Young chefs, heavily stamped passports, small plates, unclothed tables, tattoos, Zone Two Tube stops, fizzing lactic acid, S&M butter, no offal left unturned, seeds and weeds, ponderous stoneware, recherché wines, obscure music tracks, approachable bills; it’s commonplace now. And thank the Lord for that.
After opening The Dairy and The Manor in Clapham, amiable Irish chef Robin Gill has just opened his third restaurant, Paradise Garage, in Bethnal Green. Actually, I’m not so sure how young Robin is. Given his professional CV, which kicks off at La Stampa in Dublin, moves to Marco Pierre White’s Oak Room, then to Ristorante Don Alfonso on Italy’s Amalfi coast, followed by Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and stages in Noma in Copenhagen and Frantzen in Stockholm — a galaxy of Michelin stars to gaze at — he must have started shaving quite a long time ago. Not that he is clean-shaven now of course. God forbid.
Paradise Row is a Georgian terrace apparently named in recognition of the occupation of streetwalkers who once plied their trade. A blue plaque at No 3 commemorates Daniel Mendoza Pugilist 1764–1836, “English Champion who proudly billed himself as Mendoza the Jew”. He lived there when writing The Art of Boxing. Further along, railway arches now house bars and restaurants including Mother Kelly’s (remember her doorstep down Paradise Row?), the wine-driven Mission, and rather oddly, given that it’s a link in a chain, Japanese Canteen.
In fine weather — we had that last week — the busy forecourts thrumming with the babble of enjoyment and no traffic to speak of — cars just get stuck — make the address apposite. The welcome from another Dubliner, who says her name is Coco, when we arrive late and consequently flustered is in the manner that St Peter would extend to a virgin, but warmer.
Typically Gill: rabbit for the table (Picture: Jonathan Thompson)Robin Gill is on hand and so is head chef Simon Woodrow, who has worked at The Dairy and before that at Arbutus with Anthony Demetre. We decide to eat à la carte because it seems flightier. You have to be in a serious or even slightly dogged frame of mind to broach an eight-course — including the bread — tasting menu wherever offered.
The homemade sourdough is sensational. With a chubby cylinder of smoked whisky butter sitting in a puddle of its whey, it takes iron self-control to not — what my mother would inveigh against — spoil my appetite. The style of assembling and cooking attuned to harmony and counterpoint of flavours, with an eye to beauty, an acknowledgement of serendipity and what sometimes seems like input from fairies working their hands to the bone at the bottom of the garden is mercifully these days not so rare. The Dairy and The Manor play their part, but so do Dabbous, Clove Club, Ink, Lyle’s, Kitchen Table, Raw Duck and quite a few others. When it works, it is a revelation. When it misses, the words vapid and insubstantial come to mind. The approach is more of a tightrope walk than you might imagine.
Here, there is only one slight miss in the dishes tried — a pre-meal freebie of sourpuss pea purée served with radishes and homemade potato crisps. Paper-thin sheets of kohlrabi arranged like loosely folded linen cover a heap of clean white Cornish crab meat mixed with raw apple and zested with grilled lemon, the juices coalescing into an ideal tingling dressing. Chunks of grilled sweetcorn, the char challenging the innate sweetness of the kernels, are offset by a creamy sauce studded with the crack of hemp seeds. Those dishes come from under the heading Snacks priced from £5–£7.50.
From Garden (£7.50–£8.50) quartered small globe artichokes, padron peppers, and fresh curd in a herb and chilli salsa are a paean of praise to the tonic and reward in food’s bitter flavours. Sea (£9.50–£11) washes in Lady Hamilton (one of the Helford fleet of day boats) cod with clams, courgettes, and herb oil and Applewood smoked eel, Norfolk Peer potatoes, seaweed and mousseron mushrooms. Presumably the eels are farmed from wild juveniles but the creatures do spawn in the sea. In any event, both assemblies are imaginative, poetic.
That night we ignore Land (£11.50–£12) but I note the absolutely brilliant, typically Gill, concept of Picnic at £48 — a whole rabbit for the table served as roast saddle, confit leg, pastry turn-over, offal and belly “scratchings”. Returning for lunch with three pals we Snack and Garden first — Isle of Wight tomatoes, eel jelly, crunchy bits and nasturtium leaves are amazing — and then rejoice in the picnic spread, which we pile onto plates that come laid with lightly sautéed chicory spears dressed with capers, revelling in the sarky edge supplied by radish and artichoke piccalilli and the comfort of gravy. The turnover is truly superb.
Colourful plateful: heritage tomato with nasturtium (Picture: Jonathan Thompson)Pastry chef Kira Ghidoni, who went to The Manor after working at Murano and Fera at Claridge’s and is now in Bethnal Green, is the author of two fantastic desserts we tried, apricot open tart with milk ice cream and lemon thyme and Innis & Gunn (beer) ice cream and blueberries topped with praline. Beer as ice cream. Why is this not on general release?
Alex Whyte and Damiano Fiamma from Tutto Wines instil vibrancy and unearthing into the wine list. Paradise Garage, the New York discotheque that opened in 1997, becoming the derivation of garage music, presumably influences the soundtrack. In restaurant form, this Garage (or railway arch) is one more victory in the new way of eating.
Lunch noon-3pm, Wed-Sun. Dinner 6pm-10pm, Tues-Sat. Tasting menu £45. A la carte, a meal for two with wine, about £98per cent service.
254 Paradise Row, E2 9LE (020 7613 1502, paradise254.com)