12 TEMPLE PLACE: A BRIGHT SPARK IN THE HOWARD HOTEL
It was HP who first suggested we have supper at 12 Temple Place, the new restaurant in The Howard Hotel. His unerring nose for matters porcine had lit upon a starter promising an “Assiette of Suckling pig: Loin, Rillette, Belly Bacon and Crackling with Celeriac Apple and Grain Mustard”
They had us at “suckling”
12 Temple Place has replaced the little mourned Jaan, which garnered shocking crit and limped on until June this year when it disappeared from view and hopefully soon from memory.
Sitting with a pre-supper glass of something white, we peered into the dining room, which looked as unappealing as an offer of “a good, hard shag” from Brian Blessed
“It’s going to go one of two ways” HP said fearing the worst and we were already marking it down as one of those nights when we chose a table in the middle of the empty room and were presented with the menu.
Perking up immediately at a list of starters including confit smoked salmon, pea & crab mousse with marjoram and English watercress soup, we kept to our original plan and both went for the suckling pig.
The kitchen obviously has serious intentions and three types of excellent bread came with salted and unsalted butter alongside a handful of the flakiest, most delicious cheese straws I have tasted since my Welsh grandmother went to sing “Bread of Heaven” in the great pit choir in the sky.
The Assiette was initially a disappointment, the description suggesting something heartier than the artfully presented plate we received. But the taste of each component was perfect. Shreds of rillette, hidden under an jelly which was pure essence of pig, house cold smoked belly bacon with a sharp apple and celeriac remoulade and, best of all the poached loin, wrapped in pancetta came with a sliver of crisp crackling. At £12.50, the most expensive dish amongst the starters but delivering on every level.
The main courses read just as well and HP chose the Elwy Valley Lamb with Pea & Tarragon puree and a mini Shepherd’s Pie while I had to see what was involved in the beetroot cannelloni which came with the squab pigeon.
Both dishes showed the same attention to detail as the starters with a soft lamb cutlet, perfectly cooked pink coming in a clear broth of distilled bleater, with a crispy parcel of confit shoulder, crunchy carrots and peas which popped with freshness. The sherpherd’s pie was a well-made distraction.
The squab pigeon breast too was perfectly pink and the small confit leg was soon crunched down to sawdust as HP and I swapped tastes from one plate to another. Pickled golden beets added a sharp counter point and the cannelloni came with more shredded confit breast spiked through with tarragon. In the centre of the plate was a “candy cane” of spaghetti, deep fried and spearing two small, sweet kidneys and a liver.
We split a desert offering the fruits of the tail end of the English Rhubarb season three ways, in a light soufflé, a thick fool and a sharp daiquiri, which again showed that there was someone in the kitchen who knows what they were doing.
That someone is Brian Spark, formerly sous at Jaan and before that, The Lanesbrough with Paul Gayler and Lola’s in Islington. It’s a good C.V, but not one where the chef’s provenance is allowed precedence over the ingredients, which are allowed to speak for themselves in well executed and interesting preparations.
It was never going to be cheap and the bill for £130 including a deserved service charge and an overpriced but delicious bottle of Roaring Meg Pinot from Central Otago, came as little surprise. The little box of delicious shortbreads we got with the bill to enjoy at home with a strong cup of builder's tea was a nice touch.
12 Temple Place has a lot of strikes against it, the location, the room and the failure of the previous incumbent, but with an enthusiastic, talented chef given the benefits of a hotel budget, I suspect it will be a while before this particular Howard’s end.