Monday, 16 September 2013

Restaurant review: The Corner Room, Bethnal Green

Last week saw my birthday come and go, sweeping away any remaining hopes that I was still in my mid-twenties. Next stop the big thirty, grey temples and dodgy knees… Aside from this clear psychological trauma, and probably to ease it, I was lucky enough to receive some lovely presents. Usually my birthday presents are pretty one-dimensional, and my food obsession brings in swathes of cookbooks and random gadgets destined for the back of the drawer. Not this time however, as I was treated to a shiny new ice-cream machine from my gal, and from her mother a secretive lunch had been booked. I was also the recipient of some much needed, and very beautiful new shoes, but this is a food blog and frankly I should stay constant. 

And so the day came for my birthday lunch, and it was revealed as The Corner Room, in the newly renovated Bethnal Green town hall. This was very exciting news, as I had heard rave reviews of what they had done to the building and had been wanting to go look for a while. But I knew little of the restaurant. The town hall is largely renowned as the home of Viajante, the Michelin-starred restaurant of former El-Bulli chef Nuno Mendes. A little research showed that The Corner Room is the less formal sister restaurant, also overlooked by Mendes. The menu was short, the sort that requires a trust and a hope when ordering, but that leaves you in hot anticipation of what is to come. 

A Saturday full of damp misty rain and gloom is not always the best time to be hanging around Bethnal Green. As standard we were umbrellaless. It screams of a short trip to Broadway Market or Brick Lane and a cosy coffee or beer and newspaper. But tucked down a random sideroad was a grand old entrance that opened into warm yellow light and a step into another time. For a casual lunch, it didn’t half make you feel like you were somewhere special. The old utility wooden panels fused with the shiny marble and the quirky ornamental hipster touches. It is just beautiful. 

The restaurant is difficult to find, mostly because every centimetre of the décor draws the eye and removes you to state of wide-eyes glaring. Again they had got the balance just right. A small corner room, as implied in the name, sparsely laid out with simple tables and flooded with natural light. And old man with wonky glasses entertained his family in one corner and a couple drank coffee with a farty looking baby. Beautiful modern lights lifted the space, and straight away we were relaxed.

Some incredibly strong negronis and margaritas eased us further before the food arrived. First to arrive was the interesting sounding crispy rice and chicken mayo, which in the flesh were delicate rice cakes and a rich mayonnaise, scattered with what I assume was crispy chicken skin. Like everything else we were to eat, it was subtle, with your mouth popping to new little bits of spice and flavour, and was quickly polished off. The mackerel with ponzu and smoked tomato split us; Katie isn’t much a fan of cold, fish broths whereas again I enjoyed the odd-sounding but harmonious combination. 

I was left speechless at the arrangement of ingredients sitting on my main course plate. It is probably the most beautiful thing I have ever eaten, and tasted every bit as good. I had opted for the Berkshire venison with tarragon and mustard, which was both tangy and soothing at once and packed an extreme amount of flavour. Katie’s Iberico pork was the tenderest piece of pork I have ever eaten, and accompanied by classic tart red cabbage and sweet berries. Although this wasn’t as complex and original in taste, it was just a wonderful piece of cooking.

It was really a silly question being asked if we wanted to view the pudding menu, and despite my love of cheese I wanted to see a dessert at this level. My rhubarb with roasted lactose and ginger was a lovely clean way to finish the meal. The almost chalky milk fizzed and dissolved on the tongue. There wasn’t much of it though, and I would have liked a bit more of the roasted rhubarb alongside the compote and ice cream. Katie’s frozen panna cotta with apple and hazelnuts was again full of interesting textures. Neither of us however could really see much difference or point in freezing a jellified cream when you could just have ice cream.  

I haven’t eaten anything nearly as interesting for a very long time. Although the overall concept of some of the dishes, especially the desserts, seemed to overtake the substance, everything tasted really, really good. That clichéd description of taste buds being taken on journey was made for this meal, and the sort of thing that is difficult to achieve without an awful lot of thought. The value for the level of food is also fantastic, and to eat it in such a setting was a joy.

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