Young Turks at the Ten Bells

Students of Wikipedia will tell you that the Ten Bells pub on Commercial Street is “notable for its association with two victims of Jack the Ripper: Annie Chapman and Mary Kelly”.

Unfortunately, it is not clear from that invaluable starting point for all of my blog posts (and my very expensive legal research) exactly what their association is.

Fortunately, before I became a lazy blogger and overpriced lawyer I was a diligent history student and, having used my skills to dig a little bit further, I can tell you that Mary got wasted at the Ten Bells the same night that she got mutilated by our Jack. I got bored of scrolling through bad Jack the Ripper websites before I got to the bottom of Annie’s association, but I suspect it could be similar.

Perhaps of even greater note than the Ten Bells being the watering hole of two unlucky ladies of the night (and, in fact, the place where no less than St Jamie’s Great Great Grandfather used to pour pints), is that it is currently site of the most recent project for the culinary talents of the Young Turks and the undoubted front of house skills of the Clove Club.

Burgers in a cafe, the most ridiculously underpriced evening in a Loft, a great 3 week pop up in the Wharf, and a successful BBQ on top of a multi-storey car park … it’s been a stellar year for this collective of young guys who all have impressive CVs but are now aiming to take the next step in their careers and make a name for themselves in the restaurant world.

They’re doing rather well at the name making and (if they can’t already) it won’t be long before James, Isaac, Johnny and Daniel will quite legitimately be able to update the Ten Bells Wikipedia page and digitally ink their names as famous past residents alongside a couple of East London prossies and an ancestor of our greatest TV chef. They’ve got to be happy with that.

The deal is this. They’re in situ for 3 months. They have about 35-40 covers on the first floor and there’s a room for private dining too. The menu is going to change weekly, but I believe it will always follow the same format: four courses, three of which are savoury, preceded by a few interesting nibbles (we had superb grouse sausages, home cured ham, and plump oysters with dulse – a sweet seaweed that complemented and enhanced the salty marine flavour of the oysters) and really really good bread. All that and gin for £39.

It’s not a la carte, just whatever James and Isaac are cooking that week. This, I think, is a good thing. Not least because it must be one of the reasons why the food appears to be so honestly priced: no choice = no waste = lower costs for them = lower prices for us.

If Karl Marx did restaurants…

…they’d probably all be crap. But the accessibility and value of a Young Turks meal is very appealing.

As at all of the Young Turks events I’ve been to the food was genuinely interesting and quite different from what’s on offer at most other restaurants in London. Certainly those in the same price bracket.

Take dessert, for example. These guys don’t appear to make ‘classic’ puddings like tarts or fondants. The emphasis is on texture, visual appeal, subtlety and, often, unusual ingredients.

The chestnut mousse that we had could have been served as a simple blob in a bowl, sprinkled with a few almonds and topped with poached pears. And would have been nice, but disappointing.

Instead, that super light mousse was smeared in a curve over a flat plate – like the first swipe of wet plaster on a wall (mmmm, tasty imagery). The thin end of the smudge was just mousse, but as you moved up, the smudge was topped by increasing numbers of toasted nuts, soft pieces of pear and, eventually, the icy flakes of honey granita. I would have liked the mousse to have had a slightly stronger chestnut flavour. But otherwise I thought it was great.

The second course that evening was pretty original too: a salad of onion segments, singed at the edges but still with a slightly raw tang, peppery watercress, a warm jerusalem artichoke puree, chicken stock juices and almost cheesy artichoke peel crisps. The peel on its own was pretty funky, but a mouthful of all of the constituent parts was awesome. As pleasing a forkful as I have had for a while. Complementary flavours and interesting textures. Great dish.

I didn’t think the other two dishes were quite at the level of other Young Turks dishes I’ve had. Which is not to say there was anything in particular wrong with them. They were certainly tasty and enjoyable. But they were, dare I say it, a little bit ordinary.

The third course of ox cheek, celeriac and apple, for example, was just not in the same league as the amazing smokey beef at the Wharf or the incredible chicken on rye and hop shoots at the Loft (click on the links above for my previous reviews and pictures). It didn’t have the wow factor. Yes the beef fell away at the slightest suggestion of a fork’s prong, but it was potentially a little under-seasoned and maybe would have benefitted from a more celeriac on the side for interest, perhaps in a different form to the two small chunks that were there.

Our first course of squid, warm green radishes and tarragon was pretty enjoyable (especially the squid) … but again not overly exciting and wasn’t as well presented as it might have been: visually it wasn’t a patch on the beef and oyster tartare or snail, ramson and egg yolk at the Loft, or the tomato salad at the Wharf. I’ve seen pictures from other evenings and I think they were still working out how they wanted to plate this one.

Ultimately I’m being hypercritical. It’s unrealistic to suggest that every dish should wow and those two dishes were still good. I guess with an ever evolving and probably sometimes experimental menu it’s just a matter of luck as to whether you get served dishes that are not just good, but on another level. Given the cost of the meal, if you do luck out, it should really be seen as a bonus.

Bottom line is that what these guys do is properly refreshing and on / ahead of trend. So you should take advantage of the fact that they’re in situ for 3 months, rather than 3 nights or 3 weeks. It’s not the Ledbury or Roganic (in aim or cost). But it is innovative and tasty food and the service is savvy and charming. Which all makes for a terrific night. Start drafting your Wikipedia entries lads.

The Young Turks at the Ten Bells in 3 words

Another little ripper.

The Bill

£39 for four courses, inventive pre-dinner nibbles and a complementary gin based cocktail. Bargain. Wines have a flat rate £10 per bottle mark-up. Double bargain.

You won’t be able to reserve a table for November – they’re fully booked. But keep your eye on their website for notice of when they start taking bookings for December. If you’re in the area, there’s a chance of getting a walk-in about 9:00pm as some of the tables turn about that time. – The Ten Bells, First Floor, 84 Commercial Street, E1 6LY – 07530 492986