The name, The Only Running Footman, conjures an image from another era, of a smartly liveried man servant perspiring at the hurried pace of his impatient master. This contrasts completely to the tranquillity of this historic Mayfair gastro pub and restaurant, which offers a relaxed haven for dining right in the frenetic heart of the West End.
On first appearances, the downstairs bar area seems to draw a sizeable number of after work regulars. Fine Dining Guide visited on a pleasant September evening when the crowd of drinkers spilled out onto the street in the classic London pose, pint in hand. Whilst downstairs very much feels like a thriving pub, the upper two floors have been converted into spaces for dining. The first floor dining room is an intimate space with about 70 covers. Soft furnishings, muted colours and dulled lighting all give the feel of a Victorian parlour, though pleasingly far more comfortable.
We were welcomed to our table by Magda, our warm and attentive host for the evening. She began with the unfortunate news that two of the predictably popular dishes – a ham hock and foie gras terrine and Onglet and chips – had regrettably run out so early in the evening – 8.00pm. Nevertheless, the menu offered a number of interesting alternatives, including 3-4 other specials.
The Executive Chef, Eddie Kouadio, has over five years of service and has put together a menu of impressive breadth. There are almost a dozen options for main course, ranging from traditional pub grub through to more distinctive fayre.
Fine Dining Guide chose from the a la carte menu. Main courses varied from £15-£27, with starters and desserts typically around the £6-£9 mark. There is also a decent wine list with bottles from £20 through to £325, from which we selected a perfectly pleasant Sangiovese, Elqui Valley Chile, £27.50.
For the first course we both opted for seafood. The tian of Cromer crab with avocado comprised white meat interspersed with the avocado, leaves and dressing. This tasted very fresh, particularly when cut through with juice from an accompanying wedge of lime. However, it would have benefitted from more seasoning, and, perhaps, have been more flavoursome if a little of the brown meat had been used.
The crispy squid with lime aioli was encased in a crispy batter which protected the delicate flesh, and together with the chilli, lime and coriander gave a fresh oriental kick. As with the crab, more generous seasoning would have raised this dish from a good to an excellent one.
Bereft of the Onglet, we sought a bovine fix from a Cote de Beouf. This was accurately char-grilled to medium rare, maximising the succulence of the cut. Lip smacking roasting juices, reduced to intensify their smoky sweetness, did full justice to the beef. The intriguing “Stealth fries”, which turned out to be thin cut chips, failed to steal the show but were perfect partner for the meat.
We also sampled a Chicken and Mustard Pie. The mustard made for an innovative (for chicken) addition to the chicken filling, which was topped with an impressive dome of flaky pastry. Although a staple of any pub, the pie was well executed comfort food, an homage to an English classic.
Prior to dessert we decided to partake of the selection of British and French cheeses. This was well curated and comprised a number of classics such as Wigmore, Reblochon and Caerphilly. The cheeses were served in perfect condition of ripeness and temperature.
We finished the meal choosing from the tempting dessert menu. A highlight was the autumn fruit and nut crumble, a dish textured with perfectly cooked apple and a crunchy nut based topping. The sharpness of the fruit contrasted well with the sweet crumble. Our other choice, the passion fruit sorbet, was less of a triumph, lacking the lingering taste of this aromatic, sweet and astringent fruit.
As we finished our means and the tables emptied around us, it was apparent that the buoyant trade of the evening was a testament to what the team do well and the appreciative following they have established. The offering is not flawless and is trapped in the difficult territory between pub and fine dining. However, it is doubtless the case that the Only Running Footman is ahead of the many in the gastro pub pack.