For the last several months, no soap opera in town has been quite so compelling as that surrounding Waterloo & City, a restaurant named for a London tube line, planned to fill the space vacated by a coffee shop in a part of Culver City as yet unmarked by the great tide of cafés washing through the suburb's downtown. If you read Squid Ink, you know about all the chef changes and menu alterations, shifts in ownership and degrees of intent. If you'd ever been to the Crest House, a restaurant that actually made Norm's seem appealing, you may have wondered why people considered the saga so riveting.
But as it turns out, this newly gentrified part of town really, really needed a restaurant a couple of ticks more upscale than Johnnie's French Dip Pastrami, and Waterloo & City has been mobbed from the second it opened — the bar area up front, the comfortable patio off to the side and the surprisingly large dining room, which has the roomy, comfortable feeling of the coffee shop it once was, but also the polish and detail of a place you might take a date without wincing.
Waterloo & City is ostensibly a gastropub, whatever that has come to mean, and there is indeed a shepherd's pie; a version of the inevitable Father's Office burger with bacon, Leicester cheese and onion marmalade; and a guy who is prepared to discuss the nuances of your glass of stout until the roosters begin to crow. Even the pizza is kind of pub-themed — you can get a pie topped with beef, malt vinegar and Stilton, like a limp-crusted mash-up of an English Sunday dinner.
But chef Brendan Collins, best-known for his runs at Anisette and Palihouse, is at heart a bistro chef, most at home with braised meats (the beef shank here is beautiful), and the heart of the menu seems to lie with his terrines, complex, well-flavored masses of sweetbreads bound with pigs' trotters, rabbit with pistachios, smoked ox tongue with carrots, and a smooth mousse of chicken livers whipped with foie gras. It's a virtuosic display of charcuterie. Composed salads — prosciutto-thin country ham with grilled peaches and creamy burrata, for example — are balanced yet enormous, and the pastas, in spite of a clunky lobster ravioli with fried pork belly, tend to be defter than you might expect in a pub.
Waterloo & City is to Culver City what Suzanne Goin's Tavern is to Brentwood: the right restaurant in the right neighborhood at the right time.WATERLOO & CITY: 12517 Washington Blvd., Culver City. (310) 391-4222, waterlooandcity.com. Open Sun.-Thurs., 5 p.m.-mid.; Fri.-Sat., 5 p.m.-2 a.m.