The Brutalist concrete National Theatre has been undergoing an £80 million redevelopment, with a new ground-floor café, bar, expanded bookshop and all-day brasserie, House (formerly Mezzanine), all opening this autumn.
It’s headed up by executive chef Simon Flint, who used to work at the Groucho Club and Caprice Holdings.
If you are unfamiliar with the layout of the building, and depending which entrance you come in, it can be a little confusing to find House, which is up a flight of stairs from the main lobby area. When I visited, there was building work going on outside, which didn’t help.
However, once in situ, I was immediately welcomed by the friendly maître d and seated at a table close to the solitary window at the end nearest the river (only about three tables have a view).
The rest of the establishment is encased in raw concrete, with timber floors, white Scandi chairs and table cloths, and free-hanging lights contributing to that worn-out East London trend for industrial chic (I can’t help but quite like it though). It looks elegant, modern and stylish, if a little bland.
Although House is primarily a restaurant for theatre-goers, there is no set pre- or post-show menu. Instead, all dishes are simply served quickly and efficiently.
The downside to eating here if you are not seeing a play is that after 7.30pm it tends to empty out, so there is a lull in the atmosphere, but it gets busier again later in the evening. There are also overhead announcements, which can make it feel a bit like you are in an airport.
The Foyle private dining room can seat up to 12 people, and there is also a sit-up bar.
I began with a pleasant Negroni, noting that the seasonal European menu features about ten starters and 14 main courses – all approachable and with an emphasis on classics such as steak tartare, chicken liver parfait, cod and chips, and flat iron steak.
However, there is a little more originality to be found in some of the other dishes – home-cured salmon with whisky and fennel, octopus smoked over apple wood chips, and squab risotto with roasted cobnuts.
I was eating with my father, who ordered well, kicking the meal off with the juicy Portland crab salad dressed with a layer of seafood sauce and accompanied by a scoop of creamy, mustardy celeriac remoulade.
I chose the Waldorf salad, which was a delicious, if unreognisable, reinvention of this well-known dish. A delicate pile of leaves tossed in a light vinaigrette with shredded apple, soft pieces of sweet pear, sugary pecans and three blobs of tangy Cashel blue cheese (it needed more).
To go with it, we went for a bottle of chilled New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Clarence River, 2013, Marlborough), which went down nicely.
Next came a roasted fillet of crispy skinned halibut (thick, soft, luscious) with cauliflower purée, baby onions and carrots. Sides were of minted Jersey Royal potatoes and buttered spinach.
I opted for the artichoke, lemon and fennel risotto, which proved to have a good consistency and was not overly rich (a good thing), the fennel and lemon cutting through the butter.
For me, the desserts were a disappointment. I could have gone for the orange and milk chocolate mousse, the fruit salad with homemade sorbet or the warm caramelized apple with shortbread, crème Anglaise and Chantilly cream, but instead pointed to the lemon and lime meringue pie, even though I know my mother makes it best.
I was right – it was an unnecessary deconstruction – a pool of lemon curd, topped with pastry, a brittle piece of meringue and an orb of lime sorbet. It looked pretty but I just didn’t enjoy it.
My father tucked into the praline hazelnut éclair with praline ice cream, which looked decadent with a wafer of gold leaf fluttering on it, but the pastry was a little on the dry side.
The young, attentive staff made us feel welcome and well look after. Overall, we had an enjoyable evening. I wouldn’t choose to go back, though, unless I was seeing a play at the National – mainly because one is spoilt for choice when it comes to great restaurants in London and the food didn’t wow me enough to make me want to experience it all over again. Although I didn’t eat at House’s predecessor, Mezzanine, I sense it is probably an improvement.
OPENING HOURS Mon-Sat and performance Sundays 12pm-2.30pm; Mon-Sat 5.30pm-11pm.
PRICES Starters £6-£10.75, mains £13.50-£27.50.
CONTACT House, National Theatre, South Bank, London; tel +44 (0)20 7452 3600; house.nationaltheatre.org.uk