Last year Isaac McHale and James Lowe of The Young Turks; together with Johny and Daniel of The Clove Club took over the upstairs room in the Ten Bells pub in Spitalfields. It was an extended pop up run that turned out to be one of the hotter tickets in London last year. James and Johny have since left to pursue solo projects.
After a brief pause Isaac has returned (or remained) to go it alone, with some of the old crew and a new chef in the form of Giorgio Ravelli of The Ledbury fame. They have extended the opening hours and the set menu has been replaced by a weekly carte. The style echoes the same focus on ingredients and the seasons with a seriously contemporary vibe.
This being the Shoreditch environs, its still hipster central as you might expect; yet unlike its guests the food does not attempt to be too showy or avant garde. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a world away from most of the offerings in the London restaurant scene at present; so whilst you get the sense they are trying to push things out there there is a subtlety at work which carries things well.
So Thursday night and a birthday meal for some Girls working in the visual Arts who, to spare their blushes, I will refer to simply as “The Gang”. An exacting bunch if ever there was put it this way what they don’t know about a Fourth Plinth or a Tino Sehgal exhibition ain’t worth knowing.
Who better then to pass judgement or otherwise on this new wave of British cooking.
A snack to kick things off Buttermilk chicken with pine salt (below) – a step up from “popcorn chicken in the trees” as it was variously described by one of the gang.
I didn’t get much of the pine salt save for a waft from the pine branches on which the little nuggets were served; but they were delicious nonetheless.
On to the starter which given the heat of the evening was the only real choice, the Courgette soup, Razor Clams and Indian spices.
The practice of pouring a soup table side is of course most theatre, with a hot soup I guess it helps keep the soup warm on the way to the table and then cools it slightly in the pouring. In this case however I think its more about keeping the other elements such as the clams and potatoes crisp too. there is no denying the pleasure in seeing that vivid green soup poured in your bowl.
This soup here was nicely chilled without the sensation it has just come out of the fridge and given a saline edge by the Razor clam stock it was fresh and tasted of its main ingredient i.e. courgette rather than just butter or cream. The Razor clams were fresh and sweet and sat well with the subtle Indian spices. An impressive opener, which batted way above its £5 price point I practically licked the bowl clean.
Lamb with dates preserved aubergine
The scant description doesn’t perhaps do it justice very pink and very tender lamb chop. There is some real skill in the kitchen in rendering and crisping the Lamb fat whilst keeping the whole pink and tender.
It sounds easy but it really isn’t, full marks to the team for that. The preserved aubergine just didn’t do it for me – the purée but I’d have liked just a hint of smoke with either.
The pork on the other hand probably edged its once woolly friend. There is a resemblance of the basic DNA of a Classic David Chang recipe here, Pork neck with Succotash – but it is far removed enough to avoid any comparison with the former. Serious quality pork served just pink, a sweetcorn puree and sweetcorn and runner beans on the side.
Some nice shards of crackling and thinly sliced peaches. I think we are suspicious of the fruit and meat combo in this country but we shouldn’t be.
Think of those tagines enhanced by the sweetness of the apricots. Here the peaches enhance the sweetness and provide that hit of acidity to cut through the inherent richness of the pork.
Surely thought double extra points to for serving with a meaty rib bone to knaw on amongst friends!!
And then to dessert… here Michale and his crew are really pushing the boundaries. Blueberry mousse with tarragon sponge and milk crisps.
There is time and effort in the construction of this dish and visually it is instantly arresting the purple on green colours with white highlights look like nothing you’ve ever had plated in front of you as a dessert. The gang commented it looks like a seafloor and so it did, the tarragon sponge ripped and strewn had that look of sphagnum moss. So it looks pretty, how does it taste?
Well I loved the milk crisps like a more sophisticated meringue really and the blueberry mousse was light.
The blueberry sauce however we felt pushed it towards the “too sweet”. Whilst I like the play of the aniseed in the tarragon sponge for us it just wasn’t the right counterpoint to the sweetness of the whole dish – Maybe it was the colour but I couldn’t help thinking that a macha or green tea sponge could achieve the same visual trick whilst carrying the whole to give everything balance.
The Second of the desserts a Strawberry tart with elderflower and white chocolate ice cream was the clear winner. Wafer thin Bric pastry disc with sliced and macerated strawberries and an truly excellent white chocolate and elderflower ice cream. I could have eaten a bowl full of that ice cream alone. The elderflower flavour so often just lurking as a rumour in the background was bang upfront as it should be. Elegant and declicious a perfect finish on a hot summer evening.
We were full and The gang were happy. But off they trotted – early night for all… some Bells to ring apparently in the morning for the impending Olympics, speaking of which…
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