Having been invited to the Eastside Inn for a cocktail and chat with restaurant co-creator Justine, I had images of leaning back Don Draper style, cocktail casually clutched in my hand, cooly dispensing anecdotes. I did not picture getting in an excited lather over seaweed infused Normandy butter and moaning ecstaticlly over some particularly fine jamon.
But that’s the Eastside Inn for you. I have talked – well, raved really – about it before. Twice. But this time I wasn’t stopping in for dinner. I was there to try out their newly-minted bar and maybe sample one or two of their bar snacks. Curious to see if they put as much into mixing drinks as they do into preparing food.
The room itself was laid back, simple rather than spectacular. There was no pumping music, no retro futuristic follies, no achingly hip minimal design. Thank goodness. This is a place to relax in, chat and nibble. The bar itself was a gentle timeless curve, with seats spread out along its length. As with the restaurant, the fireworks come with the snacks and cocktails.
First, those snacks. Put together with the same obvious passion for good ingredients as their restaurant food, they displayed the same light but highly skilled touch. Small cubes of deep fried pork turned out to be meaty dice loaded with flavour. A perfect combo of porcine cuts, they were moist, tasty, tender, and entirely ungreasy. I could have gobbled them by the handful.
Small triangular spinach and cheese parcels were perfectly seasoned and wonderfully crispy. If the same care and attention goes into their burger, Goodman’s and Hawksmoor may have a rival. Cant wait to test that out.
The cocktails were delicious too, and keenly priced for the area at about £8 a pop. The mojito and margerita were both suitably sweet/herby and citrussy/sour respectively. The brand new Butterfly martini was sweet and herby, the addition of elderflower and basil intriguing without overwhelming the carefully balanced flavour combo.
This was going well, and that was before the leg of jamon got wheeled around the bar. Conversations stopped and eyes stared with admiration and gluttinous desire at the deep red marbled meat. Slender slices were doled out to those who wanted them, and a plate, finished with some lightly pickled garlic. These were heavenly, intense mouthfuls, flavour not so much bursting as slowly oozing out as you chew them. Layer upon layer of intense porkiness building up. Divine.
Then there was my Don Draper cocktail. An Old Fashion, a mix of bourbon with a whole bunch of other stuff (I’m no cocktail expert), it was fabulous. A lot of places make their whisky cocktails too sour. Not here. The deep sweetness of the bourbon was brought out and beautifully balanced. I’m coming back for a couple these as soon as I can.
And the butters. The I-can’t-believe-they’re-actually-butter butters. By this point in the evening, my brain was almost frazzled and overloaded with unexpected post work foodie delights, and a couple of cocktails. But my word, the butters. I’m still tasting them.
Made by a small producer in Normandy these butters were smoked, salted, infused with seaweed, red pepper and yuzu. It was all I could do not to lick the plate clean. My faviourites were probably the smoked (perfect for spreading on some sour dough bread) and seaweed (pungently, saltily intense – it’d be perfect to finish off a fishy sauce). But the most impactful was definitely the yuzu. It was so very very citrussy, it almost burned, in a pleasent way, as you ate it.
Overall, a most unexpected evening, and one i hope to repeat soon. There is a duck egg on a large mushroom, those pork dice and of course the burger still to try out. And the Old Fashion… Maybe i should get me a slim line suit and skinny tie just really put me in the right mood.