Old Tom & English is not a members club but it feels like one. By that I don’t mean stuffy, exclusive or expensive; rather it’s a hidden gem, a welcoming space that calls forth a surprising sense of belonging. Its only frontage onto Wardour Street is an impressive but subtly labelled blue door behind which a tiny reception space leads downstairs to a sweet little bar. Seating areas for diners include several intimate corners and alcoves, affording privacy and cosiness. Lighting is subdued but not nightclub dark; design by Lee Broom is low key, retro and classy.
A reservations-only restaurant and bar, Old Tom & English is the brainchild of brother and sister team Costas and Maria Constantinou, stalwarts of the Soho dining scene. It offers modern British food, vintage-inspired cocktails and a short but carefully curated wine list. The name, for those who don’t know their vintage spirits [my hand is up!], is a nod to a popular 18th Century recipe, Old Tom Gin which is experiencing something of a resurgence.
As the menu consists of small plates designed to share, dining with a small group is the perfect way to experience the many menu highlights, not to mention the well-designed cocktail list.
The Crash Landing (£9.90) is based on the flavours of classic cocktail, The Aviation but here Sacred gin, maraschino liqueur and violet liqueur are topped with Pol Roger N/V. Bartender Alex skips the lemon juice of the Aviation but wipes the rim of the glass with lemon, so the aroma is still part of the experience.
For Burn’s night (the day before my visit), Alex created an Irn Bru gomme (syrup) for his celebratory Irn Bru Margarita. A nice take, though I will never develop a taste for salt-rimmed glasses.
The Coffee Cocktail (£9.90) is right up my street, not least because of the much-needed caffeine. Vodka infused with fresh ground coffee, with Tia Maria. I may have had more than one of these!
From the Veg section of the menu, egg and mushroom on toast (£7) which comes with jerusalem artichoke and an umami-rich Marmite butter.
And chips (£4), triple cooked and served with mustard mayo to dip. These are super!
From the Fish dishes, we have pan fried king scallops (£8), with bacon, goat’s cheese foam, chervil & sorrel. Two fat and tasty scallops; I thought the other flavours would overwhelm, but they complemented nicely.
And battered seabass (£9) with peas, watercress, spiced remoulade. Perfectly cooked fish with delightful crispy batter but oh my goodness, the star of the plate is the remoulade beneath!
Carnivorous to the last, we try all four items in the Meat selection of the menu (there are additional choices in the Specials). First, crispy pig cheek (£7), crumbed and fried and served with cider apple and fennel. Very tasty, though the pig cheek isn’t quite as soft as it could be.
One of the highlights of the meal, an impressive feat given the competition, is the generous plate of confit smoked guinea fowl (£9) with anchovy mayo. Beautifully tender with a deep and satisfying smoke and perfect with a dab of the butter.
I find seared rump of lamb (£11) a little pricy for the portion but there is no denying that it delivers on flavour and tenderness. The crispy shallots are a lovely garnish.
Another of my absolute highlights of the night is this lamb sweetbread salad (£8) served with pickled spring onions, charred leeks and crispy croutons. Sweetbreads soft and perfectly cooked. A really super salad.
I don’t enjoy the desserts as much as the mains. They’re decent, but none of them really touch on the excellence of the savouries for me. And you know I certainly have a sweet tooth.
The top two for me are the lemon & thyme baby doughnuts (£7) with smear of chocolate sauce and pistachio crumble – a touch dry and too little lemon or thyme coming through on the palate – and the rice pudding ice cream (£7) served with almond crumble, cinnamon and salted caramel; a light and refreshing dessert.
The flourless salted chocolate cake (£7) is OK, not as moist as I expect from a flourless recipe and not as rich in flavour either. My least favourite dish of the meal is the banana bread with whisky cream (£7) which is also a little dry, overly cinnamoned (not great with whisky) and lacking in whisky punch.
Old English & Tom is a lovely setting for a tête-à-tête, though it’s also perfect for an evening with friends; go with a small group and try as much of the menu as you can. Around four dishes per person (including desserts) is about right, with a few portion of those triple-cooked chips added to the mix.
Kavey Eats dined as a guest of Old English & Tom.