East London

Not only do I love cooking at home, but I also enjoy eating out. Here are some reviews of restaurants I have enjoyed; I only review those that I would recommend as life is too short to write about bad food!!…

*I’d love to hear about any restaurants you would recommend – contact me here!…

Lyle’s Shoreditch, E1

February 2023

If you drive regularly in London you’ll know that it’s becoming increasingly ‘testing’, with a 20mph limit and unpopular LTN’s (grrr!) getting from A to B has never been more difficult. So before I had even eaten at ‘Lyle’s’ it was already in my good books as it’s right opposite Shoreditch station which is more or less a direct train journey from my doorstep! Of course, not driving meant that Nick and I could both indulge in a couple of drinks, so we were thrilled to find that Lyle’s is also a stones-throw from the ‘Seed Library’, a laid-back cocktail bar which is the perfect venue for pre-dinner cocktails.  Our dinner at Lyle’s was off to I good start and I hadn’t even tasted the food(!), but thankfully the main event did not disappoint…

I’ll admit that although I like the buzz of this increasingly popular corner of London, Shoreditch is a little gritty. But fear not, Lyle’s is an oasis of calm. The interior is rather stark and industrial but it manages to pull off a warm, welcoming ambience. This stripped-back style perfectly complements the pared-back-fine-dining that chef, James Lowe, has become renowned for – Lyle’s has a Michelin star. Dinner is a seven-course tasting menu (al a carte is served at lunch), and on the evening that we visited the meal kicked off with ‘Oyster & Blood Orange’, which, with its citrus overtones was a wonderfully fresh and unusual pairing. There was also ‘Ox Heart & Black Garlic Toast’ – yes I know that on paper that doesn’t sound appetising, but believe me it was a deliciously sweet, savoury offering. Meanwhile ‘Chicory, Pear & Spenwood’ had classic flavours, the Spenwood cheese was creamy yet with the right balance of piquancy to make this dish a ‘cut above’. It was the following two courses that particularly thrilled us and demonstrated that Lowe’s cooking merited his accolades; ‘Celeriac, Alexandra & Lovage’ was a dream of dazzling fresh flavours – the herbs in the creamy sauce literally sung – I was almost tempted to lick the plate! ‘Scallop, Tema Artichokes & Preserved Lemon’ was my favourite dish of the evening, the sweetness of the scallops was subtly balanced by the lemony sauce. Next up was the main event, ‘Hereford Forerib, Pumpkin & Radicchio’, a beautifully tender piece of beef alongside the caramel flavours of pumpkin and bitterness of radicchio served in a salty broth, again it was a tasty, well-balanced dish. Finally dessert, ‘Rhubarb Parfait, Jelly & Oat Crumble’, creamy and tangy – doing justice to the season’s first crop of rhubarb. Our meal was utterly delicious, the intricate flavour combinations that worked effortlessly together proved that Lowe has undeniable talent. If I had to change one thing it would be the addition of a small pre-dessert, perhaps a sorbet, as it seemed that after the five course build-up to the main event, the beef, the meal finished rather abruptly with the dessert.  This is a suggestion rather than a criticism. With food as good as this and service which was slick and unpretentious Nick and I will definitely return to Lyle’s, perhaps for lunch to try their al carte menu; I will be checking the train timetable soon!…

Manteca, EC2

June 2022

Since it opened in Shoreditch just before Christmas, I’ve been meaning to visit the Italian restaurant, Manteca. I finally used the excuse of a lunch date with a friend to check it out a few weeks ago. I was duly impressed but felt that we hadn’t done the menu justice, so I decided to return promptly with Nick, who, with his healthy appetite, is the perfect partner for trying restaurants as it gives me the opportunity to order lots of dishes!…

