Bethnal Green is a funny patchwork of trendy coffee shops, bougie plant nurseries and dark, graffitied passageways. The Water House Project is a microcosm of that - it’s a little off the beaten track (down a particularly moody alley if you’re coming from Cambridge Heath) but emerge into Corbridge Crescent and you find the restaurant, resplendent in glass and concrete.
Chef Gabriel Waterhouse started his eponymous venture in his Bethnal Green flat in 2015, but has since evolved the concept to a bricks-and-mortar site. And yet, the restaurant still feels homely - there’s no divide between the kitchen and dining room, and combined with the enormous glass windows, high ceilings and smooth Nordic design, you feel as though you’re in someone’s Grand Designs kitchen.
At £120 per person, dinner with Gabriel is an expensive undertaking, but that price includes a drinks pairing (six throughout the meal), so if you’re someone who likes a wine flight, the price isn’t as wallet-crushing as it looks.
Dishes here have a fascinating ability to conjure nostalgic flavours. A sweetcorn mousse - light and frothy - paired with raisin chutney and herring roe, somehow has the fizzing essence of a prawn cocktail Skip (in a really good way). Later, a combo of Jerusalem artichoke, onion ash and hazelnut reminds us of a Snickers bar.
Taste and memory is very subjective of course, but there’s something very smart going on here. Every dish is a piece of art, beautifully sculpted and meticulously crafted. A gossamer-thin pastry case is the vehicle for a single bite of smoked eel, pineapple gel and horseradish - delicious. Cardamom sorbet, saffron custard, pistachio and rose is another stunning highlight. There are no missteps on the menu but a few dishes are perhaps playing a bit safe. Torched mackerel, horseradish, lovage and gooseberry is undeniably tasty, but we’ve eaten similar things on similar menus before.
Still, it feels unfair to criticise great food, and everything at The Water House Project is great, not least the personable and attentive service. We leave feeling well fed and happy. The alleyways are considerably duskier now, but The Water House Project at least has a bright future in Bethnal Green.