I’m a fussy eater. I eat like a child. I leave my crusts and make a mess. If I am left alone at the weekends I often eat chocolate for breakfast and chicken nuggets and tinned sweetcorn for lunch. Over the years I have admitted to too many people that my hypothetical ‘death row’ meal choice would be a McDonalds happy meal.
But after a good experience at the new London restaurant Lyle’s this week, run by two chefs James Lowe and John Ogier who are causing a bit of a ‘stir’ on the ‘London scene’ maybe there is hope for me yet.
When my sophisticated friends book ‘foodie’ restaurants I am always nervous. Especially when they are in Shoreditch. I find many London restaurants intimidating – with menus in continental languages I don’t understand and strange ingredients and complicated culinary terms I don’t recognise.
While Lyles had one of those scary menus – with the added fear-factor of a ‘get what you are given’ daily set menu – I was pleasantly surprised and genuinely delighted by what I found.
A good part of the reason was that it had all the lovely touches of nice restaurants. Lots of surprising, complimentary house specialties to taste between course, so it feels like good value. And each course is brought to you by a different member of the kitchen or front of house team and they talk through the food with a lot of knowledge that underlines the quality and freshness of the ingredients, sourced from across the UK. (The chefs are also quite fit and have that very attractive, ‘country/urban’, ‘I could kill an animal, but would always treat it well’ earthy quality going on).
To start with we had something I didn’t even know existed – samphire – a sea vegetable. I think it must be that stringy stuff that can creep you out when you swim. Apparently they sell it in Waitrose and this stuff was AMAZING. So fresh, salty and lathered in butter. (I see in my future a disappointing attempt to recreate this at home on a Sunday evening).
Then there was the first course ‘peas and Ticklemore’. Fresh peas, herbs, lovely Ticklemore cheese and edible flowers.
Then there was smoked salmon, but I had asparagus and walnut butter (I opted for the vegetarian menu as I have a deep aversion to eating fish unless it comes out of a newspaper). The walnut butter was so yummy – except awkward moment when I had finished the asparagus, but not the butter, and wasn’t sure if would be considered ‘gauche’ to shovel the remaining butter in my mouth with a fork.
There were lots of lovely courses after that – I wasn’t sure how I was going to find the ‘mutton’ soup, but it was scrummy. The main course was my least favourite – but only because I was embarrassed to tell the restaurant that I don’t each mushrooms too (I can’t get past them being wood goblins). So I didn’t eat a lot of my puffball mushrooms, although friends who I gifted it to said it was extraordinary. I did, however, very much love the duck egg that came with that dish.
Character building moment was when a sample of ‘blood cake’ came – which I think is posh black pudding – and I was literally corralled into eating it by my friends who I thought might start chanting ‘eat it, eat it’ like we were on a rugby tour. It wasn’t that bad – not exactly the sausage taste my friends said it had and a very grainy aftertaste that disturbed me. (Iknow, I know, sausage is probably WORSE but I have very double standards when it comes to offal).
So overall – go to Lyles – really special experience for all the reasons above, but especially because I was with friends I hadn’t seen for months, so it was particularly good fun. Even if one of my friends did end the night saying he wasn’t sure about ‘the deconstructed cooking trend’. Which terrified me into wondering… “When did we all become such ADULTS? Maybe I am really too old for Happy Meals now….”