Manteca can be found in a gritty, trendy corner of Shoreditch, an area which exudes energy – it’s the perfect location for this restaurant with its buzzing atmosphere. The open kitchen pulses at the heart of the restaurant and the dining room soaks up its chaotic spirit; they do have additional seating downstairs but I much preferred being seated upstairs with the action! Manteca concentrates on ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking, they even have their own in-house salumeria. It’s all about the quality of the produce. The simple sharing menu allows the food to sing, there are small plates and larger ‘main event’ dishes. To begin with Nick and I enjoyed a few of the smaller plates. ‘Sun Sweet Melon & Culatello’, was probably some of the best melon I’ve tasted in a long time, both here and in Italy, whilst the Culatello ham was wonderfully flavoursome – they were both undoubtedly quality ingredients! ‘Pig Skin Ragu’ was served with a puffed, crispy crackling, which could be dipped into the incredibly tasty ragu. The ragu is reason enough to visit the restaurant – it’s Italian home cooking at its very best. ‘Sea Bass Crudo’ was served with fermented cucumber, lemon and fennel and a beautifully rich olive oil, the flavours were fresh, clean and delicious. Manteca is particularly renowned for its hand-rolled pasta, this was another reason why it was important for me to have my side-kick, Nick, with me because being gluten-free I couldn’t try it. Nick assured me that the ‘Brown Crab Cacio e Pepe’ was incredibly good; the tonnarelli pasta was perfectly ‘al dente’ and the silky sauce perfectly complemented it. I must admit to having a sneaky spoonful of the sauce, it was divine, rather than a seafood flavour, the crab added an earthy, buttery robustness to the pasta. Moving on to the ‘main event’ dish, we chose the ‘Saddleback Pork Chop’ and ‘Grilled Greens with Salsa Rossa’. The pork was, without doubt, one of the best pork chops I’ve had, it was succulent with a wonderful wood-fired flavour, the grilled greens with the smoky slightly piquant salsa were particularly good on the side. Finally, desserts were a perfect end to a fabulous meal –  a creamy ‘Zabaglione with Summer Fruits’ and a crumbly, moist ‘Cherry & Almond Cake’.

Manteca is one of those restaurants which feeds the soul and leaves you thinking of your return visit. I would recommend that you check it out at the soonest opportunity, just make sure you visit on an empty stomach as you will want to devour as many dishes on the menu as possible!…

Leroy, Shoreditch, EC2

February, 2022

‘Leroy’ is the type of place that instantly makes you feel cool, even if you’re fifty-something like me! Last Friday night, I was instantly enchanted by its gentle vibe; behind the bar, there was a shelf of vinyl that provided unobtrusive sounds to create an effortless atmosphere, whilst the simple interior was unassuming but definitely stylish. As the evening progressed the music was turned up a notch and the atmosphere followed suit. Seated at our table, I realised that this was the type of restaurant where I could easily, simply sit and enjoy the atmosphere with a glass of wine or one of their cocktails and forget about eating… indeed, I was already on my second martini by the time our food arrived!

The menu is simple but well-executed. Plates are designed for sharing, which we did, but with hindsight, I wish we had ordered solo – I noticed a neighbouring table do this and I think ‘I missed a trick’. We started with ‘Mackerel, Oyster Mayonnaise, Horseradish’, it had subtle pickled and perfectly balanced flavours. This was followed by ‘Chicory, Walnut, Ossau-Iraty’, which was a little disappointing as the salty ‘Ossau-Iraty’ cheese overwhelmed the dish. Next up was ‘Pollock, Cauliflower, Chorizo, Mussels’, this was a great dish, the pollock was beautifully cooked with a creamy sauce that was brought to life by the salty mussels and the punch of crispy chorizo. Our final ‘main course’ was ‘Duck, Roast Cabbage, Pear, Foie Gras’, this was very tasty, the richness of the duck and foie gras was balanced by the pear and cabbage. Both of our desserts were ‘stand out’ dishes. ‘Rhubarb & Custard’, was simply stunning – really good! And ‘Chocolate, Coffee Caramel, Hazelnut’, was very moreish, the salted caramel deliciously cut the chocolate.

Next time I visit Leroy, I’ll be ordering my own plates (perhaps the Mackerel followed by the Pollack….and two desserts!). However, in all honesty, Leroy isn’t necessarily a restaurant that you visit just for its food, it’s the buzzing yet relaxed atmosphere that is key to its success. Although the food had great flavours and was well executed, I’m not sure it merits the restaurant’s Michelin star, but as a part of the ‘Leroy’ package, with its friendly staff, relaxed vibe, great wine list, you really can’t go wrong!

Sessions Arts Club, EC1

November 2021

One of the downsides of living in a city like London is that as soon as a new restaurant opens to rave reviews, everyone seems to know about it and it’s nigh on impossible to get a reservation. So, when my girlfriend and I managed to nab a table for lunch at ‘Sessions Arts Club’, the new ‘darling’ of the London restaurant scene, I was very excited – it was quite a feat considering the rave reviews and that they are only open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. I was a little sceptical that the experience could live up to my expectations, but on entering the dining room I was sold – and I hadn’t even tasted the food!…

Sessions Arts Club is housed in an old 18th Century Courthouse in Clerkenwell, from the outside there is little to indicate the restaurant inside – just a smart, almost hidden red door with a bell. This, of course, gives it the feel of a private club making the experience all the more special. Walking through the door you are engulfed by the intoxicating smell of scented candles, and from the cosy lobby, you take a lift up to the dining room. Entering the room, I literally felt myself swoon, it’s like walking onto a crumbling Regency-style set, with shabby chic interiors and faded plaster walls, it is both theatrical and romantic. The ceiling is incredibly high and with the arch windows, the space is light-filled and airy. There are also two outdoor terraces, which although on this particular November day it was a little too cold to enjoy, I couldn’t resist taking a peek! This is the kind of space which I could very easily live in!..

