Strange, isn’t it, that we often prefer the sidekicks or supporting act to the leading man? I’m sure there are loads of examples in high-brow literature, film and even politics, of couples to whom we have this sort of reaction. But I’m thinking more along the lines of Samwise v Frodo, Barney v Fred, Chewbacca v Hans Solo, Donkey v Shrek and Screech v Zack.
I imagine that in the top corridors and the lowest gutters of academia there have been hours of thought, argument, debate, consideration and plagiarism devoted to the topic. But it doesn’t really take a genius to rationalise that the reason we prefer sidekicks to heroes is because we can engage better with them: sidekicks are normal, trustworthy and selfless. It’s also because there’s less to dislike: sidekicks have fewer and shallower flaws than the hero, and sidekicks don’t have to try so hard or risk so much.
The Corner Room could be classified as the sidekick of or supporting act to Viajante (for the purposes of this post at least), and my feelings towards it follow the aforementioned convention.
Viajente, as you may know, is the flagship restaurant of Portuguese chef, Nuno Mendes. It is located at the Town Hall hotel in Bethnal Green and is innovative, fresh, cool … and flawed. When I went I was surprised by the number of dishes that were only partially successful, and a couple that just didn’t work. I’m not alone in having had that reaction. I also thought the room looked like the dining room of a well lit, modern but cheaply decorated residential nursing home. I might be on my own with that one.
The Corner Room is (appropriately) located at the opposite corner of the Town Hall hotel. I understand it’s technically there to serve as the dining room for hotel residents. If that’s the case then the residents are incredibly lucky, as well as being remarkably young and trendy.
The room is fairly small but inviting, comfortable and stylish. The chairs and tables fill the space well, the end wall of hanging lights works perfectly and I loved the spiral wrought iron staircase leading nowhere. The staff are young, attractive, totally competent and charming. Moreover what is on offer is intriguing, inventive and fantastic value.
The menu reads really well. This is partly because of the minimal number of options and that excellent price point (6 starters for £7-8, 7 mains for £12-£14, 3 desserts for £5), but mostly because of what the dishes are. For example the starters included things like venison in ash with salsify and date, cured seat trout with ikura and cucumber, octopus with smoked potato and hazelnut milk. You don’t see options like that in many places in the UK. And I really could have gone for any of the mains – what would you choose when faced with (amongst other things) short ribs with mushroom caramel and pak choi, cod with clam porridge, iberico pork and Portuguese bread pudding, onglet steak with celeriac and pine? Super sounding stuff, isn’t it?
The dishes that materialised looked super too. Each dish is a work of art. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but presentation is in the New Nordic style and was always at least attractive and at best stunning. I seem to be taking pictures more often in restaurants these days, but they’re mostly for personal inspiration and I won’t put them on here unless they do justice to what was actually on the plate. Which mine didn’t. If you are curious, though, have a look at this post by @LoveLeluu and scroll through the tweets and instagrams @RobsonBarista, both of whom appear to have eaten there around the same time as me.
There were times that the flavours didn’t quite match the picture. This reminded me of my meal at Viajante. But because the Corner Room isn’t aiming so high, on this occasion it wasn’t so disappointing. The starters were probably where this happened the most – I didn’t think the romesco sauce served alongside the squid with baby leeks and chorizo crumbs was peppery (as in bell pepper) enough, and I think if it had been less artisanal and chunky the dish would’ve worked better. Also, whilst my venison in ash dish looked stunning, it was ultimately quite bland – had the textural crumbs (dehydrated date?) been salty flavour enhancers, the vivid green but otherwise lifeless sauce might’ve helped the dish taste more like it looked. Neither were in any way terrible or unpleasant, but they weren’t that tasty either. That said, for £7ish for each plate, this is constructive criticism rather than a complaint. We can forgive the engaging sidekick much more easily than the star-gazing hero.
The main dishes that we ate were much better. I really enjoyed my lamb neck fillet with wild garlic grains and radishes. I’ve had neck fillet that’s been more tender, but the flavour was spot on and the balance of the wild garlic pesto that was mixed amongst a host of different grains was perfect. It’s quite easy to let wild garlic dominate a dish, but that didn’t happen. Best dish of the night, though, was the cod with clam porridge. Underneath two tuiles of dried salty cod skin were beautiful, translucent, melt in the mouth pieces of cod, and then beautiful clam flavoured porridge. Like a cuddle in a bowl. My friend said that for the first time she was happy that a cod had died to make her dinner.
For dessert we shared a dish built around goats cheese that had similar properties to that of condensed milk (enjoyable soft caramel-like ones), little pieces of brioche, blueberries and shiso leaf granita. I thought it was light and fresh, sweet and more-ish. All the flavours worked. We then finished the meal as we had started: with excellent cocktails from the bar back at the Viajante end of the hotel. Lovely job.
So a couple of dishes didn’t quite taste as good as they looked. But that wasn’t really too much of a disappointment. Even the ‘so so’ dishes were more enjoyable than most restaurants of similar price and many that charge much more, not least because they’re unusual and look fantastic.
The benefit of being an understudy, a sidekick or a supporting act is that the audience doesn’t expect scene stealing moments and flaws can be forgiven. The Corner Room’s flaws were pretty minor and, relative to the price, pretty insignificant. More importantly, there were, in fact, quite a few scene stealing moments. I will go back soon – I much prefer this sidekick to its hero.
The Corner Room in 3 words
Cheap edible art.
£35 p/p for 3 courses, wine and service. This also includes a perfectly fair and reasonable £1 or £2 charge for unlimited sparkling or still water, some good bread and great stuffed olives. Lunch deals look extraordinarily good.
www.cornerroom.co.uk – Bethnal Green Town Hall hotel, E2 9NF – no phone, no reservations