24 June 2014
In the middle of Shoreditch, in the Tea building, is James Lowe & John Ogier's new restaurant, Lyles. They originally met having worked together at St.John's Bread and Wine, and on walking in the influence is apparent with a simple whitewashed, modest, open plan room that includes the kitchen. It is a huge contrast to the image conscious Boxpark opposite.
With 3 aperitifs and 6 courses, the set menu is testament to sourcing of quality seasonal produce with many different cuts and offal used no doubt contributing to the good value. For dinner, except for a vegetarian option, there is no option other than the set menu at £39. If you want to pick and choose go at lunch time where most dishes here, and more, are available. Not satisfied with just lunch and dinner, Lyles is set to be an all day affair with their own coffee bar and pastries open early aswell.
While we pondered over the lengthy wine list (with 20 reds and 20 whites there is quite a choice), a plate of sourdough and some rather good in-house made butter was brought out. Although yet to start their own bread, the sourdough tonight was from another ex-St.John's of Bread Ahead, considered by many one of the best bakeries in the city, so not a bad back up!
First up was the appetizers; anchovy on toast, asparagus and walnut mayo, and blood cake with damson and chicory. The anchovies poised on little sourdough toast soldiers had a really intense powerful flavour, rather too overpowering for my tastes especially for the first bites. The asparagus with walnut mayonnaise was about as good as fresh veg gets. The gritty and moreish walnut mayo gave it that extra dimension, like a refined peanut butter. It could be a campaign to get kids (and adults) to eat more greens if it was spread with this. Next was the bitesize blood cake, damson, and chicory, the best of the bunch. The cake was light with that familiar taste of black pudding with a bit of sweet fruitness from the damson and the crunch of the chicory. The sharing of the starters reflects the laid back, simple approach to Lyles, stripping back the pretense other refined dining experiences.
The first main starter was nettle soup with cured pig cheek and pheasant egg. The nettle soup had flavour as vivid and pronounced as the striking green colour. Breaking the egg oozed out the yolk into the nettle giving it more richness Unashamedly I wiped the bowl with my remaining bread, it was that good. How uncouth!
The lamb sweetbread came with yet more greenery of of braised lettuce and a ransom sauce. The ransom sauce was thankfully quite subtle not overpowering the sweetbread which was cooked beautifully with a nice char on the outside while still soft in the middle. No doubt their will be an awful lot of offal in this place (..groan). A really enjoyable dish, again showcasing what can be done with just a few ingredients.
A couple of days before going to Lyles I read this fascinating piece by James on aging of not only beef, but white meat and fish. If you haven't read it take a look here, it'll change some preconceptions you may have. I can't wait to try that aged chicken if that description is anything to go by. It's great that they have the space to have such control over many elements of the produce, and willingness to experiment with even the aging process. That strive to go outside normal convention really will set it apart. This really comes through on the dishes, none more so than the dover sole. Having been aged for 5 days, instead of being flakey as you would expect for fish, it was alot more denser, like bacalhau, with some elasticity that you wouldn't expect and yet still soft once chewed with much more intense flavour than normal sole. You'll just have to try for yourself, I've not had anything like it. The cider butter gave it an almost sticky texture in the mouth.
While the baked Riseley was a little too rich and heavy for my liking, and I had enough bread by this point, never have I been so enamoured by a bunch of leaves before. A bowl of delights, with great texture and flavours, some giving a powerful peppery punch, and very nicely topped off with apple juice. An unexpected, simple pleasure that makes me look at salad in a new light.
At £39 for food of this quality is exceptional value. This is refined, but simple food, complexity is not added where it is not needed. With so few ingredients in each dish, flavours of each are dialled up to 11, that for the most part works exceptionally, bar that initial anchovy.
While only their opening night, FOH were very pleasant, although it seems some had yet to find their voice. A shame that people should mumble when describing such good dishes.
With their background, the set menu, use of offal and the minimalist set up it would be too easy to call Lyles a cross between St.John's & Clove Club, however it is very much an individual, and I struggle to think of another place like it in London. Book now before the word gets out, it could well become another place booked out for months.