Here’s a little gift from me to you: a bingo card to keep you entertained as you read the forthcoming load of reviews and write ups of a new restaurant called Lyle’s.
“Eagerly anticipated”; “Two year wait”; “St John [and / or St John Bread and Wine]”; “Young Turks”; “Simple”; “Ingredient focused”; “Seasonal”; “Hmm, prefer to choose my own menu”; “Hipster”; “Bearded”; “Shoreditch”; “Hipster” [repeated use]; “Blank walls”; “[A lame joke about getting] coffee in the Tea building”; “number of natural wines, natch”; “Hipster [or yet another related reference]”.
Copy, paste, print, mark big fat crosses as required and get ready to scream “HOUSE”. You. Are. Welcome.
Let’s get started, then.
It’s been a while coming – almost two years (X) – but James Lowe, a chef who gained huge exposure as part of the Young Turks (X) collective, has finally opened his eagerly anticipated (X) restaurant.
The wait is down to a load of factors, but one of the more significant has been an uncompromising approach to finding the right space. First impressions on entering Lyle’s are that the approach has paid off.
Set on the Bethnal Green Road side of Shoreditch’s (X) Tea building, the restaurant is compact yet extremely light and airy. The walls are off-white and bare; shadows cast by large leaded windows and the movement of diners provide the only decoration. An open kitchen running the length of the rectangular room is stark, but is also gleaming and enviable. There’s more than a hint of St John Bread and Wine (X), the former abode of Lowe and his front of house business partner, John Ogier. However, there’s a clean, modern, Skandi style too through the furniture and fittings, and the overall effect is a refined yet calming and relaxed environment. There’s no pumping soundtrack and staff friendly and accomplished. Quality pervades. Hipster (X) bashers may be stumped for derogatory words; I’m not sure James has got a convincing beard in him (X).
For dinner, it’s a set menu. No choice. Nada. That menu follows the familiar pattern of previous pop-up evenings: sourdough, three snacks, four/five courses depending on content, a sneaky petit four or two. All for £39. In case you’re uncertain, that’s rather good value; something that’s achieved through the efficiencies gained from a limited evening offering and a resultant lack of wastage.
James describes his style as “common sense cooking”. A label that in itself means very little, yet when expanded upon appears absolutely spot on. (The epithet will stick – my prediction for first book title: “Common Sense: a modern kind of British cooking”).
So we see scrupulously sourced, seasonal (X) ingredient focused (X) food. It’s simply (X) presented rather than fussy and by and large the execution is precise. The flavour pairings are often intriguing, and despite ‘foraged’ ingredients being ubiquitous these days, some of those ingredients are still fairly unusual.
Snacks on the opening evening were plump, recently salted anchovies and green tomatoes on a slice of sourdough; blood cake with damson and chicory; and asparagus with walnut mayonnaise.
The asparagus was rightly the sole survivor of the snacks presented on a (gratis) preview a few days earlier. These were vivid green spears, blanched then blackened over white hot charcoal. The mayo was surprisingly sweet and packed with umami, but the quality and flavour of the asparagus shone through. Blood cake was so light, near ethereal, save the odd chunk of soft back fat. Damson juice cut through the iron tang of the blood. Silver anchovies bore closer resemblance to fresh sardines than pizza topping. An impressive start. (All appear to be available in larger form on the lunch time a la carte menu, which is looking mighty impressive atm.)
First of the main dishes featured the soft yolk of a pheasant egg, hidden under cured pig cheek and nestled in nettle soup. It was soothing, soft and subtle; the salt of the guanciale was necessary. Spoons combining all components were excellent, but, for me, the soup too monoflavoured by the end. I didn’t need quite so much.
The second course was the star. Lamb sweetbread with ramson yoghurt and lettuce cooked in brown butter. The glands were crisp on the outside, almost bacon flavoured, but soft and yielding underneath. The green yoghurt was sharp and tangy, and the brown butter lettuce rounded and moreish. Gratification here was both instant and long lasting. Offal haters will be converted.
Next, aged dover sole topped with purple sprouting broccoli, mustard flowers and a cider butter. ‘Aged’ means eight or nine days old, by which time the flavours are concentrated and intense and the flesh is firm. It’s educative eating, and delicious too (if a touch cold). The brassica was clean and a good balance for the fish, but the mustard flowers were lost a little among it all. Collard sprouts a week earlier had been a more impressive counter to the fish.
Then, to share, a baked Riseley cheese (a cute, delicious fondue) and Chegworth valley green salad (a stunning selection of leaves and herbs in a sweet dressing), which feels generous and homely … spelt cake with loganberry jam and a superb yoghurt ice cream rounded things off nicely … and to finish and indeed round the stomach further, brown butter and toasted flour madeleine-cum-financiers and superb coffee (never tea (X)).
I rush at the end because your menu will probably be different. The point, really, is that all dishes were good, some excellent, and that £39 felt well spent, possibly bargainous. I expect this to be the norm.
The danger of serving a strictly set menu, of course, is that those who prefer to choose (X) oft feel a set meal must be more than the sum of its parts. On this occasion the menu felt balanced, but perhaps lacked a bit zip after the sweetbread. Maybe the kitchen was playing things a little safe … but it was the first night, kids, and a serene and impressive one at that (and if you really prefer to choose, go for lunch or don’t go at all).
Ultimately, this was a strong start for Lyle’s brand of ‘common sense’ set dinners. Many ingredients appear unusual, but they fit in quietly, rather than try too hard to shout out. Which leads to thoughtful and considered, rather than attention seeking food. How appealing.
I should mention the wine list, too. We drank a bottle of crisp, bone dry Austrian Gruner Veltliner, which was excellent and worked well across our meal. Many more glasses, carafes and bottles stood out; the list appears to match the food in that it’s a sensible mix of well sourced wines, chosen on their individual merits, natural or otherwise (X). (That’s “HOUSE”, by the way).
Lyle’s in 3 words
Seasonal. Set. Focused.
With wine, dinner will set you back in the region of £60 pp. Lunch dishes range from £5 to £15.