Like most things in East London, Counter 71 is pretty cool. So cool, in fact, that from the outside, it resembles a restaurant in no perceptible way whatsoever. A small sign with the number ‘71’ etched next to the door is the only real marker that something brilliant lies behind.
This is Joe Laker’s latest venture, an intimate chef’s table concept that hinges around a beautiful green marble, L-shaped counter. We take our seats alongside six other diners, watching transfixed as Joe and his team prepare 15 meticulous courses like a well-rehearsed play.
Things start off at an exceptionally high level. Paper-thin taco shells filled with crispy chicken and a Caesar dressing, tangy sheep’s cheese tartlets, a miniature warm English muffin topped with smoky egg mayo, and a crisp croustade filled with chilli-spiked veal tartare are whittled out one after the other, each bite more delicious than the last.
These are all incredibly good, but the penny really drops about mid-way through the meal when we’re presented with a resoundingly innovative tomato dish. The plate contains about six, blistered cherry tomatoes, each one cooked down to varying degrees of jamminess. One is sweet and caramelised, another juicy and tangy, all the while immersed in a sweet elderflower and basil dressing. It is fresh, nuanced and every bite brings a totally new experience.
Every dish is wonderful, but a few really shine. Smoky eel in a barbecued emulsion with soft kohlrabi springs to mind, as does pearlescent cod steeped in a rich oyster cream, and elevated with the aniseed-y vibrance of lovage. Even the petit fours are perfect, including a feather-light fennel custard tart with a centre the texture of condensed milk.
The wine pairing is a lot of fun too, with our sommelier taking us from English sparkling rose to a non-alcoholic tea, to a fruity Greek red designed to complement a duck and black garlic dish.
What of the bill? All 15 courses are yours for £110, which is a fair price for cooking this stupendous.