After a moment one realises what a pleasure it is to be eating at St Clements, which achieves an atmosphere utterly different from similar cafés in other Inns, writes David Wurtzel.
It uses the enfilade of rooms which were once the bar and common rooms of Middle Temple but makes no attempt to live up to the 1950s neo-Georgian bones of the place. On the contrary. The furniture is old: an ancient settle, an eclectic mix of different chairs, all uncomfortably hard, and scrubbed wooden tables which were once in a variety of kitchens and gardens. Instead of uniform bland stainless steel there are bone handled knives and tarnished EPNS cutlery such as one can still find in flea markets together with a colourful melange of china from interwar Staffordshire. One could imagine oneself in someone’s Dordogne cottage, kitted out cheaply and eclectically so as to discourage winter burglaries or perhaps in the English house of a kindred soul who would not dream of possessing a matching dinner service. One immediately felt at home.
The food itself is also like being in the house of a friend. It is prepared on the spot and the service is thoughtful without being waitressy. I breakfasted there amongst barristers having meetings or reading a brief or just enjoying themselves (one of them wound up sitting behind me at a RADA performance, 10 hours later). As I consider breakfast to be a solitary meal I felt that I therefore needed to eat my way through as much of the menu as possible in order to comment suitably. It was a greedy but pleasurable experience. The scrambled eggs on sourdough (£7 if you also order bacon) were freshly and perfectly scrambled. The sourdough itself was delicious and made excellent toast (£2.10), although of course chewy and with a hard crust. The bitter marmalade came in a small pot, thus passing the acid test of it not being institutional marmalade out of a tiny plastic package. The croissant (£1.70) was light and crumbly. The fruit salad looked freshly made but I opted for the generous bowl of white yoghurt, preserves and granola (£3.50) “Generous” is indeed the word. Since you are not in fact at home you cannot ask for seconds, so the portions seemed geared for those who probably would ask and are therefore provided for them up front. I could only fault the coffee which was less strong than I would have liked. As I left, I noted the lunch menu chalked on the board. It looked very tempting but in the event I scarcely had room for food for the rest of the day.
ST CLEMENTS CAFÉ & BAR
MIDDLE TEMPLE LANE
TEMPLE, LONDON, EC4Y 9AA
TEL: 020 7936 2755
OPEN: MONDAY – FRIDAY
HOURS: 8AM – 10PM
Members’ Common Room, Lincoln’s Inn
Lincoln’s Inn Members’ Common Room (“MCR”) occupies wonderfully renovated space under the Inn’s New Hall with vaulted ceilings (together with original Victorian features), comfortable leather sofas and a fully stocked bar, writes Matthew Nicklin.
MCR serves morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. I was the Inn’s guest for lunch.
It is the ideal haven to escape from chambers, the library or during the lunch adjournment. Food is well-prepared, of generous portions and represents good value. Service is quick (important at lunch time), friendly and efficient, presided over by the charming Maitre d’, Joaquim Guerreiro. If you have to get back to court, make sure you tell the staff so that they can accommodate you.
At lunchtime the choices range from what might be styled up-market sandwiches, through light meals (eg pasta dishes) to more substantial dishes. On the menu on my lunchtime visit were flaked salmon and caper mayonnaise with egg and tomato double decker sandwich (£6), pasta with spicy pumpkin, sage and parmesan (£9), chicken, leak, sweetcorn and potato soup with crusty bread (£8), grilled gammon with eggs, fries, mushroom and tomato (£9.50), salmon and trout fishcakes, horseradish and chive sauce with wilted spinach (£10.80), savoury mince beef with cabbage and mash (£9.50) and grilled mushroom with goat’s cheese bruschetta and tomato, red onion salad and balsamic dressing (£9.50).
The wine list offers good value and a reasonable choice (suiting most tastes and including Champagnes, a Rose and dessert wine). I tried the La Playa Sauvignon Blanc 2008 from Chile (£21 per bottle or £6 per glass) and the Don Placero Rioja 2008 (£20 per bottle or £5.75 per glass).
One of the key attractions of the MCR is that it is a splendid venue with quality furnishings. Tables are laid with fine china with a discreet Lincoln’s Inn crest, table cloths and high quality glassware. For those wanting a less formal lunch there is the option to eat in the bar area, attractive for those wanting to grab something during the lunch adjournment and wanting room for papers etc. A selection of newspapers and magazines is also available for those with more time on their hands. Sadly there is no wi-fi, which would I suspect be a welcome addition for those needing Internet access on the go.
