diced mango and a mango puree. It’s just the right time to find that fruit at its best in the shops, and used to great effect here. Thoughtful in both execution and presentation.
Brasserie One is a restaurant which works on every level. The food can’t be faulted. The chef sets high standards not only for the restaurant menu but also for function catering. Everything is made on the premises to assure that the good reputation gained over these past years is maintained. Attention to detail and realistic prices guarantee the continued success of this hidden gem.
The Brasserie and Café Bar are located at the Institution of Civil Engineers, One Great George Street, just off Parliament Square, a short walk from Westminster tube station.
One Great George Street
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018