Tel: +44 (0)20 7436 0451
Address: 37 Berners Street, W1T 3NB
Cuisine Type: European
Oxford Circus/Tottenham Court Road
The hinterlands of Oxford Street aren’t generally known to the scurrying shoppers and workers, most of whom probably confine their gastro-searches to EAT, Pret and the like when in need of sustenance. More fool them, then for not taking a little time to explore what’s right under their noses.
Set back a couple of blocks from the main street, round the back of The Plaza you’ll find The Mortimer Grill. On first glance you’d take it for a bar – an oasis for workers nearby who want more than just a warm pint, and the beer garden fronting the grill is huge – well-lit and well-heated (Boo to the environment, Hooray for the smokers – pick your side). However push on through the smokers’ fug and it’s a warm, slightly anodyne (think whites, creams and wood) interior, split 50/50 between a buzzing bar and a slightly deserted eating area.
The lack of eating customers is a shame, because actually the brasserie-inspired menu is designed to appeal to just the kind of people thronging round the bar. Starters are (for a non-egg eater – weird I know but I just can’t) a little ovum-heavy, but they do sound good and range from £6 to £9. Think sautéed wild mushrooms on brioche with a softly poached egg, or with asparagus (? Seasonality, anyone?) to dip, garnished with Parmesan and rocket. However, the scallops with black pudding and pancetta are a real delight and generous with it. Four plump scallops, nicely seared, come scattered over three hefty slices of black pudding with a fresh-tasting salad and crisp wafers of smoky pancetta. Foie gras comes expertly cooked on toasted brioche with mango and a smoked chilli jelly. I had my doubts about the combination, and I’m still not convinced the slipperiness of the mango is the right foil for the almost jellied foie gras but the jelly is excellent with it, cutting through the sometimes palate-cloying richness, and the portion is just right.
Main courses are crowd-pleasers too. Spit-roast chicken, burgers, steaks and rack of lamb, a couple of fish dishes and even veal, none of it outrageously priced, all appeal, although to be fair, we find the only things that shout EAT ME are the steaks. A choice of flat-iron (an American cut from the shoulder – divine-tasting, but to be cooked with care as it’s so thin), sirloin, the inevitable fillet and a joyous-sounding Cote de boeuf for two. We settle on – well, I demand –a flat iron and a sirloin at £14 and £18 respectively which both come with chips, choice of sauces and a crunchy, refreshing house salad.
First the good news. It is good: the sirloin comes perfectly cooked rare as ordered and has a real depth of flavour. The béarnaise sauce is pretty good – almost a whipped butter that melts on contact with steak or the chips. The side of sautéed spinach is not watery, although could have done without the diced onions. On the down-side, my flat iron steak, although tasting utterly divine, is cooked all the way through when ordered rare. Normally, I would always send a steak back if not rare – as Nigel Slater says, there’s little joy in brown beef. However on this occasion I persisted, if only because the steak was still tender, the flavour was incredible and if I had to guess, it was the fault of sitting around on too-hot plates, rather than over-cooking on the grill. The chips didn’t taste own-made – so really why bother? And there’s no pepper mill on the table – just those appalling shakers – why oh why? To continue on to dessert – we were recommended the warm apple tart with cinnamon ice cream, but we ordered the New York cheesecake which was disappointing. The base was far too thick and the filling not nearly high and airy enough and again, it was distinctly lacking the own-made touch.
Back to the plus side, the wine list is good value and full of attractive options both old- and new-world – our bottle of Argentinian Malbec is well-priced under £30, and you wouldn’t need to spend a fortune to drink well.
So overall, a bit of a mixed bag. One of the most noticeable things missing on the menu, especially in this day and age, is any description of provenance. It would be nice to know more about the steak and the chicken, or the scallops and black pudding, and it’s disappointing they’re serving asparagus all year round – it wouldn’t hurt to change the menu every now and then to reflect seasonality a little, and asparagus would surely be cheaper when in season over here. However, given the general standard of cooking and service, it deserves to be busier – and frankly, given the competition, the hordes on Oxford Street could do far worse for a lunch break or Friday night catch-up with friends.