Tel: +44 (0)20 7486 4860
Address: 96 Marylebone Lane, W1
Cuisine Type: international
Bond Street (CENTRAL, JUBILEE)
Be warned. On a sultry evening, the Union Café is hot, the one ceiling fan doing very little to make up for the fact that the dining area and the kitchen share one space. Luckily the cooking is also hot, and the staff, sporting various post-punk hairstyles and studs, helpful and friendly.
The menu is genuinely international, in the best sense of the word, though Italian cuisine dominates. For starters (£5.50-£7), red onion and goat’s cheese tart and buffalo mozzarella with roast red peppers rub shoulders with grilled New Zealand mussels and Caesar salad. The tart was wonderful (despite my companion’s helpful suggestion that it looked like something a cat had eaten before me) and the buffalo mozzarella definitely the real thing, the peppers succulent and tasty.
First courses (£10-£12) include pasta (penne or tiger prawn linguini), crab cakes, the fascinating concept of a beetroot risotto with vermouth, chives and parmesan, and cottechino sausage with parmesan mash, horseradish and onion jus. Now cottechino is not really my idea of a summer dish, being a very fatty, thick sausage eaten by Italians at New Year, on a bed of lentils to bring good fortune in the coming year. However I couldn’t resist trying it and it was spectacular – the sausage cut into thick ovals and cooked to perfection.
Main courses are slightly less eclectic. Chargrilled salmon with black olive mash (£14) sounded good, but a bit unadventurous in this place. Seared blue-fin tuna with warm Niçoise vegetables (£15) was tempting. Calves liver with spinach and polenta was a possibility. The choice of pan-fried sea bass however was a good one – a very fresh and perfectly cooked fillet presented on a bed of garlic roasted new potatoes, spinach and capers (£15). Side orders of those potatoes or mash are also available (£3.50) along with salads (£4).
The wine list is interesting and varied with plenty of old and new world choices at reasonable prices. We had a meltingly soft South African Pinot Noir (Glen Carlou) at £12.50. There are also some decent half bottles available, and glasses of Muscat or port for a very reasonable £2.50.
Alas, there was only room for one pudding between two – hot toffee cake with butterscotch sauce and ice cream (£4). It’s so good I’m surprised it’s legal, and I may have to go back just to do it justice. Or to try the pressed chocolate soufflé cake… or the lemon tart with cassis sorbet…
There is no doubt that there is a very confident (and highly talented) cook at work at the Union Café. It’s not cheap, even by London standards, but it’s good value. Maybe by the next mini-heatwave in London they’ll have saved up for another fan.