London is probably one of my favorite cities in the world, but whenever I tell friends that I like to travel there, they always remind me how British grub isn’t all that.
I tell them they’re wrong. That the dining scene in London is fighting that reputation and coming out with destination restaurants for food lovers. And with the recent opening of The Cavalier in San Francisco, I don’t have to travel that far to demonstrate that point.
Cavalier, inside the Hotel Zetta just south of the Westfield Shopping Centre in the Union Square area, is by Anna Weinberg and James Nicholas – the people behind popular California-focused restaurants Marlowe and Park Tavern. Their longtime collaborator, Chef Jennifer Puccio, designed the menu to provide a sophisticated take on British pub fare.
Hunting Room Vibe
Before getting into the menu, I have to give kudos to the designer who created a handsome interiors, from the dining room with warm red walls and a hunting lodge vibe to the bustling bar with cathedral-like lanterns.
I dined at Cavalier over the holidays, first trying out its special Thanksgiving menu and again at the bar during the break. Both times the service was impeccable, both friendly and knowledgeable.
The bar supports the strong masculine vibe of the restaurant, with some solid bourbon-based cocktails. I especially liked “The Victorian” ($12), made with Old Overholt Rye whisky, Earl Grey tea, sweet vermouth and Madeira. While the menu provides a daily list of special wine, I feel compelled to point out that the by-the-glass options are horribly pricey, ranging from $17 to $24 a glass.
The menu, because of its homage to pub grub, is filled with a lot of deep-fried food, including fish and chips ($22) and lamb scrumpets ($15). And there seems to be an obsession with eggs. In fact, eggs and cheese get their own section, with the popular duck duck scotch egg ($14) leading the way.
Still, California finds its way into the menu, often through the salads or fresh oysters. Right now there’s a farro and roasted beets salad ($13) that might seem ubiquitous these days in San Francisco restaurants, but the toasted pumpkin seeds added a nice roasted flavor to the dish.
The hearty entrees can be hit or miss, not necessarily in flavor because most dishes seem to be intense and bold. But hit and miss in terms of portion size. For example, an order of the steak and oyster pie ($21) can out in a tiny cast-iron casserole dish. While there was a lot of beef cheek in the interior that gave the dish a lot of flavor, the “oyster” came only in the oyster in the half shell on top. The “pie” came in the single layer of pastry shell served almost like a garnish.
The Last Bite
The Cavalier is a good example of sophisticated British food (British celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver recently dined here), but the dishes can be inconsistent (like the farro salad having a strong vinegar flavor). Still, the vibe is pitch perfect for setting a scene, and if you can afford the alcohol the bar is a sure favorite after-work spot.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The Cavalier, 360 Jessie St. (at 5th), San Francisco. PH: 415.321.6000. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. thecavaliersf.com