As its name suggests, Angler is a seafood restaurant and while there are non fish dishes (1x beef, 1x pork, 1x lamb, 1x veggie on mains), it's best that you're a fish fan if you eat here. Located in the Square Mile, a place still short of good restaurants and certainly fish restaurants (the awful Catch at the Andaz has now closed and been reinvented as a champagne bar thankfully), Angler has become something of a City lunchtime favourite it seems and on our visit, there were no shortage of suits on display. Given the clientele, and with South Place Hotel positioning itself in the market as a stylish boutique hotel, don't expect prices to be cheap, with starters averaging about £13 and mains £25. On our visit, there was however a good looking great value set lunch menu at £30 that included three courses and a glass of Laurent Perrier champagne; we were almost tempted.
The first page of the menu has headings Crustacea, Oysters, Caviar, Starters. We picked half a dozen Rock oysters to start (split between Colchester and Mersea) with the Colchester oysters just huge though the slightly more expensive and smaller Mersea were the better of the two. After that, starters proper, with a langoustine and lobster cocktail that is priced at £18, and a shellfish ravioli at £13.50. Both of these dishes were excellent, and as we mused on the £18 price tag for the cocktail (Orkney Island langoustine at Angler are priced at £5 each so the cocktail price is perhaps no big surprise), because this classic had been re-imagined so well, there was no later remorse.
Mains fared less well. We chatted with the restaurant manager later about the merits of leaving the skin on a fish if it is not intended to be eaten. With the steamed wild sea bass, because of the cooking method, the skin remains soft and not suitable for eating but is left on for presentation purposes. We recalled Michel Roux Jnr telling a Masterchef contestant that things that aren't supposed to be eaten shouldn't be on a plate. The sea-bass itself however was nice though the ragout of razor clams, chorizo and marjoram was dominated by what seemed like tomato paste, sadly allowing the razor clam to offer only texture to the dish.
The halibut meanwhile was a cross section cut through the fish and then halved along the spine. Accordingly there was skin top and bottom of the steak, neither of which was asking to be eaten, and while the main spine bone was easy and obvious to remove, inappropriately, over a dozen other bones of around 10mm in length were also present through the fish. Management apologised for this error and offered a free glass of champagne to us. Angler is not trying to be Nathan Outlaw and do something super clever with fish, it's mostly classic stuff, and having been open for around 6 months now, they should be nailing dishes like this every time, surely? If this were a business meeting with a client (or being a client) which are so plentiful here, hunting for and pulling a bone out of your mouth with each bite would be a major distraction during the meal at the very least.
For desserts (around £7), it was a chocolate fondant with cherry yoghurt ice cream and hazelnut cake, salted caramel, lime and vanilla sorbet. They were the weakest part of the meal. The hazelnut cake, offering no thrills, was dominated by a biting lime sorbet, the salted caramel not registering at all. The chocolate fondant was good enough but the cherry yoghurt ice cream not so. With so many high quality ice creams available from the supermarket now, a restaurant should never fall at this particular hurdle.
This is not a cheap meal, with prices appropriately pitched for the City market (which is mostly expensed), but at those prices, the dishes should be nailing it more than they are. The setting was lovely, the service generally good, though stretched due to the good weather adding 40 more outside covers to the lunchtime tally, and the early part of the meal excellent. While there is a shellfish platter as a shared (?) starter, we would have been more happy to see a big fruit de mer available as a main course, especially with hindsight. Third time lucky still sees me pondering the merits of Angler. Overall, we enjoyed our meal, but should have enjoyed it more.