If there’s anything sweeter in life than propping up a bar with a tangy vodka martini fresher than a polar breeze as your leg brushes against a man you dated five years ago for whom you still have lukewarm feelings as he downs a heady gin something-or-other while he tells you he’s taken up team sports and boy does it show, then I’ll eat someone else’s bonnet.
We’re in Heritage, a new swish Swiss restaurant on the Chinatown side of Rupert Street but we’re still calling it Soho and not Chinatown because the latter’s dodge gastronomic reputation precludes geographical pedantry. Having said that, this thoroughfare to the nonsense of Leicester Square has been getting in on the foodie thing recently; there’s the Blue Posts next-door-but-one, notable for Ruinart and pizzetta at teeny-tiny Evelyn’s Table in the basement and for being the place where an ex announced he was checking into the Priory for some me-time, the selfish bastard. Could still be in there for all I know. Then there’s The Palomar, the dreamily brilliant Israeli/Palestinian joint where the staff is as fun as the superb, oft-vegan food (Shish Barak roasted almonds/mushroom and asparagus polenta/M’sabacha hummus) and the interiors have the confidence not to go down that Millennial pink chestnut, instead they’re all confidently navy neutrals with a mosaic splash.
Anyway, Heritage is ‘London’s first modern Swiss-inspired restaurant’ which makes you think there may be reasons why there weren’t any before. Especially when it fully discloses on its website and back-up PR bumf that’s it’s doing full-on cheesy fondues with all the trimmings, which gives me a carb comedown just reading about them. And seeing as I prefer my dairy to be of the non-dairy variety, my date takes the reigns of this tasting and nods approvingly throughout. He might’ve even used the world ‘unctuous’, but then he is Greek. So they’ve taken the clichés of the land of cuckoo clocks and crisp apple strudels, thrown in head chef Aarik Persaud, and come out the other side with a seriously satisfying, modern, come-hither joint that will make you rethink ye olde stereotypes of Swiss food. Especially when we mention the Foreman & Son Smoked Salmon Rösti, the Trenchmore Wagyu burger, the sides of crispy potato hay with duck-fat mayo or hispi cabbage with aioli and crispy ham. Oh, and the baked macaroni cheese with black truffle. Posh comfort food, much? And all of the above are good, very good. But if I have to endure another cauliflower steak – the vegan ‘plat’ default when they can’t really be arsed – I’ll be coming over all Naomi Campbell on people’s asses.
The cocktails at Heritage are serious-as-a-heart-attack good, served by a man with hair that just stepped out of a salon, and we’re not talking Mr Toppers. They come with citrus rinds that have been seared with the name of the restaurant and a side-kick bowl of salty nibblettes. I like to taste the alcohol in my martinis-with-a-twist – otherwise it’s like talking to yourself – and they’re quality stuff. My date’s on the Aviation Highball (Old Curiosity lavender gin with a whole bunch of fancy sweet loveliness thrown in), and he’s basically off his nut after one.
And this place looks sexy as hell. Dark enough to risk those crows feet but not too dark so you’ll be nodding off over your Moitie-Moitie (it’s the house fondue!) the bar’s right there in the centre of the room, which is where it should be, and a mix of brooding banquettes and standalone tables pepper everywhere else. It feels warm and cosy but not kitsch – the Keith Harings on the wall help – which is what a twist-on-Swiss should be. It’ll be well nice when the Beast from the East swings by again. The space goes deep with 80 covers and a 200-heavy wine list which suggests they’re expecting the footfall, which they have every right to, and they do a daily pre-fix (£24 for two courses, £29 for three) to pull in spendthrifts on the razz.
You can really go to town quality comfort-eating here, getting squiffy on the world-class plonk, telling yourself Switzerland might actually be for you after all. And Soho’s right there if you’re craving ye olde gay for a night cap.