Then of course there is the food…Florence Knight is well regarded within the restaurant world having trained under Raymond Blanc, and now, as the chef at Sessions Arts Club, she is working her magic, introducing deliciously delicate, seasonal flavours to a wonderful menu of sharing plates. We started with the ‘Panisse, Lemon Thyme & Sea Salt’, I have always enjoyed these chickpea fritters, but I must say that these were particularly light and crisp – a must-try on the menu! There was also ‘Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Cannellini Bean & Lemon’, the broccoli was tastily chargrilled with a creamy cannellini purée lifted by the acidity of lemon, whilst ‘Sea Bream, Fig Leaf & Sorrel’ was a completely different dish with a slightly Japanese style, the ceviche of sea bream was curiously but beautifully flavoured. Moving on to the more substantial dishes, we chose ‘Hake, Watercress & Ratte Potato’, this was one of the simpler dishes yet well-executed, the salted hake was cooked to perfection and wonderfully cut by the buttery potatoes. The show-stopping dish was ‘Rabbit, Borlotti & Nocellara Olive’(unfortunately I was so enthralled by it that I forgot to take a photo!), it was one of the best rabbit dishes I have had for a very long time, the rabbit was cooked confit style and was incredibly moist, flavoured with lemon and herbs, I must admit that I couldn’t distinguish the olives, but it was no matter – the dish was sublime! Finally, desserts were a ‘Chocolate Tart’, its crisp, dark chocolate biscuit base was filled with an equally chocolatey mousse filling, it was divine! Then there was ‘Panna Cotta & Black Figs’, panna cotta is one of those desserts which restaurants can very often get wrong, with just a touch too much of gelatine it becomes heavy and overset, but fortunately, this panna cotta was flawless – creamy and light, perfectly matched by the sweet figs in a syrupy red wine sauce.

By the end of the meal, I had already promised myself a return visit – both for the food and atmosphere. Sessions Arts Club is equally good for groups as it is for a romantic date for two, or even alone – sitting up on their mezzanine level, I could easily have whiled away my time watching the dining ‘scene’ below. It is a place to see and be seen at – yet it is unpretentious; the staff are welcoming and the service is friendly. So, do try and get a table there soon, you won’t be disappointed!…

Behind, E8

September 2021

I don’t usually start my reviews by saying “eat at this restaurant”….so pay attention when I say, “you must try ‘Behind’!”…We ate at ‘Behind’ on Saturday night and I felt the need to share our fantastic experience with you straight away…

Andy Beyon opened ‘Behind’ in October 2020, which was, considering covid, a bold decision yet just twenty days later he received his first Michelin star – quite a feat! From its relaxed Scandinavian-style interior, ‘Behind’ offers a wonderful fine dining concept; guests are served its 8-course ‘fish focussed’ tasting menu at the same time, seated around a large, spacious semicircular table that faces an open kitchen. By having such a great view of the kitchen, each guest can see ‘behind the scenes’ – hence the restaurant’s name.

On Saturday evening, we were shown to our seats by one of the chefs; there are no waitresses at Behind, instead, Beyon and his three sous-chefs take it in turns to serve their delicious dishes. Having the food ‘hand delivered’ by the chefs is another wonderful concept that makes the whole dining experience fully immersive and intimate – it’s very special, like being at a friends for dinner, only the cooking is far better! In addition, there is no written menu, we were told that it would be a ‘surprise’ and that the courses would be personally introduced when they arrived at the table. It was all rather exciting and, what a show it turned out to be!.. Each course featured a fantastic, complex array of flavours, I’m afraid I haven’t the vocabulary to describe each one in the fashion it deserves plus it would need far too many words, all I can say is that every course was incredible. Highlights were the ‘Scottish Crab Spiced Victoria Plum’, white crab meat was served on a delicate jelly and custard, made from the brown crab meat; the beautifully concentrated seafood flavour was perfectly matched by the sweetness of the Victoria plum whilst on the side, there was a tasty crab bisque – it was heavenly. ‘Roasted Hake, Palorde Clams & Sherry’, was equally divine, the Hake was cooked to perfection with a creamy broth and foam which literally made the dish sing with flavour. The fish croquette that was served on the side was a revelation, the ‘bread crumbs’ weren’t made from bread but fish scales – who would have known that they could be so tasty! ‘Guinea Fowl, Pumpkin & Seed’, was the single meat course, it was unbelievably well done; the guinea fowl had been rolled and cooked sous-vide, which resulted in the most tender and succulent guinea fowl I have tasted, it was served with a sublime sauce which was lifted by the sweetness of chargrilled pumpkin. The desserts were as delicious, they included an intense herb sorbet which on serving we were challenged to guess the three herbs it contained – the flavours were fabulous and intense; I won’t spoil the challenge by telling you its three components, you will have to try it yourself!…

