Cooper’s Arms Dining Room (September 2013)

The idea of dining in Chelsea induces a certain sort of trepidation in me; it conjures up images of expensively attired ladies with pearls, Euro-trash wannabes or overpaid footballers in quasi-designer suits. It was therefore a refreshing antidote to such stereotype to find myself dining with some friends in the Cooper’s Arms last Friday. Admittedly it may be a pub rather than a restaurant per se, but its upstairs dining room proved to be a most successful find. First impressions always count, and it was pleasantly refreshing to be welcomed so effusively, particularly in a pub. Being the first of our group to arrive, I explained that our table would now be seven rather than six, which they willingly accommodated with good grace. Although we had a space reserved downstairs for drinks before dinner, we chose to move to the calmer upstairs area immediately. Around 30 people could be seated here although – surprisingly – it was less than half full on a Friday night. Perhaps the best things are kept secret. The room benefited from a relatively recent refurb: the muted pale greens and whites worked well, the fireplace and mirrors also helping to create a sense of comfy intimacy, perhaps not dissimilar to a room in a country home – a welcome respite from the rain outside. The menu is simple British food, think daily changing pie, fish, and sausage dishes as well as a series of other traditional staples. All of it, however, was done well. Across the seven in our group, we tried most of the options and there did not appear to be any complaints. My whitebait starter was presented beautifully in a little silver pot and the quantity was just right, enough to pique the appetite but not too many to become overbearing. A risotto followed and, again, full marks. Restaurants can often fall down on their risotto preparation; commonly it may be considered as an after-thought intended for vegetarians, something to be microwaved warm, or if not, potentially difficult to prepare (given the time required) alongside many other dishes. I was in the mood for the dish – again a lovely comforter on a rainy night – and it was prepared to perfection, creamy and not starchy, the mushroom pieces and flavours abundant. British cheeses to finish were also a success. And, at every stage, nothing was too much trouble for the staff, with drinks, sauces etc. all brought to the table with a smile. Perhaps I will need to revise my opinion of Chelsea eating establishments, but if in the area, then do go.