Update 5 October 2016: The chef has changed since I visited and the offer is perhaps a little different to the food described below. That said, Ellory has now received a Michelin star — based on a number of visits the inspectors made and as a reflection of the food of both chefs. Time for a re-visit…
It’s possible this restaurant, which is tucked in the corner of what, on the face of it, is an unpromising, grey, 1960s office block on the edge of London Fields, can be summed up by one dish: “brill, bergamot butter, and January king”.
I look at the plate as it is placed in front of me. Two pale, crinkled brassica leaves hide the aforementioned brill. These are the albino inner leaves of a January king cabbage, rather than the vibrant green and purple outer ones, and they match the tone of a rounded, silky spoonful of parsley root purée on the side. Spilling from under the edges of the leaves is a soft butter emulsion. Again, near as damn it the same pale colour of the cabbage and purée. It is striking in its simple, minimalist, pure aesthetic.
Ditto the room. The lights are dimmed, though the open kitchen glows brightly and there’s enough luminescence to notice the tactile pale concrete walls and floor, the sleek wooden tops, the beautiful marble bar top, and just one large orchid in the corner of the rear wall. As the meal continues we notice the attention to detail behind each ceramic dish, glass, apron, menu, tea strainer and more. At one stage Ellory was penned to open towards the end of September 2015, but took until November in the end. No doubt there were the usual building issues. But I suspect an uncompromising desire to get everything just right from the get go might’ve had something to do with it too.
Back to the food.
January king says it all, really. Like the chef and co-owner Matthew Young’s previous restaurant, Mayfields, this menu is firmly rooted in seasonal ingredients – what’s the very best thing at market right now?
So, much of what we ate probably won’t be on when you go. For example, a quite brilliant winter celery, grapefruit and anchovy salad – the first of 5 dishes on the set menu. Who knew celery could be quite so welcome and effective? Crisp and light, this salad woke up our palettes, and was punctuated with toasted hazelnuts, shavings of an umami heavy cheese, and cooling segments of grapefruit. Sorrel ice cream and honeycomb was a dessert that apparently only has a few menu days left in it, apparently. Shame. The contrast of sharp herbal citrus versus soothing, mellow honeycomb is still with me. Hopefully, though, you’ll go soon and catch the ginger ice cream, rye shortbread and forced rhubarb dessert – ultra smooth and subtle icecream nestled in a soothing bed of custardy mousse, providing a complete contrast to the shock of pink rhubarb, and the the crunchy, savoury rye biscuit. So good.
The brill dish was confident, but also delicate and quietly refined. A heavy hand with bergamot orange can overpower; and instead of pleasing citrus you end with bitter tea and tobacco notes. Not so here. That bergamot and butter emulsion was subtle and only served to enhance the quite wonderfully cooked brill. In many ways the dish was quite effeminate. Which is meant in the most positive way to anyone that suggestion reflects on.
That dish and indeed the entire menu is so far from the ‘dude food’ of recent years. It’s miles from BBQ, red meats, over aged meats, gutsy red wines and general willy waving. There’s a clarity and a lightness of touch across both the meal and the wines that were matched with it. It’s refreshing.
Things were the same at Mayfields, so should be no surprise. I remember there, too, that the best dishes were often the ones in which seafood and vegetables starred. Even the red meat on the set menu we ate last week was light – a pale, soft, dexter veal tartare (as it happens, the least successful of the evening, due to the bitter and astringent aftertaste of whole flat leaf parsley leaves and lightly blanched purple sprouting). In early press, Young and his business partner Jack Lewans mentioned “Ellory is an unusual girl’s name that’s lovely to say. It has a beautiful fluidity to it”. I think that sentiment is reflected in the food and the setting.
“Brill, bergamot butter and January king”.
So much of today’s restaurant scene can be traced back to Fergus Henderson, not least the ingredient list style of menu writing favoured by so many (including me). There’s no description of cooking technique, no hint or clue as to what will be brought to the table. Will it even be cooked?
In the case of the brill, it was indeed cooked – quite brilliantly – and came together perfectly as a dish.
But Young’s plating can be as stark and crisp as his menu writing. So “mallard and beetroot” was very nearly simply those two ingredients (the mallard breast slightly overcooked). Plus a heritage carrot purée elsewhere on the plate. And a burnt shallot on a different part of the plate. With a sorrel leaf balanced elsewhere.
I don’t want to be spoon fed like a toddler, but I’ve wondered in the past whether there’s a danger that without a clear unifier, ingredients laid like this become a disparate if aesthitically pleasing collection of ingredients, rather than a dish – which should be more than the sum of its parts. In this instance all was OK – with a hibiscus sauce and, when remembered, the striking, sharp hit of sorrel bringing things together. But only just.
A minor quibble.
Ultimately, the brill, bergamot and January king was stunning. The cabbage and the root purée were sweet; the brill pearly white, firm and creamy; and the rounded citrus butter finger licking and complementary to the ingredients it coated. A huge, memorable success. A dish that, over 2016, will take some matching.
The overall balance and pace of the menu and restaurant too. Alongside the food, Lewens served thoughtful, smart, crisp and classy wines from his impressive list (a Galician albarino (Cos Pés) stood out and a grenache/syrah from southwest France (Le Soula, Trigone) superb with the mallard). The rest of the front of house were charming and sophisticated, as is the modern style, and the setting sleek, relaxing and restorative.
Ellory in 3 words
Considered, uncompromising, urbane.
The set menu is £38 per person with wines to match at £30. For 5 inventive and well executed dishes, plus considered, quality wines, that’s great value.
You can pick from a short a la carte menu too. The equivalent of 3 dishes per person would be £25-30pp before boooze.
www.ellorylondon.com – Netil House, 1 Westgate St, E8 3RL – 020 8022 1285
Disclosure: I ate at Ellory as a guest of the restaurant. I’m confident my views would be the same without that hospitality.