The bar / restaurant combination is fairly easy to pull off. Pulling it off well though is another matter. More often than not, they’re places of convenience – a handy, safe option. You know there’ll be a few crowd pleasers on the menu, but it’s more the drinks that have drawn you and your group in. However, every now and again you find somewhere that doesn’t compromise on anything, and takes real pride in their menu. The Last in the City has rightfully earned a huge clientele for just this reason.
Entering the restaurant, we immediately notice the superb balance that the décor and layout inside creates – the place is in the midst of the lunchtime rush, yet the bustle of the diners and drinkers isn’t too invasive. Intimate floral booths with partially melted candles in the centre feature on the raised left of the restaurant, while other tables sit far closer to one another, and feature potted herbs like rosemary on them. These little touches may not seem like much, but it’s precisely these touches that make going to a restaurant that little bit more memorable.
Looking through the menu, we quickly saw that the combination of gourmet ingredients that featured really elevated the British classic dishes into The Last’s own unique take on them. Not only this, the international additions (ranging from spicy oriental recipes to traditional French flavours) really added an extra depth.
Baked boxed camembert w/ cranberry jam & crusty baguette
We took advantage of this straight away. Since it was almost the weekend, we didn’t need to take too long to decide to share a baked camembert. Steaming hot when it arrived, the lightly golden top of the cheese took only the deftest of touches to give way to the fresh, lightly toasted baguette that accompanied it. The rich creaminess that camembert is known and loved for had a partner though – a cranberry jam that cut through the cheese perfectly. This was not a highly processed jam that dominated every other flavour with its over-sweetness though. Instead, it was a chunky, more natural-tasting accompaniment, and was packed with chunks of cranberry. We did try to go with the knife and fork option, but before long we were unashamedly scooping out the camembert with chunks of baguette and trying to balance the cranberries on top. We like to think it’s how sharing a baked camembert should go!
Steak frites w/ garlic & herb butter
For our mains, we went off in different directions – one of us kept it simple, while the other opted for a more complex collection of colours and textures. With the camembert being such a success, we were confident that the steak frites would continue the French theme with similar flair. For under £10 for the entire dish, the quality of the meat alone could have demanded triple the price. With an ever so slight smoky taste caused by the subtle grill sear, the steak fell apart easily, and was one of the juiciest I’ve had in a long time. Such was the flavour, it left me in two minds whether or not to use the garlic butter sauce that came with it. The frites were exactly as they should be in this dish – not triple cooked, nor over-complicated with flavoured seasoning. Instead, just a little salt, and a very subtle crunch.
Salmon fillet on a warm Niçoise salad
In place of the common tuna variety, The Last offer a salmon fillet on top of a warm Nicoise salad. Even before tucking into it, the mixture of colours on the plate immediately grabs your attention – the contrast between the lightly seared top of the fillet and the rich pink of the bottom, as well as the bright yellow yolk of the egg and perfect white. Some sundried tomatoes alongside the green and black olives also showed us that this was going to be no bland salad at all. Like the streak, the salmon had not been overcooked at all, resulting in wonderfully juicy flakes. Adding the sundried tomato to the olives rounded off the latter’s saltiness perfectly, and gave a distinct Mediterranean feel to the dish.
Baked cheesecake w/ warm strawberry compote
With the generous portion sizes, dessert was looking doubtful. However, our waitress was quick to recommend the baked cheesecake with warm strawberry compote to share. Sometimes, it’s the simple desserts that really bring a sense of comfort. Moist, creamy, and not at all too rich for a close to a meal, the cheesecake ticked all these boxes. The strawberry compote is undersold in our opinion – in reality you get deliciously sweet halved strawberries. I’m often not a fan of strawberries in desserts, as they are far too often overly hard, bordering on unripe. The ones at The Last were of an altogether higher quality, and lacked any bitterness. Instead, they felt like a natural pairing with the creaminess of the cheesecake. Despite our hesitation to order dessert at first, we cleared the plate in mere minutes.
As I said before, it’s so often the little touches that make a restaurant stick in your memory. By the end of the meal, we were already sold on the menu, the style and ambience of The Last, but it was giving us the milk for our coffee in a miniature glass milk bottle that tickled us. It may be a minor thing, but it was nice to see little presentational tweaks like that.
Getting the right balance in an eatery like The Last is no easy thing, but they really have succeeded here. Not one part of the menu is compromised in favour of cutting corners, and the variety of dishes makes the menu ideal at providing for both those in a mad lunchtime rush, or for those wanting to take their time at any time of day. One of the great surprises here is the cost. With such high quality ingredients being used, and such generous portions, the bill left us feeling that we must’ve under-ordered! This is a rare feeling when dining in the city. Of course, we were able to quickly take our minds off this by taking a few steps to the bar area and enjoying the fact that it was Friday.
Athene Place 73 Shoe Lane, London, EC4A 3BQ