I’m going to start by saying that the Eastside Inn Bistro had a lot to live up to. It’s been reviewed very favourably by London Eater and Catty, and I had heard great things about chef Bjorn van der Horst when he was at Noisette.
Taking all the above into account I went along expecting something special. But was worried that it would be merely good. Or worse. Special though, is exactly what we got. From the start, with a warm welcome by the staff and a hello from the chef, to the end where we talked about what went into the couscous and the benefit of blogging to the restaurant. We had a fantastic time.
Even before I get on to the food, the space itself was very well thought out. It seems to be getting rarer and rarer in these belt-tightening days of trying to maximise profits, to find an eatery where you’re not elbow to elbow with your fellow diners, (in)advertantly eavesdropping. Not here. Here, tables are spaced apart, they’ve given diners some privacy without sacrificing any buzz. And the noise level stays just about right, never straying into shouting-across-the-table levels or forcing you to resort to a complicated combo of sign language and charades.
While this is great, the well-sourced food and superb cooking are really special. And that was just the bistro, I’ve yet to experience the all singing all dancing dinner extravaganza. And the bistro isn’t a wilting violet when comes to flavour, richness or size. I didn’t quite have the full three courses, but came out almost uncomfortably full. Almost.
We started out with a duck rillette and a slice of game terrine to share between three. The terrine was very tasty indeed, all gamey meat packed in with very little jelly or fat, just the way it should be. Studded with pistachios it had a nutty backdrop. Some moist raisins gave it a touch of rich fruity luxury. It had the feel of something properly seasonal – more savoury, solid and flavourful than mere tastebud tickling appetite-whetter.
The rillette was even better. The torn duck moist and fatty, but laced with a delightful pepperiness, not overpowering, just enough to cut the rich meat. Alongside there was a pot of tiny but punchy cornichons. It was a really balanced dish, something difficult to achieve with all those strong flavours.
For mains we had the intriguing Al cremat, a cast iron pot of sizzling prawns in a garlic and chilli laced fish soup, braised rabbit and tagliatelle and a lamb shank on coucous. The prawns were very good, sitting on some burnt caramel and fish soup, which gave it a real fishy base. Tasty and delicious. The braised rabbit was creamy and rich, the meat was falling off the bone. It was tender in a way I’ve never come across for rabbit before, also full of flavour and more meaty than I’m used to with the pale meat. The tagliatelle was everything good fresh pasta should be. Silky with a slight al dente bite.
The shank was meltingly tender and very large. It was full of good, gentle meaty flavour, but was eclipsed by some truly divine couscous. The gravy the durum wheat grains sat in was intense, like a laser-beam of concentrated lamb aimed straight at your tongue. The couscous itself was laced with Ras al-hanut – all chilli-spice heat and rose petal fragrance. It was the star of the show up to that point. I could have sat there appreciating it (aka stuffing it in) all night.
But, unusually for me, it was desserts I was waiting for. But by this point I was in real danger of filling myself too full of good food. Still, soldiering on (because it would be rude not to right?) we ordered two for the three of us. The orange souffle with chocolate icecream and Araguani chocolate pudding with tonka bean icecream. The souffle was superb, a match for the rillette or the couscous in quality, but subtler than both. Light and fluffy with a gently orangy flavour. This was the perfect end to the meal.
The chocolate icecream, while good, didn’t measure up to the tonka bean icecream – so reminiscent of vanilla and cinnamon – that came with the other chocolate pudding. I wonder if the orange would have been better served with an intense, almost savoury, dark chocolate icecream? Maybe I just wasn’t feeling the chocolate love that night. The tonka bean icecream was light and spectacularly full of creamy vanilla flavour whereas the chocolate pudding was just beautiful and good. We finished off with a great filter coffee and fresh mint tea that came in a wonderful traditionally shaped, totally transparent teapot.
It was fantastic to see Bjorn wandering around having a few words with everyone, clearly enjoying himself. This is somewhere I would not hesitate in recommending to anyone in search of some superb food at good prices (the whole lot came to about £46/head including wine, great value for that level of cooking). Even the rare (and relative) low points were better than many meals i’ve had in good west end restaurants. The Eastside Inn Bistro in a fantastic addition to Clerkenwell and more than holds its own against local luminaries St John and Zetter.