What? If the word carvery conjures up images of a down-at-heel Harvester by a busy dual-carriageway somewhere godforsaken like Croydon, then think again. Toby has been allowed nowhere near this ‘modern carvery’ and The Stoke House is a total reworking of the concept, combining excellent cuts of meat, expert smoking methods and beautiful cooking.
New? Sort of, yes, it opened in May.
Where? Victoria, right close to the station, in the Nova Building Development.
On The Menu: Remember that time Lady Gaga rocked up to the VMAs wearing a suit made entirely of meat? Well the waiters might as well each be wearing one of those, there’s virtually nothing other than meat available. I showed the menu to a vegan friend of mine and she was a little bit sick in her mouth. High praise indeed if you’re as carnivorous as I am, I really don’t care if they machine-gunned the fluffy baa baa lambs (they didn’t, the meat is carefully sourced by Cornish butcher Phillip Warrens) it’s all utterly delectable. For the die-hard celery addict there are veggie options, so don’t be entirely put off, just beware that you’ll be a long way behind enemy lines, deep in meat eater territory.
The Look: I’m pretty sure I once got locked in a pay-and-display carpark where the Nova Building now stands. In a reverse Joni Mitchell they literally paved a parking lot but they definitely didn’t put up Paradise. Instead they put up a huge cathedral of glass and concrete presumably designed for worshippers to whichever of Satan’s minions is directly responsible for vile architecture. Prince Charles is probably planting it with dynamite as we speak. But The Stoke House can’t be held responsible for that, the location’s great, the footfall’s high and who cares when you’re inside looking out. Except that the inside’s not all that much either. It’s not quite warehouse chic, it’s almost Skandi cool, there’s some bric-a-brac and veg in wooden palates on display but it hardly qualifies as rustic either. The effect is fine, albeit in a Pizza Expressy generic sort of a way. And if the food was equally ersatz and lacking in character it’d almost be alright, it’d make sense, but the food is wonderful.
What We Ate: Like an orchestral movement in meat, the flesh started slowly and built up, beginning with small plates of smokehouse salmon topped with dill crème fraiche, delicately smokey and beautifully balanced, followed by smoked bone marrow. I’ve hitherto been a little squeamish about marrow, with so many wonderful prime cuts of meat available, bone marrow always felt like the last resort of aircrash victims stranded in the Andes rather than a civilised restaurant choice. But Head Chef Denhart, who does all the smoking himself in a giant machine on-site, has genuinely opened my mind. It was sloppy and delicious and I rasped my fork up and down the rough bone interior enthusiastically slurping up every last drop. Served with bread that itself was decidedly write-home-about-able I assumed we’d hit the highest notes; clearly I’d underestimated Denhart!
The main course crescendoed with Cornish roast rump of beef, served with watercress and grated horseradish. It was brilliant, cooked to perfection, truly fantastic. I would have been happy with a little more horse radish but I’d never say so out loud. The short rib, too, served with pickled chilli, red onions and Cornish sea salt was incredible. A mini copper cauldron of excellent garlic and thyme roasted spuds provided carbs, though if you’re anything like me you’ll be terrified of filling up before you’ve gotten all the delicately smoked meat down you.
Like a traveller carefully packing for an international flight I made sure to leave just enough room for all the final bits and bobs, and rightly so because the pudding of chocolate mousse with honeycomb could not have been a more perfect end to a fabulous meal.
What We Drank: An aperitif of pornstar martini cocktails followed by a beautifully light Pino Grigio and a full-bodied Tempranillo.
Go With: Take anyone, your best friend, your worst enemy, take your ex-girlfriend’s parents, go and drag people off the street and take them too, you will love it whoever joins you, and so will they.
Final word: I dread that moment when the waiter comes over and asks how I’m enjoying the meal, regardless of how awful it is I will always force and smile and say that it’s ‘very nice thank you’. There’s the same inner voice as you write a review that, unless you hated it, in which case you can let-loose – wants you to do the same thing. But this is one restaurant where I really needn’t worry, when the waiter popped the question I almost wanted to hug him and hand-on-heart enthuse that I not only loved it but I’d eat here every night if I my wallet and waistline could possibly afford it.
The Stoke House: 81 Buckingham Palace Road, Victoria, SW1W 0AJ