We pretty much ate the menu. I mean, we quite literally would have done, had it been edible and offered to us as a course.
Culaccia ham (culatello, really) from Emilia-Romagna via the always excellent Ham & Cheese co. Bread from the Dusty Knuckle bakery. Outrageous olive oil supplied by I don’t know who but I’m sure they’re quality.
Crisp, snappy, refreshing segments of a crystal lemon cucumber, to be dipped into a ludicrously good oyster emulsion and a heavy sprinkle of nori flakes. (Remnants of the bread and then fingers and thumbs were plunged in to finish the dip.)
Soft, melting slices of the finest, freshest sea bass crudo in a slick of the aforementioned oil, dotted with powerful seaweed (and anchovy?) ‘mustard’, and cut with bursts of acidic white currants.
Immaculate, delicate smoked eel adorned perfect, rectangular bread fingers, and displaced Quo Vadis’ eel sandwich as the Best in Show.
There were floppy, wafer thin slices of coppa di testa at enjoyably sweaty room temperature, mixed with bobby beans and slithers of cobnuts and white peach. The chef (who was also the waiter and KP) described it as his homage to Alain Passard. I think he meant this was a salad of simple, seasonal ingredients to which he’d done very little, save prepare them so as to show off each of their best characters, whilst also dressing them in a moreish, sweet-sour (“aigre-deux“) emulsified dressing. Maybe. Tasted grand whatever.
Raw, aged Hereford beef was minced and mixed with elderberry capers, splurges of a heady anchovy, parsley and spinach emulsion, showered with toasted bread crumbs (with more anchovy oil?) and hidden from view under a blanket of mustard leaves. This was a Top Three Tartare – right up there in my memory bank alongside Manfreds og Vin’s famous version, and James Lowe’s cheeky oyster emulsion decorated raw beef circa Spring 2011. If you’ve had those, you’ll know. If not, bad luck.
Dessert was outstanding – top quality jammy figs, honey granita, a perfect, fig leaf infused panna cotta and a squirt of syrup from the bottom of a balsamic barrel. The best pud in the city that night, let alone the best sweet treat costing less than £5.
And just before that, the only hot thing on the menu; because it’s all prepared by one guy at the back of a wine shop with little more than a fridge and a budget induction hob.
The hot thing? A bowl of crystal clear chicken broth with multiple, perfect, bouncy agnoletti pasta filled with minced grouse (not yet high enough for my liking, but still a treat) and a more than generous quantity of girolles. The broth, as with everything before it, was flavoursome, precise, balanced – a hit of thyme preventing things from being too brown in both look and flavour – yet also homely and comforting. See for yourself – it was pure class.
The guy? Tim Spedding, former head chef at The Clove Club (and prior to that The Ledbury) who’s striking out on his own. It’s funny, we rush to restaurants because the press release and subsequent reviews tell us we get to eat so and so’s food, but of course the nature of a professional kitchen is that it’s a team effort. When eating out is stripped back to one person – as here, Tom Adams at Coombeshead Farm, the occasional pop-up or collaboration evening – you get the true measure of a chef. There’s no doubt Tim is quality.
The wine shop? P Franco in Clapton. A small natural wine specialist that plonked an approximately 12 person counter in the middle, added some stools and £10 to any bottle you drink in with food, and is developing a habit of associating with superb, young chefs waiting to find their own spaces. Which makes it an excellent value way to get into low intervention wines whilst eating awesome food. We tucked into an Italian white – Barroco’s catarratto – and a cracking Burgundian pinot noir – Frederic Cossard’s Bedeau. Both with bags of character, very drinkable and only a hint of a hangover the next day.
I loathe the term ‘hipster’ and anyone who uses it disparagingly. But this place is dripping in young, creative, restaurant and wine industry types. The music and conversation levels are up, the service familiar and the room busy. You can’t book and, as we’re heading into autumn, should expect competition for seats and a wait for your food. If none of that puts you off, or you consider it fair warning, go Thursday to Sunday evenings and have one of the best meals of your culinary year. It’s a triumph of sourcing, preparation, consideration and assembly in quirky, informal, niche surroundings.
Tim Spedding X P Franco in 3 words
Who needs ovens?
Have a plate or two at £5-14 a piece, or share the whole menu between 2 and it’s about £35 per person. Bargain. Wine is £30 a bottle and upwards (plenty available by the glass too). So anywhere from £30-£80 per person.
pfranco.co.uk – 107 Lower Clapton Road, London E5 0NP – Thurs-Sat: 6-10 / Sun: 3-9. Walk-ins only