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Blueprint Cafe - Modern European

Blueprint Cafe - Modern European

Blueprint Cafe

Design Museum,

Butlers Wharf

London, SE1 2YD

Tel: +44 (0)20 7378 7031



Sir Terence Conran’s restaurants don't seem to inspire much affection. Even though a handful of them (Bibendum, Orrery, and Almeida) are gastronomically admired, they rarely figure in anyone's list of favourite haunts. To many, they are more like branches of WH Smith - useful if they happen to be nearby, but never worth a detour. It is worth remembering, however, that every single one of Conran’s restaurants is individually managed and it's up to the manager and chef to make a success of it.

Blueprint Café is a case in point. This is no cookie-cutter café; its quirkiness is crystallised in thoughtful touches, such as the provision of miniature blue binoculars on each table, enabling guests to capitalise on the restaurant’s marvellous equidistant views over the Thames of the City and Canary Wharf. The Blueprint shares a building with, but is not part of, the Design Museum although the spare, uncluttered restaurant is themed around the concept of design. Classics such as bent-wood chairs, David Mellor cutlery and diner tables occupy the light, airy space, and the walls are hung with portraits of designers photographed by Philip Sayer. The 'less-is-more' approach is reflected in Blueprint's cooking, though this is not to suggest that the look of the food takes precedence over the taste.  Jeremy Lee, who has been Head Chef since 1995, is a firm believer in taste over presentation, declaring that, “people are sometimes as happy to be as pleased by their eyes as they are by their palates, and this lessens the impact of the taste... I hate that." This, despite his own artistic heritage (his father, grandfather and both of his brothers are all artists, and Jeremy himself would have gone to art school, had he not taken a job in a kitchen in his native Dundee).

Jeremy describes the periods he spent working with Simon Hopkinson at Bibendum and Alastair Little in his eponymous restaurant in Frith Street as his most formative ones. A glance at the Blueprint menu shows that Little and Hopkinson’s influences are being carried forward in Jeremy's ingredient-led cooking. The list is changed daily and includes seasonal produce as much as possible. There is also a discernible nod to Fergus Henderson’s head-to-tail school of cookery in a menu that includes goose rillettes, whole mackerel and featherblade. My dining companion and I both embraced the seasonality of the menu with the baked asparagus with Parmesan for her; the watercress and lovage soup for me.

The service, incidentally, is particularly well informed and efficient. Our charming waiter Christof offered me the soup hot or cold, and given the balminess of the evening, I chose chilled option. It was sensational; a deliciously viscous, vivid green concoction.  To follow I had the mackerel, grilled whole, and accompanied by a creamy, piquant cucumber and dill salad. Though my fish was breathtakingly fresh with a nicely crispy skin, when I tasted my co-diner’s featherblade I wished that I had ordered it. I remember cooking featherblade at cookery school; it is a cut of beef that requires slow cooking to release the gelatin from the tough connective tissue and feathery fat. This meat had been cooked slowly for several hours, and it was so sublimely soft that it barely needed a fork to ply apart.

Portion sizes at the Blueprint Café are generous, to say the very least, but our ravenous appetites (from lengthy tube strike-induced treks to the restaurant) allowed room for elderflower granita and shortcake with strawberries; which were refreshing, crisp and sweet in relative measure.

In sum, Blueprint Café is reminiscent of all the great things about Conran restaurants:  a strong and solid brand with clear and confident fundamentals, and liberal, idiosyncratic details, like those little blue binoculars.

Lisa Morganrees, trainee lawyer, Slaughter & May LLP

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