The last time I ate in Whitehall it was 2003 at the Banqueting House in the London thoroughfare of that name at a function where the guest of honour was HRH the Duchess of Gloucester. Whitehall Road in Leeds is a far cry from Whitehall in London but the food, and the company, were much better. That’s my prospects of a mention in the New Year’s Honours well and truly stuffed then!
The Whitehall had been on my radar for quite some time but things always seemed to happen which derailed my plans. Today I at last got to take lunch here and it was well worth the wait. Because of the restrictions currently in place, and the Eat Out to Help Out scheme being in operation, I decided to book. The booking was for two people as I had taken along a friend, sorry, my only friend, to share the experience.
It was good to see that there was evidence of there having been a decent lunchtime trade with quite a few of the tables still occupied although it was gone 2.00pm. The obligatory hand sanitiser was present at the registration point, where my details were checked against the booking and we were shown to our table.
We were immediately asked about water and given the choice of still, sparkling or tap, we chose the latter as I usually prefer my drinks from the tap rather than the bottle. We had both already perused the menu online so we knew what we wanted, a pint of Amstel lager, very reasonably priced at £4.60, in my friend’s case, and a 250ml Pichikura Chilean merlot in mine for £7.50. The important parts of the meal sorted we moved on to the food.
The dedicated lunch menu is priced at £10 for one course, £15 for two and £20 for three, but the thing which impressed me the most was that it is available from noon until 6.00pm. I have a bee in my bonnet about being told when I should feel hungry, it happens when it happens, and there have also been occasions on which I was in a meeting or in the middle of something complex which meant that I could not get away before 2.00pm which used to be the cut-off time for midday dining. The Whitehall is situated in the business quarter so I am sure that they benefit from this relaxed attitude towards timing.
Although my dining companion was only having the one course option I thought that I would be letting you down, dear reader, should I not go ‘through the card’, as we used to say in the betting industry. From the five starters on offer I chose the Pea and Courgette Velouté with Cheddar and Chilli Doughnut. Velouté is normally a creamy sauce but here was served as a soup, and very good it was too. It was bursting with the flavour of pea and courgette, naturally, and the red leaves with which it was garnished added an earthy element. I had been intrigued as to what the doughnut would be like and whether the cream and jam would spoil the effect, but it was actually a small mildly flavoured bread roll made in the manner of a doughnut but without the sweetness. As a footnote I would not order any variation of this dish should you ever go to an establishment producing beer because it is a well known fact that there are an awful lot of people who could not organise a pea soup in a brewery. Come on, give me a break.
For the main course I had Chicken Schnitzel which came with a fried egg, caper lemon butter, and celeriac and carrot remoulade. I have had schnitzel made with pork tenderloin and also the original version with veal but this is the first time I have had a chicken variant. The problem here was that the meat element of schnitzel is beaten until it is thin and then coated in breadcrumbs before being shallow fried. The advantage of the pork and veal varieties is that the meat doesn’t need to be cooked all the way through and so can be served on the rare side, whereas chicken has to be thoroughly cooked to kill the bacteria and so, being this thin, it dries out somewhat. Having said that, it was delicious but I couldn’t help wishing that, instead of the butter, the capers had been accompanied by a slice of lemon which could be squeezed over the dish to help lubricate it. As an experiment, I pinched my friend’s lemon – behave – and drizzled a little of its juice over the chicken. It worked wonders. It is amazing how many times the basics let down a good meal but here the fried egg was done to perfection. The remoulade was also excellent.
The aforementioned lemon arrived with Fish and Chips and was accompanied by crushed peas and tartare sauce. It was described as being brilliant which I took to mean that I wasn’t going to get a bite, which was fair enough as she was only having the one course. She went on to say that it was also very filling, which instilled a glimmer of expectation. Sure enough, the fish had beaten her and so I was offered what was left. I have to say that the haddock which filled every part of its battered coating, was superb and the flakes were as dense as I have ever come across, it was almost like eating meat. The fish also tasted of fish rather than being insipid and I was mightily impressed.
On to dessert. I love Crème Brûlée and this was as good as it gets. The Madagascan Vanilla came bursting through from the custard, which was topped by the hardened sugar top. The Speculoos biscuit added a further sweet dimension to the dish, as did the black coffee (£2.75)
Mention must also be made of the excellent service from the young, enthusiastic staff. Please note, a 10% service charge is added but it is worth every penny.
This really was an excellent lunch and I would recommend The Whitehall to anybody who will listen. The subsidy from The Treasury – based in Whitehall – made the cost very reasonable too.
In future, should I get a choice between eating at the Banqueting House or dining at The Whitehall, I will always plump for the latter, unless I am at a celebration event to mark my being awarded a knighthood, in which case I will contact HRH the Duchess of Gloucester to see if she fancies a replay at her gaff!
All photographs by Stan Graham