Vats Wine Bar & Restaurant: Every reason to go (August 2013)

Doing your research almost always pays off and there is a particular pleasure I believe all gastrophiles derive from finding consistently excellent restaurants that are somewhat off the beaten track and hence under-appreciated by others. Vats is just this and indeed I was (pleasantly, curiously) surprised to find not a single other review of it on Square Meal hitherto. Lambs Conduit Street (just to the north of Holborn) has much to offer, the lovely Lamb pub, Cigala another under-rated (Spanish) restaurant and, of course, Vats. Run by the same team for some time and always welcoming, posh and cutting-edge it is not, but in terms of service, food and drink and value, there are few better options, certainly in this area, or more broadly in centralish London. Being greeted by a smile and offered a choice of where to sit is always an encouraging start. The spicy tomato juice, sipped while considering our food options was just perfect, especially when approaching lunch slightly the worse for wear from the night before. In addition to the English/French menu comprising roughly ten starters and mains each, we were offered specials, two alternative ways of serving cod (it being a Friday) and venison (either in burger or stroganoff form), a nice touch. Being quasi-regulars, although the three of us differed in our choice of starters (crispy duck salad, pan-fried squid, and tuna tartare), we all opted for the main of Caribbean jerk pork, having enjoyed in times previous their similarly prepared chicken. The meat was juicily sumptuous, the spice mouth-tingligingly satisfying and the spring onion & plantain compote an inventive side. We paired this with a lovely Burgundian chardonnay by Louis Latour. The owners clearly know their wine and the list comprises a good if quite traditional range of predominantly French offerings. There is every reason to go, and let’s just hope that Vats doesn’t change too much; it does what it does exceptionally well.