That said, I wouldn't be the first to fall foul of the authorities here since in 1570, a group of women were prosecuted for 'amusing themselves in cursing and swearing to the great annoyance and grief of the inhabitants and passers by'. Wiki meanwhile tells me that during the 17th century, stock brokers were not allowed in the Royal Exchange because of their rude manners.
Restaurant-wise, the ground floor, the previously open air space (covered in 1990) is occupied by the Grand Cafe while Sauterelle seeks to deliver a more classical fine dining experience on the mezzanine level; both are run by D&D group. The attraction of the Grand Cafe, beyond its situation, is that it does all day dining (12pm to 10pm with breakfast served before that). What's more, the menu is substantial though we're generally wary of large menus, preferring to see a small menu done well rather than a bigger menu delivered in a mediocre fashion.
There's a choice of starters (7 options), sandwiches (6 options), pasta and eggs (6), a shellfish bar, salads (6) and main courses (7). Fortunately I am in the mood to keep it simple and while my choice is simple, fish and chips, it's highlighted on the menu as a'dishes of the decade', a celebration of the restaurant's 10 year anniversary. For my dessert, I pick another dish of the decade, something about 'After Eight' and Orange Sorbet, I didn't enquire, just ordered.
The fish and chips was okay but not particularly better than that, never coming close to match my recent outing to the award winning Poppies. The key issue was that the fish at times felt too meaty, too chewy, not possessed of that white flakiness that tells you it was delivered just earlier in the day. Perhaps it was but I wonder if such a large menu (and too few diners, we'll come on to that later) make inventory management difficult. The batter was mostly crispy but had a somewhat dirty look rather than a golden sheen. No criticism can be levied for the chips being 'restaurant chips' rather than 'fish and chip shop chips' for we are in a restaurant but they were somewhat bland and failed to convince me to finish them. The tartare sauce was however excellent and for once sidelined the ketchup.
Dessert teamed up classic flavour combinations, chocolate and mint, chocolate and orange, but for the most part lacked finesse. Compared to any number of cup cake vendors around London now selling that same combination in their cakes, here, the dense chocolate sponge and basic mint additions seemed more suited to a home birthday party than a restaurant flanked by De Beers and Tiffany.
Perhaps it is because the Grand Cafe shares the same problem as Starbucks: its purpose in the City (as seen by the locals) is not to sell food and drink, but instead to rent space by the hour, a by-product of open plan offices. At the table next to me, as I ordered, received and ate both my fish and chips and my dessert, a suited man interviews a woman for a job with only a single latte for him and a bottle of water for her consumed in that same time. While I wanted service, he wanted to be left alone to talk to the candidate, making me wonder if stockbrokers should continue to be barred. The waiters were all quite nice, as we've said before, D&D underwrite a minimum standard of service, but being a waiter here would suck in my view.
Clearly a very limited sample of what they offer, though I do think that fish and chips is a reasonably decent litmus test. It was okay, but only okay and despite seeing only two dishes, I do feel that I have the measure of the place. The restaurant has been running for 10 years now and it has been busy whenever I've ventured inside the Royal Exchange, perhaps because it is a wonderful meeting place, perhaps because of a lack of nearby competition. On Urbanspoon however, despite 10 years of trading, there's not a single blog post on it at the time of writing. The Royal Exchange received its alcohol licence in 1571 and that alone warms me to this historic building; the restaurant is a mere 10 years old but in some ways more clearly shows its age.