If you’re heading to London and you’ve got a few bob in you pocket, head over to the Typing Room in Bethnal Green for a culinary extravaganza. Lee Westcott’s food is positively thrilling. http://www.typingroom.com
For a start, I didn’t know where my friends were taking me for dinner. When we arrived at the Town Hall Hotel in East London – the restaurant is on the ground floor – I fell in love with the building, a 1910 classical Edwardian beauty with strong clean lines, majestic high ceilings and marble floors, staircase and columns, all brought to life with splashes of colour (‘pops’ of colour is so last year!). Art deco detailing was introduced in the 1930s, and vintage pieces and impressive floral arrangements add a contemporary feel. I could have asked for a table and chair and had my dinner in the lobby! http://townhallhotel.com/history/
We started the evening with drinks in the neighbouring Peg & Patriot Bar, situated just off the hotel lobby, where they serve a seasonal gin. On this night it was a rhubarb and vanilla concoction, and not to my taste but it might be to yours. Another seasonal nod was a dish of spicy fried broad beans to accompany drinks. http://www.talentedmrfox.com/#!pegpatriot/c88k
To the main event … We had booked the tasting menu with matching wines. My advice is to do the same if you have the time (you need to be there about 6.00’ish because you’ll still be going at 11.00pm!), and check your budget; this is not cheap dining, especially for travellers, though it is worth every penny in my books. The very talented chef, Lee Westcott, trained under Jason Atherton and struck out on his own in 2014. http://www.typingroom.com/food-wine/
Everything bar the food at Typing Room is understated elegance: gliding waiters, as in soft of shoe, gleaming wooden floors, natural light beaming in – and in spring London stays light until around 9.30pm – and furnishings in soft muted tones. While it may be a temple of gastronomy, there’s no pretention here and it’s comfortable and easy to blend in. It harks back to the room’s origin, that is, when it was a former typing room where mayoral, council and judiciary missives were typed up. I loved the juxtaposition of intricate food artfully arranged on chunky coarsely glazed and speckled earthenware dishes and plates, mostly in oatmeal tones, or in little wooden troughs, or arranged on textured folded fabrics, with broths poured from earthenware teapots. The experience is laidback, unrushed with a calmly operated kitchen in full view
The food? Let’s get the adjectives out of the way: inventive, exquisite, and unparalleled, with unexpected and sometimes challenging pairings. The wine matches, bar one, were right on the mark, with wines we would not have chosen though enjoyed immensely. You’ll be in expert hands whether you choose a tasting menu or dine a la carte.
The tasting menu starts with a few rounds of ’snacks’. Ha! They’re more than that. Our snacks included cigarette-shaped onion bhaji (type of fritter) filled with yoghurt and freeze-dried cucumber with verdant ends of cucumber dust and a mango chutney underneath (delicate, tangy, fruity, exquisite mouthfuls).
Crunchy crackled squares of pig’s head with dollops of smoked apple and heartsease pansies on top (glorious, all sort of squelchy inside contrasting with a thin porky crust, and smoky tang).
Crispy fish skin, smoked cod, oyster and dill (a bit metallic tasting for me).
Small dollops of fish looking like pearls on lilypad leaves (a bit fishy for some of our group, and I don’t know the name of the leaves), presented on small polished river stones.
A large dome of bread with an unusually thin and crisp crust and light soft crumb was served in a dish of warmed barley. The butter, blended with Marmite (the UK’s renowned spread) and topped with toasted barley, was inspired: creamy, salty, and bitingly savoury.
Five savoury courses and a dessert followed.
Celeriac, pear, fermented mushrooms and hazelnuts
Raw and fermented mushrooms combined with pear and hazelnuts can’t fail to titillate the taste buds. A dish full of contrasts and unexpected tastes, with a rich nuttiness.
Crab, white asparagus, green tomato and coriander
Layers of brown and white crab meat, white asparagus, small ‘leaves’ of pickled shallot and a few coriander flowers with a small lake of green tomato jus poured around. This dish is pretty, like a Monet painting, tangy and textural.
Yeasted cauliflower, raisins, capers and mint
A stack of cauli three ways, roasted, raw and fried, may sound simple, but this dish was exceptional, rich, savoury and complex. Fresh crumbled yeast cooked off until dry gives the dish a powerful umami presence. Raisins and capers add fleeting sweet tangy notes and a mint and Pernod jus keeps everything fresh.
Halibut, turnip, miso and bread
This may be one of the easier dishes to understand, but the gorgeous little bursts of fingerlime take it to another level.
Lamb with sautéed lamb’s tongue
Studded with tiny mushrooms, this meaty dish is rich and savoury and capable of turning hitherto ‘I’d never eat lamb’s tongue’ eaters into lamb’s tongue converts.
Sheep’s yoghurt, apple and dill
This is the most sensational dessert I’ve eaten. Good god, who in their right mind would put dill in a dessert with apple, sheep’s milk meringue and yoghurt? Typing Room did, and we all loved it.
The fact I didn’t indulge in pigeon smoked in a wooden box of pine needles will be my excuse for going back. If I lived in London, I would find it hard to keep away.
London E2 9NF
Tel +44 (0) 2078710461