Friday, 15 July 2011

Corner Room

The aptly named Corner Room, the latest offering from Michelin starred chef, Nuno Mendes, is tucked away in the Town House Hotel, Bethnal Green. When I finally found it, the staff seemed rather vague and asked for our booking, even though the restaurant doesn't take them (tables are available on a first come, first served basis). Open only just over a month, the idea of Corner Room is to provide a more affordable, more accessible alternative to the hugely successful – and expensive – existing hotel restaurant, Viajante which only offers a set menu for £65, and is booked up for at least the next three months.
The whole experience is intimate – it's like dining in a front room, with only 10 tables or so – and quirky: a flight of stairs leads bizarrely to nowhere. Fellow diners included a man with two babies, a group of Japanese tourists who fiddled with their phones but didn't seem to eat anything and two pretty young locals who were delighted with their food, even letting me taking photos of it.
The food menu is gratifyingly concise, although the drinks menu was frustratingly and strangely focussed solely on wine. My husband, who can't drink wine, did manage to get a beer although he was told that a cocktail was out of the question.
You get much than you bargained for from the descriptions on the menu, which are rather understated. My starter was a wonderfully pleasing combination of intriguing textures: jelly-like, slow cooked eggs with tapioca like meaty caviar, tender baby asparagus and flaky parmesan. My husband's starter of squid, jersey royals and fennel was also excellently executed as were our mains of sea bass with crushed potato and watercress and lamb rump.
A couple of minor criticisms which I think will be ironed out easily in due course: the staff seemed nervous and the food could have been a bit hotter. But, all in all, a highly enjoyable meal and at credit crunching prices too: £6 for a starter, £5 for dessert and £12 for a main is unbelievable value, especially when you are talking about this quality of food.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Bonnie and Wild

On the rather ragged Chapel Market in Islington is this jewel of a Scottish seafood and wild game restaurant, describing itself as 'part time' (apparently a new, sustainable version of a pop-up). Bonnie and Wild set up just last week in a 100-and-something-year-old pie and mash shop and will be open every Saturday from now on.
I had an unfortunate accident on the way and managed to break a rather special bottle of wine from Zanotto on the bus (Bonnie and Wild is BYO). Typically the high street off licence offered a rather poor selection, but I tripped in happily to the sound of 'Aint No Sunshine When She's Gone' being played on a ukulele as a bright young thing outside exclaimed, 'what is this man… It looks cool'. The pie and mash shop, lined with large green, white and black tiles, with delicate glass lights overhead, certainly looked pretty and was buzzing with diners.
Photo credit above: Sophia Whitfield

The ukulele player seemed so familiar to me that I assumed I knew him, but it was just that he bore a striking resemblance to Spud from Trainspotting. A pretty girl led me past the little wooden booths with skinny, pew-like seats through the kitchen to the toilet, sweetly explaining, 'this is a bit of an adventure'.
The weekly changing menu, stamped with three miniature silhouettes of a fish, a deer and a pheasant, was delightfully concise, with three starters, four mains, two desserts. Prices averaging around £6, £15 and £5 respectively, with sides of chunky chips and asparagus £3.50 are particularly reasonable when you consider all of the ingredients are responsibly sourced. The trio of Malden oysters (I went for classic shallot vinegar rather than the tempting seaweed butter), each one three mouthfuls, were as plump and big as a baby's fist.
In the booth next to me, a gaggle of DJs were having a feed before their set in a Shoreditch disco and although I was eating alone (which I hate to do), I felt, strangely, perfectly at home. Alex Hunter, one of the owners, sat down to share a glass of wine with me. The waiters have a tendency to join the guests at their tables anyway as they take their orders, apparently genuinely enjoying their company. Alex eagerly asked, 'what are you having?' and immediately declared 'the venison is superb!'
Photo credit above: Sophia Whitfield

Alex may sell private jets for a living, but he insists he is dedicated to offering sustainable Scottish suppers. A little blast of the smell of the sea hit me when I tucked into the main of buttery coley and seaweed with an inspired blast of chilli and the aroma of the wonderfully pungent cheese selection reached me before it did, although by this stage I was completely full.
The joint venture uses organic meats from The Wild Game Co. and sustainable seafood from Bonnie Gull. On Thursdays and Fridays, Bonnie Gull can be found at Leadenhall market, which is where Alex came across the ukulele player and the Glaswegian actor/waiter who work there as shoeshine boys. Alex points out the owner of the pie and mash shop who has just come in for his free dinner, telling me that at its peak, this pie and mash shop once sold 4,000 pies in a day. In its turn, Bonnie and Wild is fully booked for the next three weeks, which is saying something in this economic climate, especially as they have been generated only by word of mouth and the power of twitter. Something exciting is happening with London's dining scene – at last.

The Bonnie & Wild at M. Manze, 74 Chapel Market, N1 9ER. Book in advance ( Cash only.