There’s no doubt NYC is experiencing a British invasion, Whitehall being a spot-on
culinary example. Full disclosure, although I harbor an enduring love for all things British (thanks to a debauched 3-month stint with four Cockney roommates in Ios, Greece) I may not have been so motivated to try another version of bangers and mash, sucking pig or black pudding, but this modern bent on the UK bistro ensured the fallacy of bland English food was dead.
From the moment I stepped inside Whitehall, I knew I was in for something brilliant
. Enter some of the coolest restaurant décor I’ve witnessed south of 14th street—a newfangled blend of rustic warmth and London tube station complete with zinc bar, wooded ceiling, glossy subway tiles and the amber glow of Edison bulbs. The space is slick and industrial, frequented by an understated local crowd that gathered at the front bar while small parties and first dates canoodled in back. The space was so undeniably chic it inspired the decor of my own West Village abode. True story, mate.
But here’s another reason to love Whitehall: the cocktails. Specifically, the gin-based variety, handcrafted right down to the ice cubes. And on that note, how, exactly, did the barmen achieve such razor-sharp lines of said cubes? “Button trays,” my suspender-clad barman tells me, “they’re a mission to chisel out, but they’re worth it.” I take a sip of my Silver Basil Collins and I realize he’s right. It just wouldn’t taste the same without a weighty frozen block the size of a Tiffany box mellowing the gin.
Besides the UK-inspired soundtrack piped from someone’s iPod, my favorite thing about Whitehall is the staff. They too, hail from England, and if their accents aren’t enough to charm you the tiny corsages peeking from their pockets just might. They move with speed and efficiency behind the votive-lit bar, muddling here, shaking there, taking the art of cocktailing to a whole new level. What shocks me is how genuinely polite they come off, despite being knee-deep in custom drink orders and repeated requests to describe, “just what, exactly, does a gin-based cocktail taste like?” That said, you’d be making mistake to forgo the gin menu, after all, they have over 30 kinds to choose from. Live a little.
The London-themed joint is brought to us by Brian McGrory and Chef Chris Rendell of Highlands and Mary Queen of Scots fame. Both offering Scottish-themed menus, strong cocktail programs and bustling happy hours. At Whitehall, Chef Rendell works the British-classics (with a twist) angle and succeeds. The menu is inspired by 20th century farmer’s dishes and locally sourced ingredients. It changes seasonally, but if you see the Country Pate on the menu, get it. I’ve never had a more decadent version of what they call “terrine,” consisting of wild boar wrapped in cured bacon paired with quince chutney and seeded mustard. The cauliflower soup was also an unexpected favorite, made from a base of bread rather than cream that came off surprisingly light.
At the table next to me, I fantasized my neighbor’s blood pressure must have been running dangerously low when his Whitehall Burger arrived—the British version of a cheeseburger deluxe complete with thick layers of cheddar, caramelized onions, pickled beets and (of course) an egg over easy. Massive Attack, indeed.
The evening wouldn’t be complete without some brandy-infused dessert, in our case, the honey-crisp apple tart topped with vanilla ice cream and a dollop of brandy custard for good measure. And as if I needed more, a flight of port wine shows up compliments of the chef. “He shouldn’t have,” I said to my server, truly meaning it. Bloody hell
I was full.
At the end of the day, Whitehall is a warm, stylish, unpretentious gem where one can indulge in a little UK comfort food with a gourmet twist. On the other hand, if you’re in it for the curated collection of gin, inspiring décor or charming bartenders declaring “cheers,” “oy oy!” and
“forfuuucksssake,"all night long…mate, you won’t be disappointed.