“A good dinner and feasting reconciles everybody”, Samuel Pepys wrote in November 1665. Though best known for first-hand accounts of the Great Fire of London and the plague, kept within his diary, Samuel Pepys also wrote numerous passages on his favourite things to eat – perhaps most notably The Lampery Pye.
Within the Apex Hotel City of London, a contemporary hotel on Seething Lane (one of Pepys’ former residences), The Lampery opened in September, serving a ‘Best of British’ menu heavily inspired by the city’s history. The restaurant’s all-day dining menu offers dishes such as ‘London Particular’ pea and ham soup inspired by London’s ‘peasouper’ fogs and the namesake Lampery Pye (more on that later). During lunch, the space’s floor-to-ceiling windows allow plenty of natural light to flood the dining room, with décor that’s surprisingly modern when considering the general theme. Tables are well-spaced, topped with marble effect and convoyed with deep blue plush banquettes. Suspended from the ceiling, a blanket of foliage hangs and dances in the air churned from the central heating system. Although not discomforting, the space does feel somewhat sterile – lest we forget that we’re eating in a square mile hotel.
Lunch begins with a plate of soused mackerel, highly-recommended by a waiter, formerly of COYA in Mayfair. Slivers of mackerel have torched skin and are otherwise served raw, complemented by further bold flavours of horseradish and paper-thin beetroot laced with a sharp pickling liquor, splicing through the oiliness of the fish as well as bringing pleasant textural contrast. A kilner jar of ham hock and goose liver terrine is also served with pickles, which are the only real provider of flavour. Alas, the terrine is served fridge cold and tastes, quite bizarrely, of nothing more than wafer-thin supermarket ham, the type that’s more water than pork.
To follow, beef wellington is a dish always completely irresistible and sized for one: a welcome rarity in London. Sliced diagonally, the wellington visually resembles a Gregg’s steak bake, but tastes far superior. The central fillet steak is properly seasoned and cooked medium-rare, the pastry-meat ratio is also surprisingly ample, bolstered by a duxelle of wild mushroom and foie gras, which absorbs the meat’s cooking juices, preventing the thick puff pastry from becoming saturated. More pastry comes with the Lampery Pye. Annoyingly served on a small chopping board, a cast iron pot ensnares a rich combination of beef cheek, prunes, Acacia honey and subtle, sweet spices – nutmeg and cinnamon, topped with a thin short crust pastry lid. This particular flavour combination seems distinctly North African, more of a Tagine than 17th century British pie. The combination is delightful, though the overall body cries out for some sauce.
Another recommendation, ‘The End’ section of the a la carte menu’s chocolate and almond slice is upsold. With the firmness of a brownie but the insalubrious decadence of raw chocolate cake mixture, the slice is set atop a chocolate biscuit base and showered with cocoa powder. The flavour of almond isn’t particularly present in the cake, but all can be forgiven contemplating the Armagnac cream’s profound depth. Otherwise, the menu uses the word ‘burnt’ to describe the rhubarb meringue pie, quite discouragingly. A thick base of short crust pastry is filled with tart rhubarb gel and topped with Italian meringue coloured with a blow torch. The meringue harbours enough sweetness to contrast the rhubarb, but without overpowering. It’s a remarkable dessert, the best of British, even.
The Lampery can be found at 1 Seething Lane, London, EC3N 4AX.