Modern European bistro Maene is the latest venture from Nick Gilkinson, the talented restaurateur behind Whitechapel favourite Townsend. It’s moved into the top floor of a four-storey Victorian clothing factory which, once you’ve located its discreet whereabouts, is a light, airy and deeply attractive space.
High ceilings, soaring windows and sharp cobalt blue tones pivot seamlessly around soft cream walls and pale wooden floors. Above, a profusion of exposed light bulbs hangs from the ceiling, like a modern day interpretation of twinkling stars. Nick is also there on the night, donning an electric blue cardigan in keeping with those piercing cobalt sofas.
The menu is spearheaded by head chef Amber Francis and offers an inventive pool of modern European dishes made with the finest British ingredients. It also overtly advertises its commitment to provenance and seasonality. If this were a game of good cop, bad cop, the menu would definitely be the former.
There’s spongy sourdough sourced from a bakery just down the road, with caramel-like whipped brown butter, and hot, fried batons of gnocco fritto designed to be plunged into an oozing stracciatella and sun-dried tomato dip. A very nice, vinegary tomato tart is encased in the sort of paper-thin shell most pastry chefs dream about. While the skin on a fillet of pollock is crisped to such a degree that it mimics crackling. Certain things feel a little too virtuous at times, like allotment vegetables served with an earthy sunflower seed ‘tahini’.
It's cool that the cocktail list offers alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions of each drink, with ingredients like sea buckthorn, potato skin and spirulina giving new lease to surplus kitchen waste. A twist on a Margarita, with sea buckthorn, tequila and agave, is smoky and zingy in all the right places, yet confusingly the colour of clementines. We love it.
Maene is everything a restaurant should be in 2023: conscientious, gorgeous and not afraid to try new things.