Food is life-changing only if you don’t get enough. Wild claims made about gastronomy and exaggerated praise lavished on chefs can make even someone earning their buttered crust from restaurant reviewing cross. As others have said before me, a meal out is finally only your tea.
The redevelopment of Greenwich Peninsula — tellingly once called Greenwich Marshes — has been a long time in the making. The relatively recent involvement of Hong Kong developers Knight Dragon basically galvanised a stalled project. For many people, getting off the Jubilee line — the TGV of Tube lines — at North Greenwich is associated only with a visit to the O2. For me, a Rolling Stones concert blissfully wiped out all memory of the egregious content of the Millennium Dome. The same exit from the Tube station can now lead you to Craft London.
Greenwich Peninsula’s promises of offices, housing — including, let’s hope, a decent number of affordable homes — schooling, artist studios, film lots, installations, pop-up performances, a golf course and a park suddenly feel tangible and believable because of the nature of Craft London, Stevie Parle’s new restaurant, bar and café.
Frankly, in the past I have thought of Parle as a bit weedy. It’s probably almost entirely to do with the floppy fringe but perhaps also with the food at Dock Kitchen (dockkitchen.co.uk) in Ladbroke Grove being uneven and that at Rotorino (rotorino.com) in Dalston sometimes not living up to expectation. At Craft London, with a madly ambitious determination to interact with indigenous producers as well as roasting coffee on the premises, home-smoking meat and fish, curing, brining, fermenting, infusing, bee-keeping, wood-grilling and cultivating an orchard, Parle proves that here what he has bitten off, he can chew.
The venue so easily could have been a populist emporium, a steakhouse, say. Instead it has gifted the whole area benignity. The striking interior is by Tom Dixon — who was apparently also responsible for designing some apartments in what is called Upper Riverside —owner of the studio where Parle opened Dock Kitchen. The restaurant on the first floor can install you on bum-numbing periwinkle-blue wooden nursery school chairs, on soft dark blue velvet banquettes or on upholstered chairs in-between in terms of colour and comfort.
The menu starts with hard-to-resist, bill-bolstering snacks and, although my chum goes on to choose from the £28 three-course set-lunch menu, he starts with wild pigeon pastry with pickled walnuts. You always wonder about the provenance of pigeon in London but the meat combative in texture is agreeably rural in flavour and the pastry short and crumbly, homemade virtues. Einkorn, an ancient type of wheat, is the flour used for drop scones served with creamy duck liver pâté and “last summer’s damsons”. My Scots mother made drop scones with white flour, and they had a sonsie quality lacking in the high-minded wholemeal pancakes, but the smooth richness of duck mousse is enjoyably pulled up by acerbic plums.
Enjoyable: einkhorn drop scone, duck liver and last summer’s damsons (photo: Adrian Lourie )
Smoked eel, mussels and four-grain porridge with parsley sauce — a first course of the set lunch — shrewdly sets unctuousness against asperity, with a background that smooths everything over. Ross chicken, broth, curd dumpling with wild garlic, pickled alexanders (aka horse parsley root), pork scratchings and kombucha egg rendered lilac in colour is a bowl of ramen in all but noodles, a beauty to behold — and eat. Fireplace potatoes — a side order with the set menu Galloway skirt steak — scored and roasted like hasselbacks, are irresistible.
A crisp chocolate sphere with burnt cream ice cream and faintly honey-flavoured ice cream scattered with blossoms — presumably from where the bee sucks — which we assume are edible and despatch neatly, are our desserts.
A main course of clay-baked duck for the startling sum of £75 catches my eye. With Reg and his son Guy, who is making the bold move of coming back from Australia to live here, I go back for dinner.
The three of us share the compact creature glazed with honey, wrapped in Savoy cabbage leaves and tucked up in hay before being roasted in a coating of pale river clay. A little truncheon is delivered to the table beforehand but we let Stevie crack the duck crock, now nestling like a significant prop in a Tolkien tale in a bower of pine branches.
Compact creature: clay-baked duck, honey, broad bean and barley miso brine
The bird is taken away, brought back neatly carved — plenty for three — and is, most importantly, truly delectable. Broad bean and barley “miso” and brined carrots and cabbage cannily address the sweetness of the skin and the richness of the flesh. I can recommend this dish for the unifying in pleasure of any gathering.
Wine consultant is Ruth Spivey of Flight Club, Street Vin and Wine Car Boot. She has assembled a likeable, multi-faceted list that, where it is patriotic, it’s not, as she puts it, gimmicky. We start dinner with West Sussex Wiston Estate Brut and find Goswell’s London mead in the anchovy sauce for English asparagus and salt-baked carrot. Cocktail lovers will be thrilled to learn that Adam Wyatt-Jones is in charge of that area.
While the cooking at Craft London is indeed not life-changing, it is mind-altering when it comes to thinking about glossy developments in hitherto unloved parts of the city.