Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Rebecca Seal and reader Samantha Lawrence compare notes on Keeper’s House.
Rebecca Seal is a journalist,
presenter and author. She’s the resident drinks expert on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch and a regular contributor to ES magazine.
Samantha Lawrenceis the MD of a TV production company and lives in London. She eats out two or three times a week and her favourite food is tapas. Her best eating out experience was lobster and chips at Randall and Aubin.
Oliver Peyton’s Peyton and Byrne group is responsible for restaurants at a number of London arts establishments including The National Gallery, Wallace Collection and now Keeper’s House – a space not previously open to the public. Keeper’s House lies across the romantic Annenberg Courtyard off Piccadilly and once inside, you’ll find an impressive cocktail bar and the 40-seater restaurant on the lower ground floor.
The formal restaurant is split into two rooms decorated with classical, 15th century casts. The highly seasonal menu showcases British ingredients at their best and makes use of heritage vegetables as well as wild, foraged ingredients. During the day, the restaurant is only open to friends and patrons of The Academy, as well as Royal Academicians, but it is open from 4pm until midnight to the public, Monday to Saturday and until 6pm on Sunday.
The staff were admirably polite about us being 15 minutes late and our waiter was very chirpy as he zipped around offering aperitifs and pouring water. We couldn’t decide on wine so he offered us a taste, but didn’t tell us the price until after we’d agreed we liked it. At £40 it was pretty steep for
a weeknight. I don’t think I was recognised*, but later we were given two enormous free glasses of wine (although the waiter said it was to make up for the lack of choice earlier).
We arrived at the restaurant separately and my partner was asked to wait at reception while they checked that I was expecting him. At the point of ordering we were told two things were off the menu, which would have been helpful to know at the start. The menu has changed recently and while the staff didn’t know it inside out, the waiter went out of his way to get more information. We had to remind them to fill up our wine glasses and also ask for bread. Generally slow service, which was surprising as it wasn’t busy.
Being ushered underground, beneath the grand old buildings of the Royal Academy and into a small, baize-lined dining room, made it feel like we were eating in
a rather lovely members’ club (which at lunchtime is exactly what it is). The menu is all about British ingredients, treated simply but cleverly, which manages to appeal to people who love trendy, slightly Scandinavian-feeling food (me), like clay-baked potatoes with truffle and artichoke and the patrician types on the next table, who looked very happy with their roast hare and pink fir potatoes.
Great British Menu judge Oliver Peyton, has brought former head chef at the Wallace Collection, Ivan Simeoli, along with him to Keeper’s House. My cured mackerel starter, came on top of a gorgeous tangle of seaweeds and tiny cubes of raw green tomato. My boyfriend’s scallops were served with nutty celeriac purée and an unlikely sounding garnish: burnt Amalfi lemons, incinerated until they looked like something you’d scrape off the bottom of the oven, but delicious.
Mains were equally good: pheasant, served fairly rare, came with raw pear, creamy hazelnut puree and buttery black cabbage; sea bass had a crispy skin and went neatly with an intense, fresh green parsley sauce and squid reduction. For pud, we shared bitter chocolate caramel with ice cream, which, because it contained Ovaltine, tasted like a (delicious) posh Mars bar. It came with a small espresso martini, which we didn’t need, but drank anyway.
The menu was varied and interesting, with some unusual flavour combinations. Prices were as you would expect for a central London restaurant. My smoked leek starter served with ewe’s cream and squash, was underwhelming; the dish lacked seasoning and generally felt lacklustre. My partner had a beautifully presented dish of clay-baked potatoes with truffle and artichoke; the potatoes had
a flavourful crust, and although they were served lukewarm, the dish felt elegant and well balanced.
For mains, I had baked dumplings with wild mushrooms and aged cheddar. The dumplings were light and fluffy, the sea cabbage fresh and crunchy, all served in a rich cheese sauce – overall very satisfying. My partner had 28-day aged sirloin with beetroot and pistachio. The meat was succulent and tender and while you had to search for the beetroot, the pistachio worked well with the steak. We weren’t offered sides and this dish was crying out for something to balance it, such as the pink fir potato and leek hash or the sea radish and aster salad.
Desserts were sublime – we shared the dark chocolate and liquorice sandwich with green apple and the bitter chocolate caramel, coffee and Ovaltine. The former was delicious, and although you had to dig deep for the liquorice flavour, the apple three ways was a revelation, foamy and full of flavour. It was a beautifully combined dish. The bitter chocolate dessert came with a small espresso martini, and every flavour sung in this dish – it was a real showstopper to end our meal.
the bottom line
A snug, hidden away little spot in central London with attentive staff, imaginative food and an excellent wine list; I’ll definitely be going back.The cosy- looking little bar next door to the dining room is reason enough
for a second visit.
FOOD 8/10; ATMOSPHERE 7/10; SERVICE 7/10; REBECCA’S TOTAL: 22/30
There are too many
inconsistencies to be able
to recommend Keeper’s
House. Although the
food was generally
delicious, the restaurant
It was a frustrating
showed as we
ended the night
complimentary glasses of champagne and we weren’t charged for the wine.
FOOD 7/10; ATMOSPHERE 2/10; SERVICE 5/10; SAMANTHA’S TOTAL: 14/30
Keeper’s House Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating:
Keeper’s House changes its menu daily to
incorporate mostly British, seasonal produce,
although the restaurant could look to use
exclusively British ingredients. The Sirloin
steak is British, organic, free-range and produced to high welfare standards. Seafood features regularly and Keeper’s House should look into assessing its fish and seafood according to the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) FishOnline ratings. Keeper’sHouse has the potential to make low-cost, high-impact sustainability improvements.
Written February 2014