Lyle's in London - 'The juices are so good that we drink them from the bowl'
Lyle's, Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6JJ. 00 44 203 011 5911
Two weeks ago, the World's Best 50 Restaurants list for 2016 was announced. There had been some speculation that the choice of New York as the location for the big reveal might be a hint that Daniel Humm and Eleven Madison Park were in line for the nod but, in the end, the coveted No 1 slot went to Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana in Modena. Last year, Bottura came second, and before that he was third, two years running.
These days, the World's Best 50 list is as eagerly awaited and parsed over as the Michelin Guide, although both have their critics. While Michelin is viewed in some quarters as frumpy and out of touch, inexplicably failing to award stars where they are due (remember all that fuss when Mickael Viljanen of The Greenhouse didn't get a star in 2014?) and capricious in taking them away (as happened to Kevin Thornton of Thornton's last year), the 50 Best list is criticised for the lack of transparency in its voting system, the fact that judges don't have to prove that they have eaten in the restaurants that they say they have, and the worrisome fact that not one of the restaurants in the top 50 is headed up by a woman chef.
Despite this, the 50 Best list has many fans, gastro-tourists who plan their holidays and business trips around ticking off as many restaurants on the list as possible. There are currently no Irish restaurants on the list, neither in the top 50 nor the top 100. It's nigh on impossible to get a table at many of the establishments in the upper reaches of the list without booking months in advance or participating in some ridiculous application process, and when you get there the prices are likely to be so eye-watering that they may put you off your food. The restaurants ranked 51-100 tend to be more accessible, both in terms of how easy it is to get a table and how seriously they take themselves, and more reasonably priced. Lyle's in London's Shoreditch made the list for the first time this year, coming in at joint No 65, two years after it first opened.
Shoreditch is of course the epi-centre of trendy East London (I'm trying and finding it hard to avoid using the 'h' word here). And while it's unlovely in many respects (hideous buildings, ceaseless traffic etc), there are great shops and restaurants, so it's a part of London worth spending an afternoon in, just mooching around. The head chef at Lyle's is James Lowe, who used to run the kitchen at St John Bread & Wine for Fergus Henderson, and there are similarities between the rooms in both establishments. At Lyle's, the mainly white interior is pared back without being sterile, with an open kitchen in which the chefs are working calmly, with time for a bit of banter as they chop and pick.
On a Wednesday lunchtime, the restaurant is busy without being full and the other customers are a stylish bunch, with plenty of topiaried facial hair. The staff are friendly rather than snooty; charging a phone behind the bar isn't a problem.
The daytime menu offers a selection of eight small plates and two larger ones, plus three desserts and cheese. In the evening there's a set, no-choice menu with a vegetarian version available. The dishes are described in that terse way with which we are all familiar now - a list of the principal ingredients without any explanation as to how they are prepared.
Mussels & Seabeet is our favourite, the molluscs cooked first on the char-grill before being doused in smoked butter and combined with the succulent green leaves. The juices are so good that we drink them from the bowl. Smoked Eel, Beetroot & Horseradish is another gem, with ample mopping liquid for the tangy sourdough bread, while Asparagus, Lardo & Walnuts is a happy combination of still-firm stalks of asparagus draped with almost-melting fine slivers of cured piggy back-fat set off by the piquancy of pickled walnuts. Peas, Broadbeans & Ticklemore is a joyous bowl of freshly podded early summer crammed with mint and covered with shavings of the semi-hard goat's cheese from Devon. Our choice of large plate is Dexter Flank, Treviso & Anchovy, the anchovy emulsion squeezed between the leaves of the charred treviso to delicious effect, the sliced steak full of flavour. Caramel ice-cream with espresso meringue is simple and lovely, as are the Neal's Yard cheeses - a creamy Colston Bassett stilton, and Cardo, a semi-soft unpasteurised goat's cheese from Somerset. With a bottle of German spatburgunder and coffees, our bill comes to just over £130 (€168), including service. It's advisable to book, but there was room for walk-ins.
ON A BUDGET
You could, as the young man on the adjacent table opted to do, order a single small plate and drink tap water. Salad leaves with Berkswell cheese is £7.30 (€9.50), but it would be a pity not to try a few more dishes.
ON A BLOW OUT
Lyle’s serves a set menu in the evenings, priced at £44 (€57) for four courses. This changes each day, and cheese from Neal’s Yard is an additional £9.50 (€12) as, of course, is wine.
THE HIGH POINT
Vibrant dishes that sang of early summer.
THE LOW POINT
Shoreditch isn’t on the tube, so it’s taxi, bus or overground train.
8/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
Chef Gareth Smith’s rustic-Italian-with- a-twist food impressed at Michael’s in Mount Merrion earlier this year, so I’m looking forward to trying out his take on gastro-pub fare at the newly re-opened Clonskeagh House, which has had a smart refurbishment. All the usual pub grub staples are on the menu, and the menu will expand over the coming months. Granny’s Sunday Dinners are going to be a regular feature, and there will be hog-roasts outside in the garden over the summer months. clonskeaghhouse.ie