The City culinary institution, The Don, has had a 21st-Century revamp
The Don Restaurant is old-school City, harking back to the days when no one lived in the area – the restaurant still closes for the weekend and is hidden away in a courtyard down St Swithin’s Lane. The venue used to be the London warehouse of George Sandeman’s eponymous port and sherry operation, which shipped fortified wine across the Atlantic from Porto and Jerez to blend and bottle in London. The restaurant is actually named after Don, the figure on the company’s logo, bedecked in a Spanish hat and Portuguese student’s cape.
This is where the history lesson ends, and we land smack-bang in the present. Frederick Forster was, earlier this year, named as the new executive head chef. Forster is one of only a handful of chefs to have won both National Chef of the Year and the feted Roux Scholarship, the second of which while he was head chef at The Ritz, under the tutelage of John Williams (himself a chef-of-the-year winner). Having re-launched Pont de la Tour, The Don is his latest project and he’s wasted no time in revamping the menu, developing a modern European offering that already feels established.
I went along with a trader friend of mine, to see if his City sensibilities would be sated. Try the warm Portland crab with spiced bisque to start lightly, followed by the roast quail with braised mushrooms and maple parsnips for a sweet/savoury main. I finished with the soufflé, always a good test of a chef’s skills, and obviously done masterfully by Forster’s team. My guest tried the pineapple carpaccio with coconut sorbet and caramelised marshmallow, which turned out to be a surprising highlight of the meal.
The wine list has won a Wine Spectator Award for being one of the best in the world every year since the restaurant opened, and it’s not hard to see why, as the ‘wine walls’ can attest to the care the sommeliers have taken in curating the collection. It would have been remiss for us not to try the cheese cart’s wares, with our waiter giving us more information about each cheese than is reasonable to remember.
One particularly interesting titbit was that some of the cheese on offer was actually praised by Napoleon as a meat substitute for his troops, therefore keeping morale high. Morale is obviously high at The Don. Service is impeccable, friendly and welcoming, and hopefully, once the front is refurbished, more of us will get to enjoy this hidden gem just off St Swithin’s Lane.