This is a year of celebration at Blueprint Café. Not only is the restaurant celebrating its 21st birthday this summer, it has also been 15 years since head chef Jeremy Lee first got behind the stove. Kerstin Kühn reports.
Located on the River Thames, Blueprint Café was launched by Sir Terence Conran in 1989 alongside his iconic Design Museum. But although it shares a building with the museum and has provided sustenance to many of its creativity-hungry visitors, it isn't part of the Design Museum and forms a separate entity that sits comfortably beside it.
Indeed, while thanks to its affiliation to the museum one may expect Blueprint Café to be filled with designer furniture, artistic light fittings and patterned wallpaper, such a stylised interior couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, the restaurant's uncluttered decor is decidedly understated, with plain white walls hung with portraits of designers photographed by Philip Sayer, wooden tables and bentwood French bistro-style chairs combining to create a relaxed interior akin to its atmosphere, away from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding City.
Scottish-born Jeremy Lee joined Blueprint Café in 1995, having previously worked with Alastair Little in Soho before launching Euphorium in Islington. "Terence came to see me saying that the Blueprint Café was up for grabs," he recalls. "It had always been a favourite of mine and, of course, its riverside location was a big attraction."
Indeed, there's something special about Blueprint Café's Shad Thames location and the restaurant unashamedly takes advantage of it. The floor-to-ceiling windows and mini binoculars at each table certainly help diners make the utmost of its wonderful views over nearby Tower Bridge and the City of London.
Lee leads a kitchen brigade of about 10 chefs who help put together his seasonal, modern British menu. His cuisine is probably best described as unfussy: his are simple dishes that let the ingredients speak for themselves.
A set menu featuring three starters, mains and desserts is available at £15 for two courses and £20 for three. The à la carte offers a wide selection of about 10 different starters and mains priced from £5 to £8 and £12.50 to £21 respectively.
"We write the menu twice a day," Lee says. "It remains very familiar during the winter months but at this time of year, just after Easter, a delightful transformation takes place."
Current starters include beetroot salad with mustard, horseradish and a soft-boiled egg (£6) as well as a salad of pickled herring served with watercress, potato, capers and parsley crumbs (£5.50).
"Herring is such an underrated fish," Lee says. "We keep the herring in brine for several days before popping them into a pickle with cider vinegar, bay leaf, sugar and thinly sliced onions and carrots for a few days."
Another favourite among the starters is a dish of crubeens (£6). "We cheat and posh this up terribly," Lee explains. "We order whole pigs so, instead of just using the trotters, we take all the off-cuts and unwanted bits." Once cooked for several hours with vegetables and herbs, the meat is worked into a sausage which is then rolled in eggs, mustard and breadcrumbs before being grilled and served with sauce gribiche.
Mains include Aberdeen Angus sirloin of beef served with pickled walnuts, horseradish cream and watercress salad (£19). "It's just one of the most beautiful combinations of ingredients which go perfectly together," Lee enthuses. He buys the pickled walnuts pre-made as "each attempt to make them ourselves resulted in an unmitigated disaster".
The most expensive dish on the menu at £21 is turbot, served simply with grilled artichokes and gremolada (minced parsley, lemon peel and garlic). The dish epitomises Lee's cooking style where less is more and the main ingredient is always the star of the show.
After more than two decades, Blueprint Café remains a stalwart of the London restaurant scene, a sanctum of tranquillity right in the heart of London where a simple yet sophisticated menu goes hand in hand with its less-is-more interior and unfussy atmosphere.
"We sit quietly above Father Thames and watch the rest of the world go by while time at Blueprint Café stands still," Lee says.
Blueprint Café, Design Museum, Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD
020 7378 7031www.blueprintcafe.co.uk
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
- Grilled pork and rabbit livers, bacon and sage, £5.50
- A salad of pickled herring, watercress, potato, capers and parsley crumbs, £5.50
- A warm smoked eel sandwich, mustard, horseradish and red onion pickle, £8
- Grilled bread, goats' curd, onions, broad beans and mint, £12.50
- Turbot with artichokes and gremolada, £21
- Baked marinated chicken, asparagus, watercress and almond, £16
- Gooseberry trifle, £5
- Walnut meringue, berry fool and sorbet, £5.50
- St Emilion au chocolat, £6