The Ambassador, which opened just before Easter, on busy Exmouth Market opposite the long established but still exciting Moro restaurant and Spanish food specialist Brindisa's shop, is another restaurant I would add to the trio I wrote about some time ago – Vinoteca, Wright's Oyster Bar and Canteen – where fun is as much a part of the attraction as the good food and the attractively priced wine list.
Run with a deft touch by Clive Greenhalgh, who used to work for Adam Robinson at The Brackenbury who in turn worked for me in the 1980s (and just to keep this connection going Robinson is a long-distance shareholder in The Ambassador although he is now living on a 400-acre farm in South Africa), The Ambassador is a combination of effective simple features: an open kitchen at the rear; a long bar to which, although happily for not that much longer, smokers repair in between courses; and simple but comfortable wooden chairs and formica-tipped tables.
While one consequence of this approach is pretty keen prices, another is quite a high noise level once the restaurant is full, particularly if the table next to you happens to be occupied by a couple of rather loud doctors as it was on the night we ate there.
But everything we ate there was impressive. We began with a couple of starters, a foie gras and chicken terrine and a foaming bowl of nettle soup (definitely not a cappuccino) and shared one of their bar plates, two round slices of a ham hock terrine studded with carrots along with a couple of glasses of white wine, a very youthful Sepp Grüner Veltliner 2005 and a zesty Dom de Perreau 2005 Montravel, both of which were poured from full, just opened, bottles at the table.
Any thought that this was going to be a cheap date was scuppered by my wife spotting on the wine list Il Marroneto 1996 Brunello di Montalcino for £38 which, as the new crop of Brunello 2001s is the subject of a forthcoming article, she decided was vital 'for research purposes'. It worked just as well on the pleasure principle too; its vibrancy and beautiful balance, despite a less than glorious vintage, noticeable even to a restaurant correspondent.
While the menu comprises some pretty substantial dishes such as poached halibut with hispi cabbage and Alsace bacon (£17.50); Haughley farm chicken breast, mousserons and wild garlic (£14) and braised breast of veal with sweetbreads, pumpkin and olives (£14.50), we settled on a macaroni and red pepper gratin with fontina (£9.50) and a starter portion of squid and pig's cheek casserole (£6.50) which was as hearty and filling as it read.
As impressive as the cooking was the attentive service provided by our fresh-faced waiter who promptly pointed out when my normally cheap-date ordered the warm chocolate pudding that it would take 10 minutes as 'it is made from scratch'. The little I tasted was delicious as was the quince and apple terrine with honeyed crème fraiche which, without coffee, brought the bill to £93.25 without service.
And, with that, the definite desire to return.
The Ambassador, 55 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QL, 020 7837 0009
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday evening.