‘Behind’ is the most immersive dining experience I have had, for someone like me who loves cooking it was naturally a dream to watch Beyon and his sous chefs prepare the dishes, but even if you’re not a keen cook you will appreciate the showmanship. It is mesmerising to watch the four chefs seamlessly move from the heat of the kitchen to professional table service and still manage to entertain their guests with a little chatter. Softly spoken and down to earth, Beyon is relaxed and open – the perfect host, at one point we asked about his background, it turns out that he has learnt his art on the job with stints at fine dining restaurants both in the UK (including Claude Bosi – see review here!) and abroad (Chicago). Judging by the fantastic menu we enjoyed on Saturday night, it would seem that he has taken the very best from this work experience. You would think that a fine dining experience like this would be an extortionate price, but at £74 a head (£42 for the 6-course lunch!) it’s a steal, and what can I say, you would be silly not to try it… You’ve been told!…

Smiths of Wapping, E1

September 2021

One of the things that I love about living in London is the endless array of restaurants it offers. Not only are there the constant flow of new openings with their exciting and fashionable flavours, but there are the older restaurants that escape our radars and are still to be discovered. Smiths of Wapping is one of those restaurants; having opened 10 years ago, despite its wonderful reputation for its fish, I only discovered it recently thanks to friends who have moved nearby.

On our recent visit, I enjoyed its informal, buzzy atmosphere and its rather ‘old school’ style; it’s the type of place where you could take your grandparents for Sunday lunch or on the other hand have a romantic meal for two. It’s reliable, like an old friend, you know exactly what to expect – a classic menu with the freshest fish cooked simply and superbly, plus it has the most wonderful view over Tower Bridge. On entering the restaurant there is no indication of the magnificent view it offers until you turn the corner from its rather nondescript reception; the dining room has floor to ceiling windows that overlook the Thames, there is honestly not a bad table in the house – the view is inescapable.

If you don’t like fish this is probably not the restaurant for you as Smiths is essentially a fish restaurant, they are very proud of their reputation for serving the freshest sustainable seafood – there are meat options, but ‘why would you?’…. On our recent visit, we enjoyed starters of ‘Tian of Avocado, Cornish White Crab & Peeled Prawns’ which was beautifully presented with exceptional, well-balanced flavours. The ‘Sweet Cured Arctic Herring Fillets, Chive Potato Salad & English Watercress’ were also seriously good – the sweet pickled herrings were perfectly cut by the creamy chive potato salad. Moving on, the extensive list of main courses included fish cooked in just about every way. Nick opted for the ‘Brixham Dover Sole’ meuniere style whilst I chose the ‘Fillet of Wild Cornish Turbot’, plainly grilled; both were incredibly fresh and cooked to perfection, in fact, the fillet of turbot was one of the best I have had. Finally, the dessert menu offered no surprises with its traditional fare, Nick chose a favourite, ‘Sticky Toffee Pudding’ which was ‘fantastic(!)’ and I ordered the ‘Crème Brulee’, which was well done, rich and creamy.

So, if fish is your thing, Smiths of Wapping would definitely be on my list of restaurant recommendations, you won’t be disappointed with its classic menu and in addition, there is the view!…

(*Smiths of Wapping is the sister restaurant of Smiths of Ongar (in Essex),  it opened in 1958!!)

Brawn, E2

October 2020

This weekend, Nick and I went over to Columbia Road in Hackney, for a stroll and to browse around some of the independent, very ‘on trend ‘ shops. One of these shops included the pop up boutique, Studio Wylder, which belongs to my old friend, Tasha, in which she sells her own designs, including gorgeous one off sheep skin jackets, hand sewn bags and jewellery. It was really refreshing to be around this energetic area of London and, of course, it gave us the perfect excuse to revisit ‘Brawn’, Columbia Road’s neighbourhood restaurant. Situated on a corner plot in a converted warehouse, Brawn’s dining room, a light filled space with a casual interior, was perfect for our lunchtime jaunt. As on our previous, pre-lockdown visits, we found that the atmosphere was ‘buzzy’ and friendly, and most importantly, that the food was delicious.

