56 Shoreditch High Street,
London, E1 6JJ
Tel. 020 3011 5911
Food type: Modern British
Nearest tube: Shoreditch High Street
If Lyle’s were to be in Australia, it would not feel out of place. The dining room is hip and trendy and the plates of food pretty and minimalistic. But this is not just any casual dining place – Lyle’s is ranked number 65 in the World’s 50 Best Guide and was also awarded a coveted Michelin star in the 2016 guide. Chef/ owner James Lowe has worked at La Trompette where he has picked up solid classical French training before stints at Fat Duck and more recently the head chef role at St John’s Bread & Wine. It is probably his time at St John’s which most influences his style of cooking – minimalistic simplicity, based on less fashionable cuts and ingredients, but no less delicious.
We dined at Lyle’s for a casual Saturday lunch prior to heading to the West End to watch a film. At lunch, the menu is based on the popular small plates/ sharing concept. Starters are priced between £7 – £11.50, ‘mains’ around £20 and desserts £5 – £6.70. Although this may look cheap, the bill racks up very quickly after a few plates. We ordered 4 starters, the two ‘mains’ on offer (one fish and one meat) as well as all 4 of the desserts on offer. At dinner there is just one set menu available at around £44.
We started with some grilled cockles with fennel pollen (£11.50) – the shellfish simply flame grilled and garnished with a small pinch of fennel pollen. The cockles were tender and timed well, sat in a little pool of its own cooking liquor.
This was followed with smoked eel & beetroot (£9.50). Hidden beneath a canopy of beetroot leaves were chunks of smoked eel and beetroot. The kitchen smokes their eels in-house and that was pretty evident from the moment we put it in our mouths – the eel had a lovely firmness which you don’t get from commercially smoked products. The level of smoking itself was spot on – with the applewood smoke coming through nicely and balanced by the acidity from the beetroot.
Next was ox heart & pickled walnuts (£8.50). A generous portion of ox heart was grilled and served rare and slightly lukewarm with a salad of pickled walnuts and shallows and finished with a little beef jus. This was a tasty dish, with the ox heart cooked with the utmost care. I fail to remember what the crispy bits were on top, but they presented a much needed textural contrast to the dish.
The final starter was actually forgotten due to a bit of a mix-up by the kitchen and front of house. This arrived much later but credit where it is due, they did not charge for this. Beefsteak mushroom hid a runny egg yolk underneath with crunchy buckwheat for texture. The mushroom had been lightly pickled, and was there more as a textural element with the acidity there to balance the richness of the egg yolk.
Up next was mackerel (£21.90) with tomatoes and courgettes. The kitchen had sold out of red mullet by the time we dined and replaced it with mackerel. The fish was masterfully cooked, as well as you’d hope for – palpably fresh and grilled such that the skin was crisp but the flesh had barely set. I am pretty sure the fish had been cured beforehand because it had a huge umami hit to it. This was garnished with crunchy fish scales (from the mullet) and tomatoes for that sweet and sour note.
The final savoury course was a dexter flank with baby gem lettuce and an anchovy cream (£19.50). The beef was cooked very rare as it should be given the type of cut used and finished with a little pan juices. For me this dish was pleasant – something I would happily cook and eat at home.
With the savouries done, and still feeling rather peckish, we decided to order one of each of the desserts. Tayberry ice cream was well made with good balance of sweetness and acidity with shards of elderflower meringue. Apricot and almond tart was decent enough – the filling moist and the yoghurt sorbet accompanying it sensible. For me, the apricots themselves were fine but no more than that. Similarly, victoria plums (both fresh and dehydrated) mixed with sheep’s yoghurt and a crispy oat biscuit was pleasant without being memorable. Finally, a blackcurrant leaf ice cream was again well made and the blackcurrants packing a nice punch.
The food at Lyle’s is simplistic, no nonsense and tasty. The value for money factor is questionable however. £22 was the initial price for the red mullet, but when it was substituted for mackerel, no price adjustments were made. It was indeed a fantastic piece of mackerel, perhaps one of the best I have eaten this year. But at £22 for the mackerel and £11.50 for a small bowl of cockles (a similar sized bowl of cockles at 1* Barrafina in Soho was £8), that is some serious profit margins they are working on. In essence, a small starter, mains and dessert would cost around £35 – £40. Meanwhile, 1* Alyn Williams in Mayfair charges £30 for a 3 course lunch (£40 during weekend) with cooking that shows a lot more ambition.
And then there is finally the fact that this is a restaurant with a Michelin star and in the World’s 50 Best Guide. Is this haute cuisine? No, of course not. But not all starred restaurants need only serve haute cuisine. There is a minimalistic beauty with the cooking here. These days, many younger chefs are obsessed with the myriad of kitchen toys – sous vide this, pacojet that – they have forgotten what it takes to cook a delicious plate of food. Thankfully this is not the case here. Technique is only reserved for dishes where it is called for. They are not ashamed to cook something like cockles in the most simplistic manner if that is what is required to bring out the best from that ingredient. If price is no objection, you will definitely enjoy some tasty, unfussy food at Lyle’s.