[This restaurant is now closed]
Kettner’s, I used to feel, seemed somewhat out of place in this corner of the great metropolis. It’s a genteel establishment and that’s not for which this corner of town had once been noted. This old Soho had evolved from a bolt-hole for religious-refugee Huguenots to the haunt of far less noble sorts who peddled X-rated films and associated iffy pleasures. But it has changed. Restaurants are higher end and it’s now a hub of entertainment for shoppers, drinkers and diners.
Originally Kettner’s was a terrace of four Georgian town houses. It was opened in 1867 by Auguste Kettner who was once the personal chef to Napoleon III. Napoleon went into exile in England, where he died in 1873. The restaurant became infamous as the rendezvous for such luminaries as Oscar Wilde who dined here (although he couldn’t remember the menu at his trial). He did, however, remark that it was ‘Kettner at his best’. There is a legend that King Edward VII ordered a secret tunnel to be built between Kettner’s and the Palace Theatre, where his mistress Lillie Langtry trod the boards.
The Grade II listed building is a veritable maze of rooms. There is the Brasserie, and then there is the Champagne Bar, and eight Private Dining Rooms. Summer evenings find the brasserie bathed in gentle light. Plenty of white linen, muted colours, mirrors, long-aproned waiters and animated conversation. Kettner’s is undoubtedly smart but it’s far from dusty. There is appropriate live music between Tuesday and Saturday from 7pm: a white grand piano fills a corner, to add to the expectation of some rather good food.
Lobster “Mac n Cheese” is a decadent and comforting dish much appreciated by my guest. It might sound an unlikely combination but it has actually become a contemporary classic. The ingredients work well together when the shellfish is well flavoured and the cheese isn’t overpowering. A great Kettner’s plate.
John Ross Traditional Oak Smoked Salmon, Crème Fraiche & Cucumber Salad was my starter. That fish also has history: it’s smoked over wood chippings in a red brick kiln dating back to 1857, just the right time frame for Kettner’s. The salmon was beautifully oily and rich.
Roast Sea Bass Fillet with Cucumber, Mussels and Tarragon Salad was my dining partner’s main dish. The fish was flaky and moist and the salad delicate. The Cabernet Sauvignon Dressing was a great pairing. A good sized portion, too.
Beef Bourguignon with Creamed Parsley Mash was my nod to the French origins of Chef Kettner. This was attractively presented in a copper pot, giving a rustic air to this beef in red wine. This is a comforting dish of rich gravy and meltingly tender meat and vegetables. It’s served often in many restaurants but, to be honest, the Kettner’s version is the only one I have really enjoyed in London for a long while. The mash was perfect and smooth and just enough. Did I mention the generous portion sizes at Kettner’s?
Glazed Lemon Tart is another classic dish served here. It looks simple, and indeed it is but it’s also for which to die when done properly. This was deliciously sharp with a thin pastry crust. My only complaint is that I didn’t have more room.
Kettner’s is unique. It’s just a matter of taste but I loved the décor, the ambiance and the food. It’s become an institution and for good reason.
Brasserie opening hours:
Monday – Wednesday: noon – midnight
Thursday – Friday: noon – midnight
Saturday: noon – midnight
Sunday: noon – 22:00
Bank Holidays: noon – 22:00
29 Romilly St.
[This restaurant is now closed]
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018