When a chef with a background in Michelin-starred kitchens chooses a location for a solo debut, Hackney Wick is unlikely to top the list – but it has for Tom Brown. The former head chef at Outlaw’s at The Capital has sited Cornerstone, his thrilling new small-plates venture, just a few minutes’ walk from the railway station among a little group of recently developed retail spaces.
Don’t be disheartened by the locality: there’s ample space for diners, and the vibe in the restaurant is cool, with black tabletops, retro wicker chairs and black walls (complete with requisite scribbles). Mercifully, the place avoids crossing over into hipster-satire territory thanks to the friendly young team at the helm. Guests are greeted by the central dining counter, behind which you’re likely to find Brown beavering away. Unsurprisingly, given the chef’s pedigree, his regularly changing menu champions seafood. The run of small plates we sampled, served in terracotta tapas dishes, were exceptional.
Our bubbly waitress recommended eight plates between two and the meal kicked off with a pair of sensational oysters, pickled for two hours in gherkin vinegar and served with a subtle horseradish cream. Next up, a mound of juicy potted shrimps arrived piled high on a warm crumpet, soaked with shrimp butter that melted into the holes. A perfectly cooked strip of succulent bream followed, elevated to luxury by hidden chunks of lobster and saffron. Desserts, too, are a force to be reckoned with. A light, fluffy pistachio cake with vanilla cream and a sticky mess of raspberries preceded a heavenly peach crumble well worth the 20-minute wait time: its crispy top layer breaking to reveal tangy cubes of fresh peach, completed by a dollop of cream and hints of lemon.
The drinks list provides admirable back-up, informed by on-trend cocktails and classy European wines, but prices as a whole can add up (£10 desserts are rare in Hackney Wick), and some diners might consider Cornerstone rather out of the way. Nevertheless, this is an accomplished, exciting debut from one of the capital’s most promising chefs – we can’t wait to see what Brown does next.