East London

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!…