Selfridges, Oxford Street, London www.selfridges.com
I’d forgotten how much I like department stores, I haven’t been inside one for years. As a small child they seemed so exotic, every step revealing a new enchanted place of high ceilings and intriguing aromas.
One minute it was the carpet section, enormous rolls on racks and then the pungent cosmetics section, the shiny kitchenware, the synchronously flashing TVs and, my favourite, a whole floor devoted to toys.
The last was at the very top of our local department store and it was like ascending to heaven, the escalators bringing you slowly up into the middle of the floor so the delights became, slowly, tantalisingly visible.
I was reminded of all this as I made the ascent to the second floor, where Selfridges The Corner Restaurant can be found. Still that same sense of excitement as each floor came into view.
You can’t, by the way, simply ask for directions ‘to the restaurant’ in Selfridges as there are no less than eighteen (or so) places to eat.
Which is why my guest found himself in Aubaine wondering where I was, while I was sat in The Corner Restaurant wondering where he was. That confusion resolved, we agreed The Corner Restaurant was a very pleasant place to be for lunch.
It is, as the name suggests, on a corner so there are large windows with two angles of view making it feel fresh and airy
Furnishing is art deco and relaxed and, as the restaurant isn’t that large, it has a quiet, pleasant, intimate feel to it. There were couples with small children, some elderly shoppers and a real mix of nations.
Menu, as one would expect, is ‘Modern European’ although the newly appointed Head Chef is an American,, Grant Clark (previously of The Breslin and Hearth in New York).It’s a menu designed to work all day for all kinds of needs; small plates, sharing options as well as three courses.
We ordered up nibbles of chickpea fritters with cucumber yoghurt, which I rather assumed would be socca, the South of France flatbread but which turned out to be falafels.
Might as well have called them that in the first place.Pretty decent ones, moister than many I’ve had to choke down that’s for sure and the cucumber yoghurt, or as we might say, raita helpfully tart.
Starters proper were impressive. My burrata with roasted Heirloom carrots, carrot top pesto and vinaigrette was visually impressive, although I did get a bit tangled in the carrot tops.
Each carrot was sweet and smokey and the burrata a pretty good example of its kind. Not as creamy or as liquid inside as some of the best I’ve had but still very enjoyable and the pesto excellently garlicky. A dish that really held together well.
S’s starter was resolutely not vegetarian, duck liver pâté, Coombeshead sourdough and shallot agrodolce topped with chopped chives, a pile of tiny, bright green, cylinders. that was almost sculptural
It was not the kind of horrid pate you get in pubs, this was pretty much a fried duck liver in all but name. So, it was delicious, I tried a bit on some of the bread (a bit too crunchy for my poor old teeth), and the sweet, sour, sticky shallots and blueberries made a perfect foil.
So, pretty good starters and generous portions. What to have for mains, though? They say good chefs never cook chicken, or maybe it’s just me that says that, but anyway the chicken here is a bit special and this chef’s speciality - Creedy Carver chicken, sherry vinegar, grilled tropea onions and Romesco sauce.
I first read that as Greedy Chicken, but a bit of fast Googling revealed that Creedy Carver are the kind of chicken farmers we should all be using; high quality chickens fed naturally and raised humanely.
What came was rather daunting, the plate was too small to easily contain a half chicken, spatchcocked and with all the trimmings. I had to go a bit easy with the knife and fork to avoid distributing the dish all over me and the table.
The chicken was remarkably good, the meat itself was excellent but what it made extra special was the way it had been seared and then roasted in vinegar and, apparently, brodo.
Slow cooking and constant basting had created a sticky glaze and kept the meat moist and the vinegar tang cut through the small amount of fat very effectively.
The Romesco sauce, dabbed onto each forkful brought in some sweetness from the nuts, which are an essential ingredient, and small smoky breath of paprika.
Romesco sauce is traditionally served with calcots, those giant spring onions cooked over coals. Here I think baby leeks replaced the calcots but worked similarly well.
I wasn’t sure about the tropea onions, though. A speciality of the Italian region of Tropea, they were a bit too ‘oniony’ for me.
My side dish of crispy new potatoes with sauerkraut, mustard seeds and crème fraîche seemed to me to be classically American in that it was a rather odd combination. The sauerkraut did not sit well with the chicken’s vinegar and I am afraid I didn’t eat it all.
On the other side of the table, S put away lobster bucatini in an excellent slow-cooked tomato sauce. The bucatini, made in house, was a nice surprise.
A thick spaghetti with a hole through the centre, it tends not to appear much on menus but that hole is perfect for a good sauce to climb inside. The lobster was generous.
Brown butter panna cotta, macerated English strawberries and biscuit crumble was pleasant, the pannacotta as slippery as an MP but with more core strength. S demurred on dessert, being full of pasta.
Eating in a department store has come a long way since my childhood and now is actually a thing to do, a proper meal not make do one.
The cooking at The Corner Restaurant is easily as good enough to be served at any quality standalone restaurant and the experience is relaxed yet stylish.
Next time you’re out shopping, drop in, drop the bags and tuck in.