In Review

The Baptist Grill review: sustenance for the soul

With its sacred architecture and classically inspired menu, this is a restaurant built on divine foundations

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Part of the pleasure of eating in new restaurants is tasting life on the culinary frontier. It’s fun to dip a fork into the melting pot, skewer a clutch of obscurely foraged ingredients and lay them out on whatever flotsam or jetsam has been pressed into service as crockery.

But all that restless invention can lead to a craving for something simpler. Or perhaps not simple, because The Baptist Grill, at L’Oscar hotel, in Holborn, depends on the investment of great expertise and effort - but it’s all in the service of the gloriously, comfortingly familiar.

From the moment we stepped off the street and the doorman, who might just have pointed the way, instead walked with us down a wood-panelled corridor and up a spiral staircase, I sensed that we would be in safe hands. And we were.

We were also in a truly beautiful restaurant, formed from the first-floor mezzanine of a former Baptist chapel built in 1903. Octagonal, domed and grandly furnished, it is a room with presence. More impressive even than the architecture is the sense of space: there’s enough to swing not just a single cat, but several simultaneously, one from each table, without making contact.

The staff here project an air of quiet, reassuring confidence that suggests they may well have trained for such an eventuality. In no time at all, they’d have the diners back in their velvet-clad seats with a glass of wine in their hands, and the cats on terra firma with a morsel of Dover sole to salve their dignity.

All was quiet, however, as we eyed up the cocktails, named after the seven deadly sins (and, somewhat more ironically, the seven heavenly virtues). I chose Temperance, the most ironic of all, and a potent twist on the rusty nail. With smoke from ten-year-old Talisker, honey from a slug of Drambuie and the quinine tang of China Clementi, it went down all too easily with the hot, salty cheese gougeres which arrived with the menu.

Its pages set out a restrained collection of eight starters and nine main courses, simply described. Not without invention, it was nevertheless a menu built on classic principles - and another example of the serene self-confidence projected by the service.

I was drawn first to the starter of white asparagus with fresh ricotta, pine nuts and honey, but swerved at the last moment towards roasted artichoke soup. What had sealed the deal was the accompanying crouton of truffled comté toast, and it didn’t let me down. Two slabs of melting cheese, topped with a sliver of black truffle and sandwiched between squares of fried bread - I could have ditched the main course and had a round or two of this instead.

But we pressed on with Plan A, a 30oz cote de beouf for two, served with a slow-cooked parmentier of short rib, devilled bone marrow and smoked bearnaise. Unwisely, we had ordered side dishes too, including a rich and entirely unnecessary serving of truffled mashed potatoes.

Lighter options had been available - steamed Cornish cod with Jersey royals and watercress sauce, for example - but by now temperance was a distant memory, erased by beef and butter and marrow and truffle. We had given in to greed, sloth and gluttony, and it felt good.

The Baptist Grill, London WC1

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