The Caxton Grill
2 Caxton Street
Tel: 0800 652 1498
Yet more secrets of Caxton Street revealed…
The Caxton Grill is old school. A proper restaurant, that has a sensible menu that harks back to the wonder days of the traditional Savoy Grill. For lunch you could have lamb hot pot or smoked haddock risotto or three kinds of fish and chips. The food holds many secrets, I have written before about 2 Caxton Street being the birthplace of the wartime SOE instigated by Churchill in the early years of WW 2, who told them to “now go and set Europe ablaze”. What I hadn’t appreciated is that it still holds a few secrets, culinary secrets.
As I was unusually dining alone I thought I’d better make the most of it. No compromises over this lunch. To kick things off I was offered an absolutely brilliant tapenade. I asked what had gone into it, the chef was consulted he revealed olives, anchovies, garlic, olive oil and seasoning. Firstly I could not detect any anchovy at all. Some sort of alchemy was at work here. It had some saltiness, but no fishiness it tasted rich without being overpowering. It came with bread and butter with a sprinkle of sea salt. I ate it all and asked for more (see what I mean about making the most of dining alone).
The restaurant was starting to get busy and as I had no companion it gave me a chance to people watch and listen. It is quite fascinating to observe fellow diners as they reach their own conclusions about what to order. Some people let others choose their lunch (never!) others are happy to be led along the wine path of a more knowledgeable companion. Some were clearly lunching with a senior colleague and just do as they are told.
A pea veloute with ham hock and a cheese wafer caught my eye. Now this is where things start to unravel. I’m quite good at judging tastes, seasoning etc. The beautifully presented soup that had a little diving board of pastry adorned with cheese, nasturtiums and salad leaves tasted a little under seasoned, it should have more salt. Then as I had another spoonful this time a bit deeper in the bowl I realised how premature I’d been with my judgement. The ham hock carried a hefty taste and with it a salty kick that complemented to the pea veloute perfectly, a great dish, one nil to the Caxton Grill.
On the menu was a section ‘from the Josper’. I just couldn’t resist. A Josper is an enclosed large oven that has a bed of embers at the bottom, so it works like a conventional charcoal grill but as the heat is contained it cooks quicker sealing in all the flavour (could this have been ordered by Churchill to set my steak ablaze?) The 300g, sirloin steak sitting on a chunky wooden board was an edifice of expectation, deep in flavour and arrived with peppercorn sauce. Well I thought it did, the meat was rare and full of flavour but the sauce seemed to be just creamy. Yet again The Caxton had tricked me, the sauce, as I worked my way through it revealed a collection of peppercorns at the bottom of the tiny pan they sat in. Lurking like culinary shot waiting its turn for the trigger to be pulled, two nil to The Caxton. They take their subterfuge quite seriously here. The accompanying smokey roasted red peppers and luscious mash matched the massive flavours well.
I had a chance to catch up on my other diners; the boss was continuing to gently railroad his subordinate into eating and drinking more than they wanted. A family get together was moving along nicely. A couple of tables had delights from the Josper. I didn’t see anybody leaving anything on his or her wooden boards.
Desserts on offer or ‘afters’ as they are known here seem to err on the traditional. A blackcurrent parfait with candied fennel and shortbread caught my eye, a gingerbread crème brulee aroused interest but in the end I chose chocolate orange with salted caramel and burnt orange ice cream. It looked terrific and had a texture so smooth you felt like resting your head on it and having a little nap. Candied slices of orange worked well to cut through the slab of chocolate orange and a splash of salted caramel gave it all balance. A line of finely grated chocolate ploughed its way across the plate to finish the job. The waiter asked if I liked it and then told me it was the chef’s signature dish. My empty plate told him how much I enjoyed it and yet another secret had passed me by, three nil to The Caxton.
Blinded at every corner from the seasoning to the secret ingredients in the tapenade to ‘stumbling across’ one of the best desserts I’ve had this year, readers I feel I have failed you. But on the other hand maybe I’ve saved you from making a poor choice for lunch? The Caxton Grill is an out and out winner, lunch here is an epic triumph on the pitch for the chef and humbling plate on the sub’s bench for the critic.