40 St. John Street,
London EC1M 4AY
Tel. 020 7490 9230
Food type: Modern French
Food rating: 6/10
Nearest tube: Barbican
Website: Eastside Inn
When Bjorn van der Horst decided to set up his new venture, Eastside Inn, in the middle of the bleak recession, some pundits were wondering whether he had lost his mind. After all, his previous venture with Gordon Ramsay holdings, the ill-fated La Noisette, lasted less than 18 months. At least, this time around, his new venture is divided into both a more formal fine dining area and the casual (and cheaper) bistro.
Born to a French mother and Swiss father, growing up in America, van der Horst definitely has an interesting mix of nationalities. His CV is impressive indeed starting as a commis chef at Joël Robuchon (his 3* restaurant) and then at Alain Ducasse (Paris). He then had stints at Picholine (Manhattan) and Gaia (Connecticut) before moving to London as head chef of the Greenhouse. With the financial backing of owner Marlon Abela, van der Horst earned a Michelin star. Their relationship was a strained one and in 2006, he left the Greenhouse to join Gordon Ramsay Holdings in opening La Noisette. After its closure in 2008, van der Horst took a sabbatical before finally opening Eastside Inn with his wife Justine (and the backing of some unnamed investors).
We decided to dine in the more formal fine dining area. The décor in the room is minimal with a few paintings by British artist Chris Gollon. Tables are well spaced and this is definitely a credit to the restaurant as they could certainly have fit in at least 2 more tables. Three courses are priced at £55 whilst the tasting menu is £70. From my understanding, the prices have gone up some what since my visit in July (three courses now cost £70). There are a lot of extras thrown in – for example, amuse bouché comes in three servings. Business lunch is priced at £25 for 2 courses and £35 for 3.
It is important to point out that bread is NOT normally offered to all diners which does strike me as being a bit odd given van der Horst’s French heritage. Nevertheless, bread is available on request – brought in from a small bakery, Boulangere du Paris, who also supplies the Fat Duck. In particular, the baguette served here was particularly good and it is such a shame that they do not want to serve the bread routinely to all customers. (8/10)
Toulouse: Salt-cured Foie Gras, Toast
Amuse bouché number one entitled “Toulouse” were two slices of salt-cured foie gras served on a thin slice of toasted sourdough bread. The foie gras was silky smooth, and although cured with salt, it could have done with a touch more seasoning. (Foie Gras is one of those ingredients which can and should be liberally seasoned). (6/10)
Paris: Fromage de tête, Cornichons, Sevruga Caviar, Veal Jus
From Paris was a little cup containing fromage de tête which loosely translates to ‘head cheese’ but in actual fact is meat from the head of a calf. This was combined with a little cornichons and veal jus, finished with a little topping of Sevruga caviar. I don’t know what the caviar added to the overall composition of the dish – its natural brininess seemed to be lost amongst the sharpness of the cornichons and the meatiness of the jus. Nevertheless this was an interesting and tasty morsel. (6/10)
New York: Sliced Hamachi, Jalapeño, Radish, Sesame Vinaigrette
Saving the best for last was the sliced hamachi with radish and an umami-packed sesame vinaigrette. The addition of jalapeno added a little kick to the dish. (7/10) If you are wondering what New York has to do with this Japanese inspired dish – van der Horst used to cook this dish when he was a chef in New York.
