From the onset, I must admit I’ve never felt the need to visit a restaurant in the middle of the night. A bit of a traditionalist, perhaps; I feel night time is meant for sleeping, although admittedly, I have been partial to a midnight snack.
VQ in Aldgate is by no means the first restaurant to offer 24-hour dining options, but its location on the ground floor of the Dorsett City Hotel does lend itself to extended dining hours. The Aldgate location is the group’s fourth venture, alongside Chelsea, Bloomsbury and Notting Hill, and will be joined by another ten sites over the next three years. Designed by Busby Webb, the décor is clean and functional, but clearly focuses on comfort, with a mixture of plush leather banquettes and booths, about half of which are filled with happy-looking punters on a Thursday evening.
We’re seated in one of these booths, offered water and left to peruse both food menus (a main menu and an all-day breakfast menu). It’s worth noting that the water served (Belu) is not only served in bottles made of 45% recycled ethical glass, but also highlights that all the company’s profits are donated directly to WaterAid (over £2 million since 2011). The breakfast menu has, as expected, all the usual breakfast staples: porridge, full English, pancakes, omelettes and so on. Yet we opt for the dinner menu instead.
This main menu contains hearty British and American dishes such as burgers, salads, sandwiches and so on, offering plenty of choice. We begin by ordering a bottle of Rioja Garnacha Semi Crianza – a full-bodied wine that’s smoky, invitingly smooth and stands up to the dishes we eventually decide to order. To start, soup of the day (courgette and spinach, £5.50) is served with toasted sourdough and butter. The bread seems similar to standard sliced bread, but it’s warm, allowing the butter to melt nicely on top without causing it to run off of the bread as it is dipped into the soup. The soup itself is excellent. Although I love soup, I rarely order it in restaurants as the options are often somewhat boring. This one is far from it: silky smooth with both sweet and savoury notes, elevated by a crowning drizzle of oil.
Scottish smoked salmon (£7.95) is served with the same sourdough, capers and butter. The capers are an excellent addition, adding a welcome burst of sourness, though cream cheese would, perhaps, be more suitable than the butter. Here, the richness of cheese would balance the dish, adding a creaminess and a depth of flavour more profound. As it it, the dish is still a fine introductory course. Next, a lamb burger (£7.95) is served in a brioche bun (I know, snooze!) with feta, rocket, pomegranate seeds, aioli, red onion and cumin jam and yes, it is as good as it sounds. The whole dish has a distinctly Middle Eastern flavour and the addition of pomegranate seeds to the salty feta and uniquely soft lamb is a stroke of genius.
On my side of the table, a steak sandwich (£10.95) comes with two cooking choices: ‘pink’ or ‘well done’. Ordering pink, I have high expectations and VQ doesn’t disappoint. At the centre of this absolutely enormous sandwich is a whole, pink, juicy, lightly seasoned minute steak. It’s served in a ciabatta (also whole) with rocket, caramelised onions and horseradish sauce. This is not a light meal. The steak is unequivocally the star of this show, and rightly so, but it’s supporting cast, although simple, are all there for a reason. The caramelised onion is sweet and sticky and the horseradish sauce is made fresh, adding a little heat. If I could have had my way, I would have preferred fresh horseradish, rather than a sauce, but admittedly, I am picking at straws here. This sandwich is truly quite brilliant.
We could leave happy at this stage, but the words ‘Panna Cotta’ catch my eye on the dessert menu and there’s nothing that can be done to avoid the dish. Impressed by the mains, I’m unable to resist. The buttermilk and vanilla panna cotta (£5.50) is served with berry compote and pistachio nuts, which all work very well together indeed. I must admit I cannot taste the difference from a non-buttermilk panna cotta, VQ manage to get the wobble just right, allowing the lightness and creaminess of this dessert to prevail. Sticky Toffee Pudding (£5.95), on the other hand, is a popular choice here (judging by sheer numbers passing by us from the kitchen). I’m not a great fan of sticky toffee pudding, as a dish, but am assured it’s just as should be: hearty, warm and rich with toffee.
VQ Aldgate’s comfortable, friendly atmosphere is a pleasant surprise. Should I ever be overcome with the desire to indulge in a full meal in the middle of the night, this venue will be high on my list. But regardless of time, the steak sandwich is certainly one to remember.
VQ Aldgate can be found at Dorsett City Hotel, 9-13 Aldgate High Street, London, EC3N 1AH.