My esteemed colleague The Goblet recently remarked on the number of central London pubs called The Blue Posts: they were named, so I have discovered, after the brace of blue poles that once denoted a rank for sedan chairs.
The Rupert Street incarnation of The Blue Posts, under the same ownership as The Palomar two doors away, is – as The Goblet says – a little jewel of a corner pub, with terrific wines and cocktails; the food offering, I am happy to report, is equally enticing.
On my lunchtime visit, the short bar menu featured excellent steak tartare and a fine brioche roll stuffed with fried seafood and tartare sauce. But it is Evelyn’s Table, the bijou basement restaurant, that holds the greatest allure for the gourmet. Perch in Palomar-like fashion on one of a dozen or so stools around the open kitchen and feast on an Italian-inspired, seafood-rich menu that, in a blur of gastro-choreography, turns into dinner before your eyes.
Mine started with a terrific tomato salad with cured monkfish, coriander oil and blobs of avocado purée, followed by vitello tonnato (deeply trendy now), distinguished by thin, tender slices of very pink veal and deep-fried capers; then a plate of springy, peppery spaghetti cacio e pepe, winningly made with Berkswell as well as pecorino; finally, a whole, unimpeachably fresh red mullet bathed in smoky peperonata. The only drawback is that Evelyn’s Table is not an especially well‑kept secret: book well in advance.
Just across the street from another Blue Posts – on Newman Street in Fitzrovia, a 10-minute walk north of Evelyn’s Table – there is another temple of gastronomy in the light-flooded courtyard of the Mandrake Hotel. The food at Serge et le Phoque is as magical as its setting: executive chef/partner Frédéric Peneau’s eclectic menu mixes French, Spanish and Italian influences with breathtaking authority and skill. A plate of crisp calamari alla romana, for example, with a dusting of raspberry powder adding a sweet, sharp edge; cecina (smoky, air-dried beef) on tomato-drenched toast; then more ripe tomatoes in a salad with glisteningly fresh crab, tarragon and red gooseberries.
Spatchcocked poussin arrives as a miniaturised version of the kind of dish that hungry grape-pickers might enjoy at sunset: perfectly cooked baby chicken in a Pedro Ximénez-rich, herb-flecked sauce, crowned with crisped wafers of new potato. Spinach-draped John Dory is bathed in a carrot jus – thin in texture, but miraculously rich in flavour; shell-bustingly plump cockles wallow in garlicky juices that need half a loaf of excellent bread to mop them up.
If Peneau were a musician, he would have perfect pitch: I have eaten at Serge et le Phoque twice to try as many of his dishes as possible, with not a dud among them. He has a lightness of touch too – just as well, since the last sedan chair departed centuries ago.