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What do hummus, risotto and meatballs have in common? They each have a London restaurant devoted to them.

The latter is the newest member of this club, thanks to the opening of Meatballs, selling seemingly every possible version of the dish from around the world, in the former Quality Chop House on Farringdon Road last autumn. "I have to say, it was a gamble," says owner Hugh Fowler, who founded Cafe Pasta in the Eighties and went on to run the Hamburger Union chain. "We're still quiet at weekends. But, given the amount of interest we've had from the press and bloggers, I do think London's ready for a meatball restaurant – we just have to make sure everyone knows about us."

Inspiration for Meatballs came from Manhattan. "My wife Shelly and I were on holiday in New York and went to a popular restaurant called The Meatball Shop. It struck a chord, so we decided to look for a site in London. We used to live in Islington and eat at the Chop House in the Eighties, so when we found out it was for sale, we thought, 'Perfect.'"

Restoring the famous building, which had fallen into disrepair, proved tricky. "Because it's Listed, we can't change anything," explains Fowler. "We had to get special permission to replace the collapsing ceiling and a smashed window. Apart from that, the candle-holders and lamps are the only new touches. As far as we know, it's the only 19th century chop house in the whole country that's still intact," he adds, proudly. "I get a tremendous sense of satisfaction from the fact that we've saved it. It was originally for working men, and meatballs are traditionally a working man's meal, so there's a continuation there. It's just that the working man in Clerkenwell has changed – he now carries a laptop."

Right now, Fowler is busy trying to solve a local mystery. "There's a plaque on the restaurant door dedicated to a David Henry Eyre, who lived from 1924 to 1981. I've asked everyone but I've still no idea who he was... Basically, I'm offering a free dinner for two at Meatballs for anyone who can tell me." Time to unlock your inner Sherlock. Katy Salter

www.meatballs.co.uk

 

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