Political chit chat over a plate of Shepherd’s pie and a glass of fine red wine while sitting on House of Commons style green leather banquettes is all part of the tradition of Shepherd’s of Westminster and the good news is that the iconic restaurant is back on the scene.
For many years the restaurant in Marsham Street, close to Westminster Village, was a favourite haunt of politicos, lobbyists and journalists. Such was its reputation that when it closed for business last year Sky TV political heavyweight Adam Boulton bemoaned it a "sad day" indeed "for the best restaurant near Parliament" and its closure did not escape London's oldest magazine, the Spectator, which added "the end of an era for Westminster lunchers".
But now the popular institution has opened its doors again to the good folk of Westminster and beyond with veteran lobbyist Lional Zetter at the helm and Paul Crosbale, fresh from the upmarket Berners Tavern, installed as head chef.
There is a nod to Parliament in the décor of the spacious 60-cover restaurant with the use of House of Commons green for the comfy banquettes while the contrasting green chairs and wall coverings blend in effortlessly. The light and airy space is further enhanced by good use of stylish lighting and eye-catching bevelled mirrors. The design is one of clean lines in the congenial dining space and this is carried through to the attractive bar area, which features warming burnt orange chairs, low-level tables and stand out bar counter seating.
There is plenty of tradition in the well thought out menu, which includes a number of English favourites with a slight twist, and some interesting vegetarian choices. Service is smart and fairly seamless, but in no way stuffy, and there is a relaxed and comfortable ambience to the place.
For my lunch visit there was a reasonable crowd in and a starter of perfect English tartare of venison (£9) got things off to a promising start. It was well seasoned, packed a good gamey punch pinch and sat well with the contrasting flavours of blueberry, sorrel and pumpernickel crisps, which added interest.
My companion Fiona’s taste buds were soon singing in harmony as she enjoyed attractively presented thinly sliced Scottish scallops (£12.50) with pickled melon and ricotta, a plate of wonderfully fresh tasting food with lovely subtle flavours that danced on the palette.
Of course, I could not take lunch at this restaurant without ordering the signature dish of shepherd’s pie (£17.50) which came with well-matched red cabbage and kale. It did not disappoint with the lean flavoursome lamb, smooth mash potato topping and rich, well-seasoned exuberant gravy worthy of its place on the menu.
Fiona was more than impressed with her melt-in-the-mouth slow-cooked venison loin (£20) with salt and pepper kale and baby parsnips. The meat was perfectly cooked medium rare and its big gamey flavours lit up the taste buds, with the dish further enhanced by a yummy velvety jus. We also enjoyed a side of kale, onions and cashews (£4).
We enjoyed a bottle of Chateau La Bastide Corbieres 2012 (£24) which sat well with both main courses and was good value, from a wine list that offered some excellent well-priced choices.
I had just about left room for pud and I was glad when it arrived. A delightful organic peanut parfait (£6.50) with salty hints sat perfectly with a rich, indulgent and addictive warm chocolate mousse with delicate sprinklings of meringue and peanuts, heaven in a bowl.
Fiona finished off with a poorly made Flat White coffee (£3.25), the only real let-down of an enjoyable lunch time experience.
It’s good to see Shepherd’s back on the scene and I am sure over the coming weeks and months there will be plenty of Westminster whispers on the green leather banquettes and many a shepherd’s pie consumed.