Yes, it’s the First Dates restaurant from the hit Channel4 series, where I was filmed earlier this year having dinner on a blind date. Fast forward a handful of months and I’ve returned to dine at the restaurant once more in celebration of their new extended Saturday opening hours from 5:30pm-10:30pm and meet the team behind the TV landmark.
Based in Saint Pauls, London, Paternoster is set in a charming square overlooking St Paul’s cathedral, with tall glass fronted windows that flood the restaurant with natural light and allow you to gaze out on a balmy evening and watch the world go by. I have to confess that I was incredibly excited to be returning to the restaurant as I have many fond memories from filming there, whereby a television crew took over the venue for four days to kit it out with their own artwork, lights, cameras and furniture. However today I came to Paternoster to see it for what it truly is, in all of it’s beauty in daylight and without the addition of cameras, aside from my own of course.
Stepping into the restaurant I was greeted by the friendly staff who all wore the same uniform as on the show, beautiful beige aprons and smart shirts. The bar looked the same and the entrance was just as glamourous, however when I saw the restaurant I couldn’t help but say “wow”. Where the television crew had removed tables, used white linen, installed electric lamps, covered over mirrors and taken away the artwork for a clinically white and minimal appearance, the restaurant was now a hub of chattering diners, flickering oil lamps, groups of rustic tables, chalk menu boards and beautiful ceramics.
The kitchen sizzled deliciously as the oil wicks flickered, with industrial downlighters casting a beautifully atmospheric and intimate glow as we began our meal with bread and salted butter which was on the house as a ‘while you wait’ option prior to ordering. Where the menu had been limited to a set meal for filming when I visited before, today I was able to experience the full ability of the head chef, Mr David Philpot, who enthusiastically welcomed me into the kitchen to see how and why each dish has found its way onto his menu.
The passion David holds for his work and staff is absolutely tangible, and he certainly left my mouth watering as he told me all about his flexibility with dishes, challenging new ideas and remaining true to good, honest British food. Unlike some of the other restaurants in the city that are part of a large chain, Paternoster is able to create its menu and specials however David chooses, sourcing local, organic and seasonal delights to keep the diners always wanting more, with many customers having returned more than a hundred times, and it’s clear to see why. David delighted in telling me about his inspiring ideas of taking traditional childhood treats and sweets and recreating them for his modern fine dining dessert menu; regularly speaking with suppliers to see which meats are best hung and available day to day so that he can cook up a variety of evolving dishes from succulent joints of meat to flavoursome stock, hearty soups and seasonal sides.
Despite being the picky vegetarian diner that I am, the menu tantalised my taste buds exceeding my expectations on absolutely every level. I began my meal with a round of ‘while you wait’ bread and salted butter which comes complimentarily when ordering your drinks should you require it. The bread arrived in an adorable loaf tin, with a generously thick crust and soft fluffy middle that the salted butter melted into upon touching its warmth. Immediately it transported me back to my home cooked childhood as I broke it’s crust with my hands and ohh’d and ahh’d over every bite whilst perusing the menu.
I loved the look of the asparagus, poached duck egg and herb dressing as a starter, however as I don’t eat eggs the chef kindly exchanged this for a salad, which was light, zingy, uplifting and fresh. The asparagus was moreishly succulent, nicely seasoned and a wonderful hot and cold balance for a starter. It’s all too easy to undercook asparagus, cremate it or have dry woody ends, however the generously plump stems were cooked to perfection and melted in my mouth.
I followed this with my main of pea and pearl barley Berkswell risotto which was a vegetarian option on the daily specials. Berkswell cheese is made from ewe’s milk and provides a punchy alternative to parmesan, with it’s shavings softening from the warmth of the starched pearl barley grains and giving the most tremendous after taste. Unlike traditional arborio rice for risottos which tends to be quite gooey and sloppy, the pearl barley held its form with a luscious green stock complimenting the tender peas and soya beans nestled throughout. The texture, taste and flavour was out of this world, perfectly al dente and full of rich, hearty bursts of green veg.
I finished my meal with a trio of deserts consisting of a roasted fig, walnut and pistachio honey flake, a rhubarb, ginger and milk ice cream sundae and a coffee mousse. My mouth is already salivating again as testament to such a treat. The roasted fig flake was divine, dense, richly fruity with a crunch of sweet honey and creamy walnuts. The ice cream sundae had a tremendous punch of zingy rhubarb with a kick of ginger balanced by the sweet milky ice cream. The coffee mousse with roasted beans on top melted onto my tongue, disappearing in seconds in a swirl of sweet and bitter all at once. I don’t drink coffee and would normally avoid coffee chocolates or sweets at all costs, however this really opened my eyes as to how tastes can change and to always be open to revisiting and trying new things, as my spoon found its way to the bottom of the glass before my cosmopolitan had time to touch the table.
I had the most fantastic dining experience at Paternoster Chop House, recounting my time on First Dates with the added bonus of understanding the ethos and passion behind such a wholesomely British menu. The location, staff, food and cleanliness are second to none and a fantastic dining experience for meat eaters and vegetarians alike. Two meals down, only another ninety-eight to go until I become part of the hundreth-diner club!
Paternoster Chop House
Warwick Court, London, EC4M 7DX
020 7029 9400