Ordinarily, a glitzy bar-cum-restaurant-cum-nightclub like McQueen in Shoreditch isn't the kind of place you'd find me having dinner. Aimed squarely at the kind of high-spending, hard-living City geezers 'n' gals who like their spirits premium, house happy and ropes velvet, it's somewhere I've always given a wide berth, even though I used to work just round the corner.
But then a few weeks ago at a networking event (yes, people do still go to those, or at least I do; they're like LinkedIn, but with wine) I met McQueen's very charming Marketing & PR Manager who, doing what good Marketing & PR Managers do when they scent someone who writes about restaurants, invited me in to try theirs. My kind of place or not, it would have been churlish to refuse, especially when it transpired that we had a mutual friend who would make the perfect dinner date.
Not realising that the restaurant has its own entrance on Tabernacle Street, we entered through the bar which, on a Thursday night, was - as I believe the kids say these days - going off. The decor, which carries through to the restaurant, is a bit blingy but perfectly inoffensive - parquet floors, Chesterfield sofas, slate walls, gilt-framed black-and-white pictures of the venue's inspiration, the eternally-cool Steve McQueen - and succeeds in making the space feel razzy without tipping over into tacky. The louche, sexily-lit room would, my pal Nic and I agreed, be ideal for a date, perhaps with someone who wasn't publicly your partner.
The menu (as well as the a la carte there are good value express lunch and early evening set menus) is unthreatening stuff - salads, bistro classics and a few grills - at not-too-terrible prices; starters are around the £8 mark and mains, except for steaks, all under £20. We kicked off with a couple of well-made cocktails and some courgette fritters, pleasingly thick wedges in a crunchy, salty crumb.
Nic's starter, a salad of carpaccio-thin slices of pretty candy beetroot with red apple and pepper cress in a lemon and herb dressing, was lovely to look at and fresh and clean on the palate, if a little bland. Mine, three plump, sweet scallops topped with crumblingly-crisp streaky bacon and served on a cauliflower puree given a kick with white pepper, was much livelier.
Poor Nic didn't do too well with her main course, a very ordinary veggie burger which - horrors - wasn't cooked all the way through and was served on an only-partially-defrosted bun. The dual shame of this was that, having chosen to serve such a humdrum vegetarian option in the first place, the kitchen couldn't at least do it well. They redeemed themselves with my monkfish, a good firm fillet served on soft, silky buttered leeks with smoky griddled razor clams, although it was rather heavy-handedly salted.
Desserts, fortunately, were spot on. Ginger pannacotta with honeyed madeleines was a very happy marriage of tastes and textures, while a classic hot chocolate fondant was as good an example as I've encountered anywhere. Coffee, too often an over-priced afterthought, was of a high standard, as was service which was nicely paced and unpressured with none of the forced formality or up-selling that I might have expected of such a 'see-and-be-seen' location.
All-in-all, bar that very poor veggie burger, McQueen was better than I thought it would be. My perhaps prejudiced expectation of venues like this is that they'll be more style than substance, the food and beverage offering secondary to loud music and a late licence in attracting customers; not so here. Not only did I enjoy McQueen despite it not being somewhere I'd usually go; I'd go so far as to say that I'd happily go back.
McQueen, 51-56 Tabernacle Street, London EC2A 4AA Tel: 020 7036 9229 www.mcqueen-shoreditch.co.uk
Posted by +Hugh Wright