Almond Gazpacho, Smoked Paprika, Prawns and Tomato Sorbet
The first official course on the tasting menu is an almond gazpacho with prawns, grapes and tomato sorbet with some smoked paprika to give added depth. Often, with almond gazpacho, the flavour of the almond can overwhelm all the other components on the plate, but the dish here was reassuringly well balanced, with the sweet natural flavour of the prawns coming through well. (6/10)
Brouillade – Organic Egg and Sea Urchin
Next was a very rich and satisfying Brouillade (with some potato crisps on the side). The word “brouillé” loosely translates as “scramble” so this is van der Horst’s take on scrambled egg. Using the egg on egg idea (for a mere £25 supplement you can add a healthy dollop of Iranian Sevruga caviar for even more eggy goodness) Bjorn has created a dish was sinfully delicious, with the sea urchin roe coming through nicely, even if it did not look the part. Admittedly this is a dish which will divide opinions, especially as sea urchin is a bit of a love it-hate it business much like Marmite. (6/10)
Watermelon Salad “Matthew Norman”, Courgette Flower, Feta and Tapenade
Up next was the much maligned watermelon salad. Don’t know what I am talking about? Back when van der Horst was cooking at La Noisette, he served this very dish to food critic Matthew Norman who absolutely panned it. Obviously van der Horst decided he would have the last laugh by naming this very dish after Matthew. The watermelon is served two ways – fresh and grilled with crumbled feta, black olive tapenade and some courgette flowers. The idea of combining salty feta with salty tapenade worried me slightly and although they were inoffensive, I remain unconvinced. Part of the problem lies with the dish itself – a salad of watermelon is hardly something to get excited about. (4/10)
Foie gras, Espresso Syrup and Amaretto Foam
Pan-seared foie gras with espresso syrup and amaretto foam is one of the chef’s signature dishes back from his days at La Noisette. The lobe of liver was nicely seared with a creamy interior, the bitterness from the espresso complementing the sweetness and nuttiness from the amaretto. A nice touch was the addition of some crunchy praline which gave the dish an interesting texture. (7/10)
Poached Wild Turbot, Jersey Royals, Snail Confit and Beurre Rouge
The star dish of the night was a piece of wild turbot gently poached, served on a bed of crushed Jersey Royals with a confit of snails and a buttery beurre rouge sauce. From my experience, I often find turbot served in UK restaurants very disappointing both in terms of taste and texture. The fish is supposed to have a meaty texture but more often than not, the fish served tends to have a mushy texture. Here the turbot is carefully cook retaining its meaty texture whilst the creamy beurre rouge brought out the inherent flavour of the fish very well. This has to be the single best piece of turbot I have eaten in the UK. If there was a slight nit pick, it is that there were still some scales remaining on the fish (you can actually see some of the scales in the picture above!) which is rather careless for a restaurant like this which no doubt has Michelin star ambitions. (8/10)
Veal Belly, Mussel Tartare, Veloute and Coriander Condiment
Veal belly with a mussel tartare was a rather odd dish which actually worked. The belly was slow cooked until melting tender and the mussel tartare and veloute formed a base which had good depth of flavour. I found this dish interesting – veal in general has very subtle flavour and so to pair it with mussels and coriander without overpowering the flavour of the meat was inspiring. On the side were some very good game chips. (6/10)
“Ice Cube” – Basil Sorbet
A little pre-dessert of basil sorbet was served with much flair on a huge block of ice. Basil is not an obvious choice for a sorbet but it was not offensive either – the metallic zing from the basil was nicely balanced with the sweetness of the sorbet.
Millefeuille, Apricots and Thyme
A dessert of apricot millefuille with thyme-infused cream was pleasant if uninteresting. The puff pastry was light and crisp and the lemony scent from the thyme was a welcome addition to give the dessert some interest but for me this was merely something pleasant rather than something to get excited about. (5/10)
Wild Strawberry and Meringue Sphere, Flambé Tarragon and Fraise Liquer
A nice touch from the restaurant, when they saw us marveling at the dessert of the neighbouring table was to swap one of the millefeuilles with this very one thus enabling us to try another dish on the menu. In essence, this was a very posh version of an Eton mess, with a soft meringue sphere filled with wild strawberries. To add to the excitement, a small pot of tarragon infused fraise liquer was flambéd at tableside and poured onto the meringue sphere. I particularly enjoyed the addition of some popping space dust which elevated this dish beyond a simple Eton mess. This was a very enjoyable and what a dessert which should be about – good to look at with great taste and the added bonus of some theatre. Desserts should be fun and this certainly ticks all the boxes. (7/10)
Homemade Yoghurt, Red Berry Compote
As a post-dessert treat, a little pot of homemade yoghurt with a red berry compote which was pleasant enough. I found the acidity from the berry compote rather aggressive for me and could have done with a little more sugar. I don’t know if this was because my palate at this stage was already swamped by the sweetness from the desserts preceding this, and if this was the case, perhaps this should have been served as an earlier course in the tasting menu. (5/10)
Chocolates & Macadamia Nuts
Petit fours was served with equal level of panache – a little chocolate cone with little confetti, a chocolate crisp with a small clothes peg attached to it and candied macadamia nuts.
Service was excellent and unobtrusive. In a nutshell, our experience at Eastside Inn was an enjoyable one with very good savoury dishes and in particular a magnificent turbot. It is evident that desserts here are not at as high a level as the other dishes but this is in no way saying that they were bad. Given the fact that this visit was made after the restaurant had opened for a month, it was very impressive to see that they were already cooking at such a high level. It will be interesting to see the level of cooking the kitchen is able to produce once they are in full gear. As for now, I do think they are cooking at a one star level with definite room for improvement.
Pros: That turbot dish, was me lucking out. It was that damned good. Honest.
Cons: The sweets are not at as high a level as the savouries. Also the 35 or so seating room is too hush hush.