Byline: Rowan Moore
GREEN'S RESTAURANT AND OYSTER BAR **** 14 Cornhill, EC3 (020 7220 6300, www.greens.org.uk). Open Mon-Fri for lunch 11.30am-3pm and dinner 5.30pm-10pm. About [pounds sterling]140 for two.
GREEN'S Restaurant and Oyster Bar in St James's, as more learned authorities than me have observed, is about comfort food for toffs. It is as if nanny is still hovering sweetly in the air, and the long chain of nurturing in oak-panelled rooms, from nursery to school hall to university college to gentleman's club, is unbroken. It also has comfort decor: although the first Green's opened in 1982, the year that emoticons were invented and Michael Jackson released Thriller, it has the air of having been there for ever. It was rewarded with the patronage of Baroness Thatcher, among others.
The new Green's in Cornhill repeats the winning formula but at a larger scale and with its own atmosphere. It is set in the pillared halls of an old Lloyds Bank building, with a bar downstairs and the restaurant above, whose black horse mosaic and bronze-lined lifts speak of reassurance and stability. Amid the Ionic columns of the old bank you can look across the sturdy Corinthian columns of the Royal Exchange to the Composite columns of the proverbially safe Bank of England.
All's well with the world, says the architecture, and banks never ever go bust. There will always be an England, it also says, with Scotland handily attached for the purposes of supplying Aberdeenshire steak and Loch Ryan oysters. This corner of London was celebrated by a sweeping 1904 painting called Heart of Empire by one NM Lund, and from the comfortable bubble of Green's it's possible to imagine that little has changed since.
None of which is any guarantee that the food would be any good. Indeed, if all the management's effort were to go into creating a nostalgic haze, you might not expect them to bother much with cuisine, and diners might be seduced enough to have their critical facilities disarmed. This, after all, is the way of themed restaurants everywhere, which, in its way, Green's is. And often the woozy longing for things imperial and Edwardian is a cover for charlatanry and shabbiness and rip-offery.
But Green's is good. It is good like a Jermyn Street shirt or a Savile Row suit is supposed to be, with everything done impeccably and as it should be, without too much fanciness. It is officer class stuff, pukka and proper, but updated. It also has to satisfy its City lunchers, who have eaten plenty of oysters in New York and have high standards.
Four kinds of oyster are offered, two native and two rock, and you can buy a platter with three of each kind for [pounds sterling]27.25. They are everything you could want from oysters: sweet, fresh, succulent parcels of ocean that slip easily into the mouth, some hidden nanny having first done the necessary with a knife to disconnect them from their shell. …