Saturday, 3 April 2010

A Visit to London’s Whitechapel Dining Rooms

Mr H. rang me up the other week and said, “I’ve just passed the Whitechapel Dining Rooms, and it looks pretty nice. Do you fancy testing it out at some point?”

“Urh, yes please” I replied. “The critics all raved about it when it opened last year and I’ve always wanted to try it.”

Whitechapel Dining Rooms, What’s The Deal?: This small, one-roomed restaurant is attached to the Whitechapel Art Gallery. Head chef Maria Elia has received endless praise for her seasonal food, which shows off the best of British produce through her unique flair and style.

Inside the art-deco inspired dining room seats no more than 40 diners under glowing cream-coloured hanging pendant lights, endless mirrored walls which mirror themselves repeatedly if you look directly into them, and light wood hues form the rest of the space. All together a surreal almost 70s vibe is the setting for a middle-aged, middle class crowd arty/media type crowd.

Whitechapel Dining Rooms, The Food: Tip 1. Don’t be fooled by the name, The Whitechapel Dining Rooms is confusingly next to Aldgate East station, not Whitechapel, as was confirmed when the BF (boy friend) and I rang MR H. to find out where he had gotten to after a 20 minute wait.

Not only had he gone to Whitechapel Station, but he’d then walked 10 minutes in the wrong direction and was now on a big hike back. One should perhaps worry about the clear lack of navigational skills of a man who has in fact lived in the East End of London all his life, but you either have directional instinct or you don’t I suppose? Or maybe, in this day and age, all that he is lacking is a Google maps Ap for his phone.

Once he’d finally arrived, he ordered a glass of champagne to recover from the traumatic journey and I though to myself “damn it, I wish I’d ordered champagne instead of a modest small glass of house red”.

Maria Elia could be seen buzzing around the kitchen (it’s not open plan but I could see one end of it from my seat on the back wall of the dining room). The menu is clearly a woman’s work. The dishes, the ingredient matching, and something in the food in essence is just more ladylike.

To start, I had one of the most divine soups I’ve ever tasted. Do I say this in every blog post? Maybe I just like food too much. But really, the spiced cauliflower, parsnip and ginger soup was creamy and dreamy and the quince jelly, watercress and drizzled truffle oil would have made the likes of Jackson Pollock proud.

The boys both had pan-fried scallops with white bean puree and mushrooms. These were served in a long thin dish and the scallops were gorgeously glazed on top.
For my main course I had pan-fried duck breast served on a bed of creamed lentils with King Edward potatoes. Delish!

The boys – again in unison – ordered a fantastically interesting dish of pot-roasted rabbit, confit rabbit baklava, swiss chard, lemon dressing and parsnip skordalia. Surely a man couldn’t dream this sort of thing up?

Treacle tart with confit rhubarb, creme fraiche and clementine scented macaroon with ginger ganache and clementine salad were both wolfed down quickly by the guys for dessert while I had a macchiato.

Whitechapel Dining Rooms, The Final Word: This is not the place to go for a raucous evening out. By 10pm the dining room had pretty much emptied and Mr H. was subjecting the lovely waitress into listing every liqueur and aperitif they served and their list was limited.

Those that live in the area however will already know that aside from the multitude of endless curry houses on Brick Lane (equally great if you’re in the mood), fine dining is not in abundance, so if you’re after some really great local food, the Whitechapel Dining Rooms is a triumph. It’s ideal for a quiet evening with a partner or a place to take your mum for lunch.

Ps. Opposite there’s a large private dining room, which can be booked from £35 a head for dinner. A nice setting for a private do. Arty party anyone?

Whitechapel Gallery
77-82 Whitechapel High Street
London E1 7QX
T +44 (0)20 7522 7888

Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Cielo Restaurant Opens in Mayfair, London

Last Thursday, little ol’ FIL (Foodie In London) was delighted to accept an invitation to try it out the swanky new Italian restaurant Cielo in Mayfair.

Cielo, What’s The Deal?: This upmarket pint-sized restaurant and bar has just five or six tables downstairs. Head chef Monserrato Marini offers an Italian menu with Sardinian influences. Upstairs the mezzanine bar area is the perfect playpen for the rich and glamorous and the entrance hall houses changing collections of art.

Cielo, Get the Look: Italian architect Rossella Stina has given Cielo a creamy, dreamy look. In the dining area Philippe Starck chairs, crisp white tablecloths, twinkling candles, mirrors and metal beaded curtains hanging down the back wall all fit together harmoniously.

Cielo, The Food: We were greeted by a flurry of tanned, good looking Italian waiters and escorted to a corner booth table for two next to the bar.

Bar manager Andreas Jansson was at the nearby Cuckoo Club previously so it seemed only polite to kick off with a couple of his Cielo creations. I had a Cielo Bubble – green apple liqueur, elderflower, cloudy apple and Mo√ęt & Chandon which was very tasty and mu dining partner aka boyfriend went for the Cielo Negroni - Bombay Sapphire gin, Campari, Martini Fiero and rhubarb syrup.

Bread and foccacia was served the authentic Italian way – with lashings of oil and balsamic vinegar.

To start I had grilled beef carpaccio with rocket and parmesan which was delicious and an absolutely huge portion, while BF had an equally generous plate of scallops with pancetta and avocado sauce. The scallops were large, firm and beautifully cooked and the pancetta was still nicely soft. It was prettily presented and we were still dreaming of the dish on Sunday evening.

We drank a light and lemony Fiano d’Avellino, DOCG, LA Molara, Campania, recommended by the waiter.

After the generous-sized starters, I was a little disheartened by the size of our main courses in comparison although my dish of homemade tortellini with seabass and lemon butter was an absolute triumph albeit a small one. The lemon sauce was wonderfully tangy, herby and fresh and the tortellini was served properly al dente.

BF had a tender piece of lamb fillet wrapped in pancetta stuffed with rosemary and black truffles from Norcia with roasted onions and potatoes. Delicious again although neither of us noticed the truffles.

We finished up with a tiramisu and vanilla panna cotta with Amarena cherries.

Cielo, Toilet Watch: Compared to the uber design-led dining room the toilets are a bit of a let down. There’s a white square china basin, throwaway paper towels and three basic toilet cubicles. Won’t be a memorable trip.

Cielo, The Final Word: If you’ve got cash to splash and you’re looking for a late night drinking spot to impress this is worth a venture. A fully retractable roof and a late night drinking license until 5am are both planned for summer.

Cielo: 3 New Burlington Street
0207 297 2893