76 Wilton Rd
London SW1V 1DE
BY NEAL MARTIN | AUGUST 5, 2022
Ajo blanco with coppa, melon and olive oil
Cornish cod, peas à la français with shoestring fries
Gnocchi, girolles, persillade with BBQ cabbage and pecorino
Poached yellow peach, meringue, vanilla cream and raspberry sorbet
|2021 Crystallum Chardonnay The Agnes
|2011 Lagrange Chêne Bangor
|2012 Joh. Jos. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese
Lorne is my favourite restaurant in London right now. I would not claim it is the best. But favourite? That means much more to me. Triangulate the most important metrics of what makes a great restaurant: standard of food, wine list and value, then frankly, at this moment, Lorne is in pole position. Add in the deft way that it creates a neighbourhood vibe in central London, its relaxed and cosy ambiance, the cute American diner-inspired single banquettes by the entrance, the attentive waiting staff and that owner Katie Exton is always there to greet you with a beaming smile. Lorne is on a roll at the moment.
Katie Exton, proprietor of Lorne, with beaming smile.
This is not the first Vinous Table to focus on Lorne. For a brief background, readers can peruse my previous article. That was written in the nadir of lockdown when their meal kit salvaged my milestone birthday. Fast-forward to August, 2021 as restaurants reopened their shutters post-pandemic, a friend and I were lunching at Lorne. As I marvelled at a sea bream with sweetcorn purée, it was immediately clear that the cuisine had leapt up a level. There was more confidence on display. Hitherto, some dishes had been a little too adventurous with combinations that occasionally did not quite gel. Over this meal and subsequent ones, every ingredient worked harmoniously. Moreover, there seemed to be more substance. Every time I left Lorne’s door, I experienced that warm satisfying feeling of having been well-fed.
Reflecting on the change, I concluded that Exton had taken a leaf out of Nigel Platts-Martin’s book. I cannot remember a single meal at any of Platts-Martin’s restaurants (Ledbury, La Trompette and the place where I first met Katie Exton, Chez Bruce) where I left without feeling satisfied in terms of quality and quantity. I never felt short-changed. When I told her that the chef had raised his game, Exton replied that, in fact, they had parted ways before lockdown. I was noticing the impact of new chef, Graham Brown, who learned his craft at The Square, then Eleven Madison Park in New York and La Trompette. Now I understand exactly why their take on British/European food reminded me of Platts-Martin’s restaurants.
For this Vinous Table, I was joined by two of my oldest school friends, one whom I have known since I was three years old; we attended the same nursery school. Lorne has become our regular meet-up place, where we convene twice a year to reminisce and moan about getting old. Since I am maintaining a strict(ish) dietary regimen, I opted for non-meat dishes.
Ajo blanco with coppa, melon and olive oil.
I began with Ajo blanco with coppa, melon and olive oil, ostensibly a “poor man’s” gazpacho sans tomato. The coppa, a meat that comes from the shoulder of the pig, was thinly sliced and flavoursome, shavings of melon lending tartness; the Ajo blanco sauce was divine, remarkable given its basic ingredients (stale bread moistened with vinegar and water, thickened with almonds). It was the perfect dish to cool off with during the ongoing heat wave.
Cornish cod, peas à la français with shoestring fries.
Next, Cornish cod, peas à la français with shoestring fries. I cannot remember any fish so perfectly cooked as this cod, crispy brown on top with wonderful consistency underneath. The peas à la français lent a slightly savoury tang and those shoestring fries a bit of crunch. Simple, yet devastatingly effective.
Gnocchi, girolles, persillade with BBQ cabbage and pecorino.
For main: the gnocchi with girolles, persillade, BBQ cabbage and pecorino. Again, this was a straightforward yet perfectly executed dish, displaying just the right amount of spiciness, the gnocchi cooked to the precise second and the BBQ cabbage and pecorino imparting “bite”.
Poached yellow peach, meringue, vanilla cream and raspberry sorbet.
To finish, I chose the poached yellow peach that came with meringue, vanilla cream and a raspberry sorbet. The dessert was both naughty, as desserts should be, yet light enough to leave you not feeling guilty of indulgence.
The wine list at Lorne is exemplary. Other restaurants could learn a lesson or two about how to put together a concise list that caters to different tastes and budgets. It’s no cavalcade of First Growths or eye-wateringly expensive Burgundy wines, but rather a reflection of a person who genuinely loves wine and wants to cater to winelovers rather than fleecing for every penny they’ve got. The list is stuffed with interesting producers, wines that offer value-for-money covering eclectic styles and, thank God, not burdened with natural wines that we have to pretend to like because the sommelier told us to. It is not a huge list, but is so well-chosen that there is no need for a hefty tome, as it covers classic regions and the New World with equanimity. Flick to the back pages and you will find a selection of enticing single-bottle listings with a smattering of more mature vintages – well worth a browse. Lorne also offers a corkage policy on certain days of the week and year.
We began with a wine from South Africa, one of the Cape’s finest exponents of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The 2021 Chardonnay The Agnes from Crystallum is tight and minerally on the nose, sharp and stony to the point where it can easily deceive you into thinking it comes from far cooler climes. The palate is fresh and tensile, almost steely, slightly malic in style with a penetrating finish that enlivens the senses. Peter-Allan Finlayson has crafted a wonderful wine; this is a minimalist take on a ubiquitous grape variety that is irresistible. I paid corkage for my bottle, a 2011 Lagrange Cuvée Chêne Bangor. Apologies, but I am not going to describe this for now as I plan to review all six vintages that form this limited release for a standalone article. We finished with the 2012 Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese from Joh. Jos. Prüm. This is complex and engaging on the nose with scents of yellow plum, nectarine, linseed oil and orange pith, all beautifully defined. The palate was on the sweeter side of the Spätlese spectrum, which is exactly what I wanted. Slightly viscous on the entry, this is succinctly balanced with just enough acidic bite, poised and spicy towards the lingering finish. It seems to be in a perfect place for its age, though it will give another decade’s drinking pleasure.
With that, it was time for carriages or in other words, the delayed and cancelled trains from London Victoria. I will eat more dazzling, showstopping dinners this year, but I won’t partake in one that I will enjoy so much. Looking back, there is nothing I would alter, nothing that could enhance Lorne further. It has no pretentions. It simply executes every dish with skill and aplomb, embracing simplicity, jazzing it up with culinary flair when appropriate. Few restaurants carry it off with such ease as Lorne has done over several lunches and dinners in the last twelve months. Chatting to Katie Exton earlier in the evening, she explained that like so many restaurants, she cannot open as many days of the week and, difficult as it was to accept at the time, plans to close for two weeks in August. She told me she has simplified the dishes slightly, yet I think that has worked to Lorne’s advantage.
My two old school friends both texted me the following morning.
“So, when are we going back?”
You’ll be asking the same question when you visit Lorne yourself.
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