Tel: +44 (0)20 7257 8626
Address: 116 St Martins Lane, London WC2N 4BF
Cuisine Type: International
Leicester Square (PICCADILLY, NORTHERN), Charing Cross (NORTHERN, BAKERLOO)
vThe International has one of the best locations in London – at the bottom of St Martin’s Lane, overlooking Trafalgar Square and perfectly placed for theatre and opera-going. With this in mind there are fixed price menus available (superb value at two courses for £9.99, three for £12.99) and service is friendly and fast to make a pre-performance supper a pleasant rather than a nerve-wracking occasion.
The large downstairs bar was buzzing (there’s also a small champagne bar in the basement) but we headed for the mezzanine brasserie, an airy, modern space with wooden floor, bright white walls and striking modern art. Linen is crisp and the whole effect is contemporary chic with a hint of art deco in the slim, faux-crocodile-covered menus.
The name is International, and the menu certainly is. “The food has a Modern European theme, but with a slight Pan Asian twist” says the website blurb. The main influence is modern Italian – roast tomato tart, goat’s cheese mousse and parmesan crisp from the starter menu for example – but there’s also crispy aromatic duck and mussel and red tiger prawn soup (starters £4.50 – £8.50).
We tried picked (sic) crab, tomato tartar and Pommery mustard with lobster oil – OK, but astonishingly bland considering the ingredients – and terrine of pork and foie gras with plum and tomato chutney (both £7.95). The latter was better and came served with a couple of big slices of toasted rustic bread.
Main courses (£11.95 – £16.95) are similarly wide-ranging. Pan fried sea bass sounded and was delicious, with aubergine chilli and mint, pepper and olive tapenade (£14.95). Pumpkin tortellini (£12), like my crab starter, had been through the taste extractor, but the goats cheese salad and grilled artichokes that came with them were excellent. Side orders such as baby corn with herbs and garlic, French fries with rosemary and sea salt, endive and Roquefort salad sounded tempting (£2.95).
Puddings (£5) also sound good but vary in quality. Poached peach, cinnamon tuille with orange glaze was perfect. Chocolate, orange and pine-nut tart was dry and I couldn’t detect either orange or pine-nut flavours; the nutmeg ice cream that came with it, however, was divine.
There’s a short but fun children’s menu, presumably intended for the lunch time crowd, and an interesting wine list (bottles from £13, and plenty of options by the glass from £3.50) including a delicious orange Muscat pudding wine (£15 for a half bottle) which is, unusually, only 10% – fantastic if you don’t want to fall asleep during the play.
The International is fun, as borne out by the number of smart young things dining there. It’s a bit noisy – carpet would make it easier to carry on a conversation with your dinner companions – but as long as you aren’t going for a romantic t’te á t’te that’s fine. The real question mark at present is the variable quality of the dishes: there’s no doubt that the ingredients used are excellent – and innovative – but the final result can be disappointingly bland. With any luck, these are teething troubles.