About three or four years ago, restaurants offering robust, butch British fare in clubby surroundings (gentlemen's rather than night) were the height of fashion, Dean Street Townhouse being the first and I would still argue the best of the bunch. It was a fashion I was very happy with, this being exactly the kind of food I like to eat and the kind of place I like to eat it in.
Fashions change however, with each new restaurant opening now seemingly contending to be more niche and novel than the last, so just as I was thinking we'd all moved on to places serving only hot dogs and champagne or authentic pork-bone ramen, it came as a not-unpleasant surprise to hear about somewhere as resolutely - one might say wilfully - old-school as Reform Social & Grill.
Located in the Mandeville Hotel in Marylebone, Reform consists of a bar area (the Social) serving some pretty spot-on cocktails - they got my vodka Martini exactly right - and the Grill, a large room which with its bare-wood floors, dark Edwardian colour palette and studded leather banquettes and booths is attractive but almost oppressively masculine. On the night Alyn and I visited we were the only diners for almost the entire evening, word having clearly not yet spread that Marylebone, an area well-served for high-end eating establishments but less so for good everyday options, now has exactly that.
I always enjoy being faced with a menu I find it hard to choose from due to liking the sound of everything, and that was certainly the case here. The starter I eventually settled on, St George mushrooms on toast with a poached egg, was exactly the kind of comforting savoury I enjoy at home, while Alyn's pheasant Scotch egg with mayonnaise managed to be an imaginative, tasty reboot of a dish which appears in myriad variants on almost every pub/grill/bistro menu these days - no mean feat.
For main courses we both ordered from the Charcoal Grill selection. Alyn's 300g rib eye steak - great beef, its origins surprisingly unidentified given the menu writer's attention to provenance elsewhere - was huge and very tender, served on the bone with obscenely moreish chips sprinkled in smoked Cornish salt. I pigged (and cowed, and lambed) out on an exemplary mixed grill of English rose veal, a lamb chop, chipolatas, black pudding (Ramsey's, whoever he is), roasted bone marrow and a veal Scotch egg, all of unimpeachable quality and beautifully cooked. If that sounds gut-busting, it wasn't, the quantum of everything being just enough to appreciate and sate but not to overwhelm.
If the inclusion on the menu of both Desserts and Puddings seems affected, it only reflects an attention to the semantics of sweets, the desserts being various sugary afters and puddings proper steamed mounds of Billy Bunterish nostalgia. Alyn's Bakewell pudding with raspberry preserve came with a generous Cornishware jug of custard and disappeared before I could taste it; apparently it was excellent. So too was my Reform trifle, cleverly - and fashionably - substituting sticky PX for the usual sherry, mascarpone for whipped cream and pistachios for almonds. It was the kind of dish I wish was served everywhere, but because it isn't will return here for.
As well as a glass each of a wonderful orange Muscat with our puds we chose a bottle of a complex rosé Malbec, one of few new world bottles on a mostly old world list interesting for its inclusion of familiar grapes from lesser-known vineyards, accessibly-priced.
Service was courteous and, to our relief bearing in mind the emptiness of the place, not overly-attentive. If staff occasionally lingered longer to chat with us than they might otherwise have done, it couldn't be held against them given the lack of anyone else to distract them.
Dedicated followers of food fashion might consider it a folly for anyone to open a restaurant so far off the zeitgeist, now of all times and in London of all places. Those who care about the more important details however - that Reform Social & Grill serves extremely good food at fair prices in a pleasant room where, in another sign that current trends are being eschewed, it is possible to book a table, not that currently at least you would need to - should rejoice.
Reform Social & Grill, Mandeville Place, London W1U 2BE Tel: 020 7224 1624 http://www.reformsocialgrill.co.uk
Posted by +Hugh Wright