The menu is seasonal, with lots of interesting flavours such as the starter of ‘Raw Scallop, Almond, Apple, Sorrel & Horseradish’, which was delicious with beautifully balanced flavours. We also shared a platter of Coppa which was really fresh and flavoursome, and ‘Gnocco Fritto, Schiena’, little pieces of lightly fried dough also wrapped in Coppa, these were very light and moreish. For my main course I chose the ‘Partridge, Rainbow Chard, Quince, Lentils & Pancetta’, it was good, the quince really held this dish together with its slight sweetness which complemented the saltiness of the lentils, however, I must admit to having ‘plate envy’ for Nick’s chosen course, ‘Onglet, Fried Violet Artichokes, Shallots, Anchovy & Chicory’, the flavours of this were divine; the deep fried artichokes particularly stood out. Finally desserts, an amazing ‘Chocolate Tart’ – the fondant was smooth whilst the pastry base was crisp and light, and a ‘Vanilla Rice Pudding, Figs, Walnuts & Boozy Prunes’ – need I say more?…it was a perfect autumn afternoon hug!

Although Brawn isn’t necessarily cheap, it is the type of place where you could pop in for just one course with a glass of wine to simply enjoy the casual, friendly dining room (they have an interesting wine list of mostly biodynamic wines). It definitely isn’t a bad place to while away an afternoon or an evening!

Daffodil Mulligan, EC1

September 2020

Following the recommendation posted on the Instagram page of one of my favourite cookbook writers, Diana Henry, we tried a new restaurant last week, Daffodil Mulligan.

By its own admission Daffodil Mulligan ‘embodies the heart, soul and mischief of the Irish, but with international food influences’, I was intrigued to see what this meant exactly!…I must admit on entering the restaurant I was a little sceptical, as it was rather like a modern American bar with tables, not my preferred choice of interior, whilst the ambience was quite lively and rather noisy. When seated at our table we were hit by how cold it was, and looking around we noticed that most people were wearing their layers – the woman seated near to me was wearing her partner’s jacket! When I asked the waiter if it was possible to turn down the air conditioning he apologised, saying that it wasn’t possible and that it was something to do with Covid(?) – I must admit I didn’t actually catch the full explanation as it was muffled by his mask!…Anyway I ended up wearing my leather jacket throughout the evening.

So all in all not the best start to our night out! But, of course we were there for the food and that didn’t disappoint …

We started our meal with a couple of ‘Old Fashioned’ cocktails – they were really well made, properly with bourbon rather than whiskey (my pet hate), so this definitely warmed us up – a bit!

The menu has lots of small tasting plates as starters, in this way the restaurant is more suited to groups of friends rather than couples, as you really do want to share as many as possible – they all sounded delicious. Nick and I shared the Salt Chilli Chicken with Cucumber Pickles and Beef Tartare with Oyster Cream, they were generous portions; both were really unusual, delicious and moreish. For our main courses , I choose the ‘Hannan’s Sugar Spit Pork, Swiss Chard, Gochujang & Smoked Tomato’, the pork was seriously good, literally falling of the bone, it had a beautiful sweet, smoked flavour subtly spiced with the gochujang (the only regret I have is that my waiter didn’t advise me to order a side dish, which it needed, as it was literally just a piece of meat with a few leaves of rainbow chard). Nick chose the ‘Prawn Goan Curry with Ginger & Mango Salsa’, an unusual choice for him, one which the waiter had recommended as they had run out of the sirloin that he had wanted(!), it was good but not groundbreaking, probably not the best choice. Desserts were superb, I had ‘Wood Fire Fig, Brown Sugar Meringue, Mascarpone & Autumn Spice Ice Cream’ – the figs  were unusually spiced and beautifully complemented by the brown sugar meringue, Nick had the fantastic ‘Caramel Crème with Tipsy Prunes & Sable’ – the prunes soaked in Armagnac were the winner here!.

So, would I recommend Daffodil Mulligan?…from a food  perspective definitely – I’m pleased to say that, unsurprisingly, Diana Henry was right on this level! However, if you do visit I would recommend you do so with friends, it’s not really suited to couples both from the noise level and from the point of view that being in a group would allow you to share more of the delicious starters! Finally, make sure you wear a couple of layers as the air conditioning is a killer!…