In the evenings, the MCR serves as a dining venue as well as a popular bar for evening drinks and cocktails (a very reasonable £6). Dinner is available from 6pm on the basis of a set menu offering a choice of three starters and three main courses and a selection of desserts. These are more substantial servings and on offer the week of my visit were starters of curried parsnip soup with apple crème fraiche, calf’s liver brochette with crispy bacon, mixed leaves and grain mustard dressing and smoked trout fishcake with beetroot and horseradish sauce and main courses of roast breast of pheasant, black pudding, bubble and squeak, grilled red mullet with artichokes and cherry tomatoes, wilted spinach, bataille potatoes and beurre blanc and baked aubergine filled with butternut squash, feta and walnuts and minted courgette salad. Prices range from £22.50 for two courses to £26.00 for three (drinks excluded).
In the summer months, the MCR benefits from a south-facing terrace overlooking New Square. This is in my opinion probably one of the best al fresco dining venues of all the Inns and indeed the Holborn area. Drinks on the terrace on a summer evening are proving to be very popular.
Overall, the MCR is a wonderful amenity in Lincoln’s Inn. It serves as a conventional common room serving drinks and offering a haven of relaxation or a place to work throughout the day. The meals on offer are high quality and good value and well-suited both to lunch on-the-go and more leisurely dining. Proof of its popularity is delivered by the absence of spare tables at lunch time and it is easy to see why.
Matthew Nicklin is a barrister at 5RB
MEMBERS’ COMMON ROOM
LONDON, WC2A 3TL
TEL: 020 7693 5139
OPEN: MONDAY TO FRIDAY
HOURS: 10.30AM – 8.30PM
Pegasus Bar, Inner Temple
The raffish spirit of George Carman still haunts Daly’s Wine Bar; even more aged beings imbibe at El Vino’s; what of other establishments in and around the Temple? To find out, my companions and I had lunch at Pegasus, the Inner Temple restaurant/bar (also open in the evening with last orders at 9.15pm), writes Dan Stacey.
Pegasus is certainly smart and attractive-looking. A few years ago there was a rather undistinguished café of sorts for eating and drinking. But it has been replaced by a brasserie with 17th Century portraits (a bit of history) looking down on trendy furniture (so it’s forward looking too). We also admired the red leather pouffes in the restaurant which — as you might expect — add to its character.
Pegasus is – we learned – open to members of the Inns of Court and their guests only. We looked around for interlopers: but the “estate agent” (companion’s description) in the corner turned out on inquiry to be a member of a chambers on Middle Temple Lane.
The place was busy enough for midweek – and one or two people were sitting on the terrace on a balmy late October afternoon.
Perhaps appropriately enough, it has taken me some time to get round to the food and drink. Our wait for main courses was around 15 – 20 minutes (actually pretty quick from previous experience).
My companions – Masterchef addicts every one – were expecting the highest standards: the food had to be perfect. Although the chef was blissfully unaware of it, for him, cooking just didn’t get tougher than this.
And indeed when the food arrived it was very acceptable. One companion had a Cajun chicken sandwich which was “really quite nice”; the rare chargrilled swordfish appeared to have a pickled onion concealed in its accompanying salad which was “nice but unexpected”; and grilled chicken breast with caesar salad was “very pleasant”. I had four cheese tortellini with pesto which was delicious once you added extra seasoning.
The chocolate cake two of us shared was excellent as was the ice cream shared by the other two. As to prices, puddings range from around £3.50 – £5.00 and main courses from £11 – £15 which is good value we agreed.
Turning to drinks, we all found the orange juice refreshing, the tap water spectacular and the wine was apparently excellent. The espressos were good too. Our waitress was very nice and attentive. Cooking may get a little better than this – but it was one to return to …
Dan Stacey is a barrister at Halisham Chambers
CROWN OFFICE ROW
LONDON, EC4Y 7HL
TEL: 020 7797 8234
OPEN: MONDAY TO FRIDAY
HOURS: 9AM – 9.15PM
The Adjournment Cafe & Bar, Gray’s Inn
Snacks & Lunch
Discreetly concealed in corner of South Square in Gray’s Inn, is the Adjournment Café and Bar, writes Chris Sallon QC.
This small, light modern space seats 35, and is Gray’s Inn’s answer to the all day breakfast or sandwich lunch. Excellent coffee, croissants, pastries, smoked salmon bagels and fresh fruit are served from 8am, and there is soup and a wide choice of sandwiches, panini, wraps and salads to be had throughout the day.
The premises are licenced, and there is a selection of good wines and champagnes served by the glass or bottle. The wines cost £2.75 for a small glass and range between £12 and £18 for a bottle. As for champagne, the best is Tattinger, which is fairly priced at £37.50 a bottle.
For those with an appetite for news, here are daily newspapers, and CNN is broadcast unobtrusively from a large TV behind the bar.
Chris Sallon QC, Doughty Street Chambers
ADJOURNMENT CAFÉ & BAR
10-11 SOUTH SQUARE
GRAY’S INN, LONDON, WC1
OPEN: MONDAY TO FRIDAY
HOURS: 8AM – 8PM