Look at Anna Tobias’s Instagram and it is deliciously ugly. The queen of #beigefood, she’s a refreshing counter to the curated profiles of London’s leading culinary talent. There’s no portrait mode, no careful lighting, no considered plating and careful ceramic selection. Indeed, her trademark has become the Chartier plate.
It’s a neat embodiment of the food you’ll find at Café Deco, her Bloomsbury restaurant that opened in the heart of the pandemic in late 2020, a collaboration with the 40 Maltby Street team. On the quiet of Store Street, it glows welcomingly, with the soft light and a stripped-back feel under its soft green awning. But there’s an Old World classicism here, with white table cloths and tealights that feel reminiscent of a French bistro or Italian trattoria rather than modish London eatery.
The menu is hard to describe, at once determinedly British, yet with classical French and Italian influence running through it. Modern European is a disservice to this very gentle combination that seems both familiar and totally refreshing.
Flawless sourdough and creamy salted butter set the tone – offered here without an additional charge, a rarity beyond the most expensive establishments. Smoked mackerel with beetroot and horseradish chrain (£11) is a statement in simplicity: the pleasing chunk of mackerel closeted in its iridescent skin, bones and all, pertly placed alongside a pile of firm and flavoursome, vibrant beetroot cut by the fire of horseradish. A mouthful of the pumpkin caponata and baked ricotta (£12) offered the perfect balance of sweet and sour, with the soothing creaminess to balance its intensity.
Beef mince on dripping toast, watercress and pickled walnut (£25) cries out to me – and rightfully so on a wet and windy November evening. But this is no Quality Chop knock-off. The oblong of toast is crisp, the mince an honest and subtle alternative to its Farringdon friend – less decadent, rich and gout-inducing, yet no less comforting. A perfect pickled walnut provides the sharp bite to prevent the plate’s reassuring brown-ness becoming bland. Roast halibut, potatoes and salsa verde (£28) sees similar acclaim from my fellow diners.
Chocolate pudding pie (£9) was a triumph – the finest, crispest pastry shell holding an almost inappropriately good chocolate ganache, layered with an almost obscene volume of pillowy whipped cream: the ensemble is one of the sexiest puds you’ll ever eat. Apple charlotte and cream (£9) leaves a Lancashire-man speechless.
Everything is simple, modest, yet executed to the finest level. It’s cooking that speaks of Tobias’s CV so far, with Jeremy Lee, the River Café and Rochelle Canteen, not to mention the P. Franco residency that I still have FOMO about. It’s not cheap, but it’s also the sort of place where you can linger, you can hear everyone around the table, where napkins are weighty, there are plentiful coat hooks. These details are the thing that elevates this from just a nice restaurant to somewhere that you can see yourself returning to time and time again.
There is but one black mark against the place. The wine list, unfortunately, is for me the only downside. It’s the sort that is obfuscatingly, determinedly natural. And few bottles sit below the £50 mark, making most choices risky. The wait-staff were delightful, but I’m not convinced they’d be particularly helpful in guiding you to a safe choice. On the upside, corkage is available, at £25, which is worth doing if you plan to drink well.
Take a bottle, or just savour the joys of #beigefood pure – I can guarantee you won’t regret it.