It’s an extremely mild late-October evening in Soho and the pavements are blockaded by t-shirted Londoners standing around sipping pints. It seems like everybody’s out in town tonight, and overlaying the anxiety about the effects of global warming there’s the worry about finding really good food with no queue when you haven’t a reservation.
Aptly named, Antidote offers immediate relief. It’s hidden up an alley near Liberty, yet feels far from the Carnaby Street crowd; busy though the downstairs wine bar is, there is no queue for the upstairs restaurant and at 7pm on the evening we arrive there is even a choice of table. This would normally put any decent Londoner on edge. Luckily, however, we come armed with the knowledge that we’ll have a good meal: six months ago, in The Guardian, Marina O’Loughlin expressed her bafflement at the absence of jostling crowds baying for food this flawless.
And the food – overseen by Mikael Jonsson of Hedone – is flawless, by and large.
I was in a meaty mood and started with suckling pig, which combined crispiness and succulence in almost magical proportion; my companion went for roast pheasant ravioli in a juniper consommé – autumnal yet light – perfectly judged. For a main, I chose the Scottish Roe deer, immaculately cooked to a dark, tender pink, subtly gamey and offset by smoky pearl barley. Served with juicy wrapped cigarillos of shoulder meat, this was the kind of meal that makes you feel mildly disappointed with quite decent fare for the rest of the week. My companion had the hare accompanied by beetroot, foie gras and smoked eel – again, showing the cook coaxing harmony from strong, autumnal flavours. The puddings tended towards the comfort food end of the spectrum, and my companion’s peanut sponge, with chocolate, damson and toasted hay ice-cream couldn’t live up quite to the image I had of a sous-chef perched on a smoking hay bale in the kitchen, feeding a hungry ice-cream maker.
My companion, an expert on such things, declared the look “done to death”
So why, pace O’Loughlin, the lack of crowds? The staff were helpful and knowledgeable, the organic house red extremely drinkable… Perhaps, in the end, the place isn’t mobbed because of the particular dynamic between atmosphere and price. The filament bulbs and cafeteria furniture may have been chosen because the food is what matters, but they signal main courses priced in the teens not mid-twenties (it’s worth also noting that my companion, an expert on such things, declared the look “done to death”). Perhaps a warmer, more comfortable feel would have made it a still more effective antidote. C
Antidote, 12a Newburgh Street, London W1
020-7287 8488; antidotewinebar.com