Last Sunday, Mrs Aitch treated me to lunch at The Boundary. It's Terence Conran's latest venture, to be found in the heart of Jack the Ripper territory; and apart from the location, it's the usual Conran setup- a semi-industrial warehouse converted into a "gastrodome" (his word- not mine), basement restaurant below, a series of slightly pretentiously named rooms in the French manner above (The David Tang suite, The Dickens Suite), a trendy cafe (The Albion) and attached deli or "dairy" selling bottles of Heinz Tomato Ketchup and Lea & Perrins at snazzy prices.
You see, I've got rather mixed feelings about old Sir Terence. Ever since he opened the very first Habitat in 1964, he's been part of British Life, some would say even before that with his creative designs for the Midwinter Pottery and the Soup Kitchen, where back in 1953, a warming bowl of soup, worthy of Master Oliver Twist 'imself, could be bought for a shilling.
His restaurant chain (now I believe sold to D & D), although admirable in so many ways, often suffered in my 'umble opinion, from a lack of charm or an understanding of what it takes to create old-fashioned comfort; Quaglino's, initially ultra fashionable, degenerating into a bland canteen with indifferent food and mildly irritating staff: "Hi, I'm Ricky, your extremely camp and over-friendly waiter for the evening"; Mezzo, seemingly a junior version of the previously mentioned, a hot destination for raucous Essex girls up for an evening in the Big Smoke; Bluebird; perfectly all right, but not especially memorable and quite possibly formulaic. Maybe I'm being horribly unfair. Maybe.
But back to The Boundary. This place is an entirely different ball game. It's smart, utterly grown-up, both comfortable and civilised, with the urbane French service that I'm currently very keen on: the concierge in pin-striped trousers, the slight incline of the head, the discreet welcome; the art of being highly attentive without getting on your nerves; for unlike the Americans, the French understand that diners don't necessarily want to become best buddies with the restaurant staff on first meeting, and the professionalism and integrity of the waiter's craft is respected to the highest degree.
The restaurant looks stunning too, with well spaced tables of a decent size (something I've got a thing about), and comfortable, velveteen-padded armchairs. There's a whiff of the Sixties with the Fornasetti style ceiling canopy decorated with 17th century astrological charts showing the signs of the zodiac, and illuminated with tiny pin-pricks of light. The exposed London brick walls are decorated with bashed up Victorian silver-plated trays.
The food is excellent and of the uncomplicated Anglo-French persuasion, with simple dishes such as Eggs Florentine offered as a first course. Very Elizabeth David. Their Bloody Marys were full of spice. The charcuterie trolley makes a very welcome return, with a well made and tasteful ham-hock terrine, set in a juicy and flavoursome stock. The roast beef was rare (as we like it)- actually extremely rare- with a light and crisp Yorkshire Pudding, and slightly silly carrots (I'm not sure of the variety), which were so long that they almost flopped off the side of the plate. Gravy was thin (hooray!) and dark brown in colour and served from a dinky copper pot placed on the table.
Pudding was a simple oh-so-English elderflower jelly, served with berries, in a redcurrant juice. The cheese "house" (they're keen on trolleys) smelt good. There was also a refreshingly unpretentious "under £35" section at the end of the wine list. Sunday lunch came to a eminently reasonable £45 a head. This included pre-lunch drinks, three courses, black coffee, a jug of tap water, a bottle of very drinkable house Rhone and service.