The walk to work from my last house went via Gray’s Inn Road. There’s a funny old mixture of places when you get towards the crossing of Clerkenwell/Theobald’s Road, but definitely no trendy restaurants. There is a little, seemingly unassuming, place called Otto’s, which I only noticed towards the end of my Gray’s Inn Road route (pre-Farringdon flat). Over the last few months, I have seen more and more mentions of Otto’s by the great and the good of the food world (Simon Hopkinson’s is apparently a fan, and he is very particular and rather brilliant, as shown by his precise and perfect recipes).
It’s rather eclectic inside, with a very old-school, and very French feel. Definitely no bare brick walls, brown paper menus or social media flurry here (red velvet and strange little table statues instead). The menu is all very classic, and they like a little theatre at the table. I started with the smoked salmon (£12.50), hand-carved from a silver platter next to you, before being daintily garnished with little grassy piles of parsley, cornichon and caper.
The steak tartare (£24) preparation was even more fun. The sweet French waiter brings over a tray, full of little dishes and jugs. After cracking the egg, he made a mayonnaise in the wooden bowl (explaining each ingredient), before mixing in the other additions (parsley, shallots, a bit of spice etc) and the fillet steak. He then artfully shaped and squashed into a perfect round on the plate, alongside a green salad and crunchy golden potato rosti. It’s a rather special experience, and the best steak tartare I have had.
We also tried from their set lunch menu (two courses for £24, three for £28). To start, a carrot and lentil soup with dainty poached egg perched in the middle, then an expertly cooked rump steak with Pommes Anna (it went all the way to converting a very recently non-vegetarian).
The bread is of course French, warm and very delicious, with a little pot of salty pike taramasalata. We skipped the desserts (managing to just about turn down the fine fig tart, with almond ice cream and caramel butter sauce). But they then brought a little plate of homemade chocolates and tiny pastel meringues to finish. The wine advice was spot on, bringing a few for me to try before deciding on the glass.
If you’ve got a spare £140 for a bird, they have a couple of decadent dishes to order in advance. The first is La Poularde de Bresse Demi Deuil, a Lyonnaise speciality with black truffle slices under the chicken skin (using the special ‘Black Diamond’ truffle). The other is their pressed duck, the recipe first created at the beginning of the 19th century in Rouen by a restaurateur named Mechenet and famously served at the Tour d’Argent Restaurant in Paris (Otto’s use their duck suppliers). For both, the tidy sum provides a couple of courses for two of you – have a read on their website for more history of the dishes.
A wonderful find, and worth the (albeit a little under the radar) raving. You wouldn’t want too many people to find out about it – I’ve only been singing its praises to people I really like. And I’m even going back again next week.