Shepherd's, a Westminster institution, has reopened with a revamped British menu and a new head chef - Paul Crosdale (ex-Berners Tavern).
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I've passed Shepherds many times on the c10 bus going back and forth from my present home to my friends in my former home in pimlico. I had written it off as a stuffy haunt for senior civil servants having never set foot inside. Finding ourselves in that neck of the woods with nothing to do on a Saturday night, we decided to give it a try figuring it would be quiet. It was. Only two tables occupied.
First off - the staff are lovely. We were a bit over-served because they were probably feeling a bit lonely and wanted people to talk to. I expect this level of attention is not technically feasible on a busier week day. Anyway - we're friendly chicks - we don't mind this kind of thing.
First out of the gates came a delicious basket of sourdough which we couldn't keep our paws off. Next up an ultra-amazing pea and truffle soup that gave you the full flavour profile of the whole plant. The green green soup was poured around a little hill of pea shoots, blanched fresh peas and summer truffle slivers. It was deliciously vegetal. I don't generally remember what happened last week, but I'll remember that soup.
The mains didn't quite hit that lofty note. I'm a vegeterian, my companion isn't. I honestly don't mind where a dish is adapted for vegetarians. I've often looked down menus where the only option is pasta and thought...couldn't you just adapt one of those for me instead?......they look so much more interesting. And many places now do just that, building whole vegetarian menus from adaptations. This is fine because we all know what is happening here. What I like a bit less is an adaptation being passed off as a creation.
Basically me and my companion had the same main course, but she with fish on top, me with grilled artichokes. Below was a nice stew of summer vegetables in a fresh tomato-based sauce with lovely moreish little dumplings. Now, I was kind of expecting this, as this had been described for the veggie option. She was rather surprised to be getting the veggie option with fish on top. That said, in her case the tomato base made more sense. In mine, it made a collection of some of my favourite vegetables seem a bit banal because while the tomato can be there but just doesn't have a lot to say to these veggies, so I suspect that my dish was the adaptation, not hers.
Having worked in the restaurant business and deploring waste, I totally appreciate making these kind of economies of scale so you can stay open for your regulars on a night it makes little financial sense to do so. It's how you package your offer and manage your customers expectations of wanting to feel vaguely special.
I made some stupid choices with the wine - my own fault - but my companion had a totally delicious gros manseng/sauv blanc that was great value. I'm loving this blend generally at the moment. Generally they have a nice choice of wines by the glass. Didn't really glance down the list because I no longer want to drink just to finish a bottle off and one size rarely fits all tastes anyway.
We were stuffed to the gills so couldn't manage desserts, although I definitely would have ordered had space been available. We rounded off with a couple of glasses of textbook stickies.
Oh my god! I nearly forgot to mention the amazing cauliflower cheese! It's more like cauliflower 4 cheeses. It was roast or panfried cauli, so browned/blackened in places, with a strong thick mixed cheese sauce poured over and flashed under the grill. Being honest, this was a brutally ugly dish because the sauce was quite thick and brown and had the appearance.....no I won't say it here. Neither of us wanted to mention this till we were back on the c10 bus. But it was cauli cheese on another level. The toasted cauli below was more than a match for the powerful sauce. Just close your eyes. We should have ordered the stickies earlier just to deal with it.
So - it was equivalent to 3 courses with 2 glasses of wine each (and all that bread we shouldn't have eaten) for £50 each in a posh comfy place. For this neighbourhood, this is not excessive pricing. There's a reliableness to Shepherds, like they know what they are doing and will look after you very well. Sometimes you just need that. I say that based on a single visit of course.
On balance we will be back. They get so much right. It goes in my low risk box of resto choices, where you can't risk the evening scarred by incompetence or inadequacy in the kitchen or front of house. In a city stuffed to bursting with restaurants at all price points, you would think this conceptual box might be full, wouldn't you?
Oh my god how long is this review? So sorry. Too hung over to edit it now.
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Food 8 | Service 10 | Atmosphere 9 | Value for money 8
Sunday, May 24, 2015