7 July 2022 · Behind the Cookbook
The Quality Chop House celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2019 and published its eponymously titled cookbook the same year. There has been a restaurant at the same site on London’s Farringdon Road since the late 1800s, but it was in 2012 that William Lander, son of wine writer Jancis Robinson and restaurant critic Nick Lander, launched the latest incarnation together with head chef Shaun Searley. Lander was joined as co-owner by Daniel Morgenthau in 2017, while Searley continues to head the kitchen to this day.
Located in Farringdon, an area of London known for several other acclaimed restaurants including St. John, The Eagle and Moro, and handily just up the road from Smithfield meat market, The Quality Chop House has played a prominent role in the recent success of Modern British cooking.
To mark the release of The Quality Chop House on ckbk, we spoke to co-owner William Lander about the restaurant’s history and that of other London chop houses, and how the venue fits with the legacy of the area’s other groundbreaking eateries.
In her preface to the cookbook, critic Marina O'Loughlin says that despite the “chequered career” of the venue (from “Progressive Working Class Caterer” - to celebrity hangout to meatball restaurant) she was always confident that this extraordinary space would one day find the right team to run it. In Lander and Morgenthau she believes it has.
In one way, London’s chop houses were the original gastropubs, albeit more rough and ready. Serving individual portions of meat – chops – to the masses, although normally just for men. Lander says “they were fairly utilitarian places where quantity maybe over-road quality at times, and certainly value was always number one or number two priority. And to that extent, I don’t think our spot was different, just architecturally where it was slightly different.”
Designed by architect Sir Roland Plumbe, The Quality Chop House is a remarkable location with its utilitarian style featuring architectural flourishes – from the ceiling to the intricately patterned banquettes. The book is packed with atmospheric photography celebrating the unique space, providing a brief history of the restaurant, an insightful ‘day in the life’ and plenty of recipes.
As Lander points out, all restaurants claim that sourcing is key: “often there can be a blasé statement that you’re all about the ingredients. I don’t think there’s a restaurant that doesn’t say that.” But this commitment to top-notch ingredients runs deep at The Quality Chop house, and their provision shop and butchers next door is testament to that.
Lander describes the shop and the whole carcass butchers next door as “codifying our commitment to that principle” and in the most delicious way. The book features profiles of their favorite suppliers, and recipes for provisions sold, such as Picked Beetroot Ketchup, Raspberry Jam or the Cotswold Gold Chicken and Leek Pie, made with celebrated Fosse Meadows chicken.
So many of the recipes showcase the wealth of fine UK ingredients – from Stichelton (a beautiful raw milk blue cheese from Nottinghamshire) in the Stichelton Custard Tart, to the rich-yolk eggs of Burford Browns and Cacklebeans in the Cured Egg Yolk recipe, to Whipped Cod’s Roe.
Lander describes how for working, lower-middle class eaters, chop houses were “a way of getting fuel in a much smaller landscape of ingredients that focussed on meat. Every chop house or eatery at that time would have been meat-led.” To that end, meat is still at the heart of the restaurant – as seen in prime cut recipes for Pork Chop or Ribeye for Two, or in Seared Onglet Steak (a less common cut, also known as hanger).
Lander calls them a “labour of love” and they are one of the signature dishes of The Quality Chop House: the legendary Confit Potatoes. For the home cook they are certainly a weekend project – three hours cooking in duck fat and then a deep-fry the next day – but worth the effort. Confit potatoes have never come off the menu since head chef Shaun Searley created them in 2013.
The book also describes the regular staff meals. Every day at 4pm the team all eat together: “It’s a family meal in the sense of community and togetherness all around one table, but it’s also familial in its content – bold, big flavors with lots of carbs and not much intricacy, the kind of thing you’d like to be able to put on the dining-room table when you’ve got lots of family around.” Comfort Fish and Chips or hearty Beef Stew and Dumplings hit the spot.
The Quality Chop House is very much following in the footsteps of other pioneering restaurants in a part of London that was pivotal to developing the concept of Modern British cooking. Lander says, “The Eagle and St. John were such trailblazers.” He describes himself as in the shadow both of Fergus Henderson’s focus on the product at St. John, and of The Eagle “in terms of the idea that you can have this space which isn’t formalized with a waiter and a tablecloth, all these things, and the food can still be very good.”
Lander adds “we are very much their much younger brother, or even son, rather than contemporaries or in a movement with them. They blaze a trail that we are very much following.” What makes the food in this cookbook special and within this recent tradition of Modern British food is the variety of levels of sophistication. Lander cites the Sausage Roll and Pork Pie, for example, as “not things that frankly you could do in half an hour or even an hour.” Recipes that are “on the face of it quite simple, but would hopefully be the best version that you’ve ever tried once you’ve completed that complex recipe.”
As Marina O'Loughlin says of The Quality Chop House: “Whatever the future brings, I’m happy to predict it’s where I’ll always want to be.”