There are certain assumptions one might feel confident to make of a restaurant that’s housed within a private members’ club in the middle of the City.
Opulent decor with plenty of timber-panelling, a heavy, indulgent menu of stodgy British classics, and middle-aged men trading state secrets over single malts are three that spring to mind.
Chef Adam Gray admits he was guilty of making some of those assumptions himself when he arrived to head up Number Five at the Devonshire Club, the 58,000sq ft hotel and private members’ club a stone’s throw from Liverpool Street station.
“You think it’s going to be all old guys smoking cigars,” he says of the restaurant’s patronage, which is members only from Monday to Friday and opens to the public on weekends.
So let’s get the truisms out of the way first. There is a fair amount of wood grain in the decor, albeit brightened up with jewel-hued seating and a slick terrace, and there are probably plenty of state secrets given the moneyed clientele – a membership to the Devonshire Club starts at £2,400 per year.
But as for the demographics of those diners, we’re off by a mile. In fact, Adam confides, the clubs membership is made up of a 60:40 female to male split and a good deal younger, which puts myself and my dining partner squarely in the majority though not, he hastens to add, the sole reason for the dedicated salad and sushi menus.
After eight years at the helm of Rhodes Twenty Four, Gary Rhodes’ former restaurant at the top of Tower 42, the chef is well aware that the biggest deals are no longer cut exclusively using a steak knife.
Instead, fresh modern British is the order of the day at Number Five, with lighter and vegetarian options as a main event, rather than an afterthought.
For starters, stick with the a la carte menu; the proffered sushi list is all well and good if you’ve a particular hankering for sticky rice, but there are plenty of Japanese spots in the area that will do you one better for under a tenner. Roasted octopus, meanwhile, looks as good as it tastes; smokey, tender with a fresh, herby fennel and cucumber.
Mains are modern and varied; from a red mullet with roasted peppers to a jewel-hued risotto of spelt and pickled beetroot and a pork chop perched on a miniature apple tart.
It’s all so tempting that we attempt to skip the salads entirely, this being an evening meal, and us disinclined to live up to our stereotype, but our waiter is insistent. Seriously, salads are mentioned three or four times. When one arrives, we can see why.
Fat pieces of yellowfin tuna have been perfectly seared and arranged on a bed of colourful, crunchy slaw with a biting soya citrus dressing. Such a delicate balance of flavours easily outshone its companion – a perfectly adequate rib-eye and it’s buttery bearnaise sauce.
This surprise winner is best enjoyed out on the terrace, where there’s nary a timber panel, nor whiff of cigar smoke in sight. What was that saying, “when you assume…”?