In recent weeks, a few of the food critics in the mainstream press have noted that it can be quite a relief to eat somewhere that is ignorant of the many restaurant trends of the last few years.
By this I presume they mean they look forward to eating in restaurants serving more than one type of protein, where you can make a reservation, where you can read the menu without using your bike lights, where you don’t have to drink speciality cocktails served out of jam jars or Granny’s champagne glasses, or which haven’t sprung from a pop-up or a street kerb.
In some respects I get their point. Eating out too much in too many new places can lead to a certain kind of weariness. It is definitely good to take a step back and wonder whether you really want to order multiple small plates and share them, or to ponder whether the fact you spent an hour queuing at the hottest new place actually means you had a good evening.
But on the flip side, just because somewhere is on-trend does not mean it lacks quality or is not enjoyable or a worthy addition. The really important thing, for me, is simply whether the place is good or not. Trend is not a massive factor in that judgement.
Edwin’s French Wine Bar in Shoreditch bucks all the trends of its area. No clichés about East London dress code are required.
In fact it is totally plain vanilla. There are no exposed light filaments or brick walls, no reclaimed tables and no house burger. Just simple French bistro food served without fuss; that breath of old but fresh air those critics were keen on.
I went a week or so ago with one of my of brothers (there are so many I forget which one) and we had a decent enough lunch.
Edwin’s has a twin restaurant in Lyon, and the chef is a young lad from the same city – so it’s perhaps no surprise the menu reads like most bistros across France. Anti-fashionistas might delight in the options of salade Lyonnais, escalope of fois gras, bavette steak, supreme of chicken, duck breast, filet mignon, creme brulée etc etc.
Some of the cooking was good. Two slices of rabbit terrine were firm but moist, nicely constructed, well seasoned and tasty – on a level with terrines served up at places like Terroirs and Soif, similar in quality to a pre-theatre menu course from somewhere like Arbutus (but much more generous), and well ahead of the most chain brasseries. A whole sole was perfectly cooked, served simply with a beurre noisette and lovely beans wrapped in bacon. Decent value at £15.
The rest of the food we had was fine and well priced for somewhere so close to the City: wild mushrooms on toast were basic but enjoyable; duck breast and dauphinois potatoes a simple pleasure; a fondant oozed, though should have used a darker, more bitter chocolate or better quality cocoa.
We drank pretty well (the owner, Edwin, personally sources the wines from across France, reducing his costs and providing some enjoyable wine at very modest prices), we ate good French cheese (I love cheese) and, on top of that, the young French waitresses were charming and, well, young and charming and French. Which, like cheese, and as I think I’ve mentioned before, I generally find to be a good thing.
But I have to stop well short of proclaiming it a gem of a meal or restaurant.
On the food front, it was just basic bistro stuff. Which is fine but will never fill me with too much joy unless extremely well done.
More objectively, if they’re going for the whole French menu vibe, they should be totally confident with that: salad garnishes would have been better if they were bitter leaves dressed with a quality wine vinegar, rather than English provincial restaurant/supermarket salad bag and balsamic glaze; the chef should, for example, serve a red wine and shallot jus with the duck breast, rather than offering BBQ or pepper sauce as an option; and they should certainly remove the daily special of BBQ ribs that stank the room out (there are other places in Hoxton to go for that smell).
But maybe the biggest hurdle for Edwin and Edwin’s to leap is away from the food – it is the decor and styling.
At the moment, none of the charm, good intention or personality of the owner comes across; sadly, it felt a bit soulless. There can hardly be a more austere or less inviting entrance to a restaurant in London than the plain brown fire doors here. Some soft furnishings are required to warm up the grey beige and hard edges of the room.
The bottom line for any new restaurant, regardless of whether it follows or defies trend, is it needs good food at the right price, decent service and it should be set in an enjoyable space. Edwin’s French Wine Bar needs a bit more work.
Edwin’s in 3 words
Earnest. Frenchish. Brown.
Prices are very fair – with £6-9 starters, mains around the £15 mark and desserts mostly £5. Wine is generally in the £20-30 per bottle bracket – personally sourced by the owner, these are good value .
I was invited to eat at Edwin’s and the meal was comped.
www.edwinsfrenchwinebar.co.uk – 18 Phipp Street EC2A4NU – 02077394443