Day 2 – Lyle’s (lunch) and Silk Road (dinner)
Another day in London and another opportunity to fill my belly with yet more gastronomic delights. Slightly hungover and a pound or two heavier I necked a double espresso and proceeded to the next restaurant on my list. This time heading to the oh so trendy hipster hangout of Shoreditch in East London to Lyle’s within the developed site of the Tea Building. Head chef and owner James Lowe has been on the London radar for a few years now after training with Heston Blumenthal (The Fat Duck) and Fergus Henderson (St John’s) the later of which Lowe went on to head for three years. It was his involvement with Isaac McHale and Ben Greeno, naming themselves the Young Turks, that really put his and the other chef’s names on the culinary map with a string of hugely successful pop-up events and a six-month residency at the Ten Bells in Spitalfields. Discovering Lowe had brought his three year restaurant location hunt to an end this April was very exciting news indeed and I happily booked myself in for a lunch.
Lyle’s gives off the St John’s vibes upon first entering with its plain white tiled walls, exposed white ceilings and minimalist decor with basic yet adequate fixtures. Definitely in keeping with its East London surroundings but for me a little vacant and emotionless, some wood or colour anywhere wouldn’t have gone a miss, but anyway let’s get down to the food. Lyle’s at lunch offers a selection of small plates (around the £6-8 mark) and two larger plates (hovering at £15) as well as a cheese course and two dessert options, thing are different at dinner where five courses are offered at £39.
Before ordering we were informed that the menu has been designed so diners can choose between 2-3 dishes in order to sample a range of the menu. As there were two of us we took this sound advice and opted for five savoury and two sweet plates. Raw dexter rib and cured scallop roe was an unanimous ‘just ok’ with the scallop roe tasting rather like a seafood mayonnaise and overpowering the taste of the beef, saying that we gobbled it up with the sourdough bread (aerated with spongy pockets that delivered the perfect chew and crispy crust – we asked for seconds) lathered in butter that was so good it could be eaten on its own, something I caught my accompanying party doing on more than one occasion! Cured trout, sour cream and juniper was a thing of beauty. Delicately cured giving firmness to the bite with a good level of seasoning and paired beautifully with the creamy sour cream and aromatic juniper berry dusting. Girolles, egg and snails was earthy from the mushrooms and snails cooked in butter and sherry vinegar. All huddled around a oozing poached duck egg with a nice peppery rocket garnish, this was my favourite dish. Blood cake, blackcurrants and chicory came in the form of thickly sliced black pudding studded with chunks of pork fat and bursting with robust flavours. The final of our savoury dishes was mackerel and gooseberries, for some reason I expected the mackerel to be filleted and lightly cured or raw maybe, but instead the fish came grilled on the bone with a gooseberry and sea vegetable accompaniment that paired perfectly. Given only two dessert options and the fact I’ve developed an insatiable sweet tooth since learning the art of French patisserie we opted to try both. Treacle tart and milk ice cream delivered exactly what it stated, moist and chewy tart with a light milk flavoured ice cream – delicious. Where as cherries and cherry kernel ice cream was almost an upscale crumble, complete with butter biscuit crumbs, yet overall a lack of sweetness and flavour from the cherries let this pudding down.
Lyle’s is right on the money with its concept, serving the finest local and season British produce in an unfussy yet sophisticated fashion. For me the setting is a little too clinically white but saying that these kinds of spaces change completely when the sun sets and the night vampires of Shoreditch start roaming the streets. I’ll definitely be visiting again soon as the menu changes daily based on what’s available but also because upon leaving Lyle’s I spotted baked goods such as the classic Bordeaux canelé cakes and rather St John’s looking doughnuts available for order… I really missed a trick there. Oh well, guess I’ll have to stop by again on my next trip to London.
From lunch to dinner and this time it was a return to an old-time favourite from my years living in South London. Silk Road specialises in Xinjiang-style cuisine, found in the North Eastern area of China. What does this mean I hear you cry? Well as I understand the cuisine is mainly halal (due to the heavily Muslim population) although I’m not too sure how much Silk Road adhere to this considering the smatterings of pork dishes on the menu. As expected with any truly authentic Chinese cuisine there is liberal use of offal, which I happen to be a fan of, and is seems Xinjiang-style cooking also requires the heavy use of cumin and red chilies, lots and lots of red chilies. Silk Road is located just off Camberwell Green and is a simple shop-front room, brightly lit with communal tables and benches. The menu is reassuringly short when compared to others found in many Chinese restaurants across the country. Like any asian dining experience it’s best to order for the table and dine ‘family-style’. As I was eating with a group including my sister and Thai cousin we were all too accustom to these rules and began to frantically order everything and anything.
From what I can remember we picked a couple of favourite staples including the fabulous lamb shish skewers (chunks of grilled lamb and crisped lamb fat, liberally crusted with cumin and chilli), lamb and onion steamed dumplings (bouncy and oozing with a delicious liquor – I recommend taking these down in a single bite to avoid shirt staining), homestyle eggplant (chunks of tender eggplant bathed and dripping in an intense chilli oil), pork fillet stir fry (laden with various chillies and spices) and a dish simply called ‘middle plate chicken’. There’s also a ‘big plate chicken’ although I recommend steering clear of this option and you’ll see why when the enormous ‘middle plate’ is set down at the centre of the table. Contained in this bowl is a savoury chilli broth bobbing with pieces of chicken on the bone and large chunks of potato braised nicely in the liquor. An accompanying plate of wide, glutinous hand-pulled noodles swiftly follows and are unceremoniously plonked into the broth. Said noodles have a fantastic texture and I can think of no better vessel to carry the delicious broth from bowl to mouth. Warning, these noodles appear to be never-ending and I would recommend some form of cutting technique within the broth bowl before attempting to ungraciously slurp the slippery fellows down.
For our table of five the bill came to around £15 a head, including a couple of rounds of Tsingtao beers and service. Although I’ve dined at Silk Road on previous occasions for less than a tenner and had a veritable feast of a meal. In fact, for food of this standard it makes me wonder how Silk Road actually turns over a profit. Those wonderful lamb skewers are modestly priced at 80p a skewer and a plate of 10 dumplings costs a mere £3 (30p a dumpling!). Middle plate chicken is plenty enough to feed a family and will set you back just £9, oh and the beers, a bottle of Tsingtao is barely marked up above retail at £2.50. Although I’m not complaining, In fact the very opposite. Silk Road is a great little place for a cheeky midweek dinner with friends, bold flavours, modestly (dare I say cheap) priced food that will have you returning time and time again. Somewhat of a gem really from central London. Good old Silk Road and good old South London.
Lyle’s – Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High Street, London
Silk Road – 49 Camberwell Church Street, London