Sunday, 12 April 2009

Blueprint Café

I’ve resisted going to the Blueprint Café for a couple of reasons. First it’s part of the D&D (formerly Conran Restaurants) stranglehold of ‘never quite up there with the best’ restaurants; to be frank all the restaurants within that portfolio reek of corporate banality and possess a tired formulaic approach to eating out. Secondly the majority of the eating options on Butlers Wharf somewhat fall short of the gastronomic destination tag; I find that the restaurants here are merely traps for visiting couples or families from the Home Counties on a quarterly long weekend trip to London. That is not to say that Butlers Wharf is to be avoided, in fact its inclusion within the environs of Shad Thames sums up London’s bewitching beauty- this part of town is pure promenade heaven.
Blueprint Café, despite being around for twenty years (although only a serious eating place since 1997), has been off the radar for most of the press reviewers and bloggers alike in recent times and what’s left of the Noughties. I only came here because of Head Chef Jeremy Lee’s presence in a TV programme earlier this year and subsequently his contribution as an impartial observer in the BBC’s Great British Menu. The man projected a certain joie de vivre that proved endearing, additionally his non-showy and calm personality is purely refreshing to witness when most celebrity chefs these days are forceful and self declared demi-gods. And the man can apparently cook.
Blueprint Café is one of those places that’s best reached by both walking (long ones please, it’s good for the appetite and digestion thereafter) and public transport (we can all then get suitably intoxicated without the need of tossing the coin to determine who’s going to drive back).
I trotted along the Thames to the Design Museum where the restaurant is attached.
I came here without a booking, being Easter weekend it should be pretty much deserted and no I didn’t expect the restaurant to be swamped with French families over here for a holiday as they would be too suspicious of British cooking and besides there’s a Pizza Express nearby.
The dining room as you can see was empty except for one table, and this was by then half twelve. My request for a window table was immediately vetoed by the waitress; as I didn’t booked I was to sit by the ‘aisle’. I looked at the dining room with an incredulous gasp, ‘but you’re not exactly brimming so what’s the problem?’ I asked. She still insisted that I had to book in advance for these hallowed tables, fine I said and asked what time they closed, she muttered 3pm, and I said I’ll come back at 2.30 to ensure a window table without any complications. Just to prove that there is someone up there smiling upon yours truly, the waitress, with instructions from a supervisor, suddenly allocated a near perfect table for us (amazingly no excuses, tut-tut)*. I wish restaurants would stop playing these ‘make believe’ games about being fully booked when they’re not, this kind of practice is aggravating and poncy. Oh, the service after the initial ‘no but, yea but’ was remarkably astute (must be the presence of my cameras!).
Despite the last major refurb 12 years ago, the room doesn’t look too passé. I believe this slight timeless quality is down to the use of the 19th century Thonet side chairs (not the most comfy, but purposeful) in an otherwise bright contemporary room. The wonderful ambience is all down to the beguiling views of the Thames and London, it was impossible to get bored from where I was sitting.
Big camera, big hat for big head and big menu
Coleen, Wayne, l'eau du Thames, mobile phone, camera for macro shots and lovely view.
Binoculars for you to nose around.
I was very much aware that Blueprint Café was pushing their 'sign of the times' set menu of £20 for 3 courses. Just by chance I asked the waiter if Jeremy Lee was working today, he was indeed, not just on a Sunday but Easter Sunday. I elatedly rose to the proverbial and headed straight to the à la carte section.
I have reasons to believe that the starter of smoked eel sandwich, horseradish and red onion pickle is one of Lee’s signatures.
When one of the waitresses came to clear the plate away and my answer to her question of ‘did you enjoy that’ was ‘it was only a sandwich and a bloody good one too’.
This first course was achingly scrumptious, every mouthful was a delight, no overpowering of the horseradish here and the tangy onion pickle was perfect.
The waiter tried to coax me into ordering an additional side dish to accompany my mains of mutton loin, potato cake and lentils. My resistance paid off, there was more than enough grub on the plate.
The meat was perfectly cooked, beautifully tender and the flavour was outstanding.
That potato cake (another Lee trademark?) was sensational but the lentils were a little too heavy for my tastes.
I know it may sound disgusting, I devoured the fat and skin as well, it was that delicious.
Waste not, want not.
Cobnut meringue, chocolate, praline and cream. Can I just make one thing clear that I only just caught on to puddings some six months ago, chocolate four months ago and meringue three weeks ago. I have an awful lot of catching up to do considering the abstinence lasted for nearly three decades.
Sensational pudding, the rawness of the cobnut offsets the dark and brooding chocolate.
The only way to eat this pudding is to demolish it as shown, if there was no one watching I would’ve done away with the cutlery altogether and just stick my face onto the plate and woof it down like a dog. Hail M, full of…

I am well contented that I came here today, the lunch today was comparable to the one I had at Hix’s, but this one is better for two reasons, the Head Chef** was actually cooking in the kitchen and the location of the restaurant is outstanding. Go do yourself a favour, set forth here and enjoy yourself. I’m coming back here for the set menu soon. Highly recommended.

*By the time I left after 2pm the restaurant was only a fifth full!

** I did notice that through the semi-open kitchen that everyone working in there were happy and mucking around harmlessly. I also noticed that Jeremy Lee was a bit of a practical joker, a happy kitchen could only mean happy food being dished out most of the time. Bravo.

Read about the 10-10-10 menu at the Blueprint Café here.

Design Museum

Shad Thames

London SE1 2YD


Hollow Legs said...

Why is it disgusting to eat the skin and fat? They're the best bits!

I cam here for dinner last year and had a lovely meal, I really enjoyed it - if if they did open the huge windows and I had to eat wearing my coat! Oh, British summer, how I do love thee...

Helen said...

I agree with Lizzie - the skin and the fat are the best bits without a doubt! I agree with you about the part of the south bank - I absolutely adore tower bridge - my favourite piece of london architecture. Early in the mist it is like a fairytale bridge. I never bother to hang around here for anything to eat though as I've always thought it wasn't worth it. It seems like this place is worth a go hoever, if only for that sandwich. I love eel and I love sandwiches.

bellaphon said...

Ladies thanks for stopping by, I shall chew on the fat regardless. If either of you decide to come here I think it's wise to call ahead and make sure that the gaffer himself will be there to cook your dinner.

Anonymous said...

This was recommended to me recently but I didn't make it, I really wish I had though because it sounds good. Apart from the window thing. I'll take your advice and book :)

bellaphon said...

Ginger- Thanks for stopping by.Just to reiterate, to have Jeremy Lee cooking at the time you're there is a huge bonus.Insist on nothing less. Enjoy ;)