Ellory, London Fields / South Hackney
17th October 2016
Approx £80 a head, including a £50 bottle of wine
Last December, Ellory opened up in Netil House, a grey block encasing trendy office spaces marketed as studios. On Saturdays, extra traders rock up to hawk vintage cameras, ceramics, terrariums and naughty greeting cards at the market. It seems like the kind of place that would also sell decorative wooden spatulas. I recently bought tickets to an art fair and received an invitation to a wooden spatula-making workshop with my confirmation email.
"I don't understand this new-fangled idea of fun" I grumbled to a recent dinner date. What am I supposed to do with wooden spatulas once we've carved them?"
"I can think of a few things." he replied slyly.
I think I'll give Netil Market a miss.
Meanwhile at the Ellory, there's generosity of frontage, plenty of natural light inside and a reduction ethos in play. Restauranteurs love reductions. A reduction of sauce on the plate, a reduction of flooring to expose the original poured concrete floors, and a reduction of decoration right back to bare walls. Even the lighting is reductive - exposed, frosted bulbs providing even light without distraction.
Some restaurants flirt with the borders between looking like they are on a budget and actually being on a budget (cough, Gunpowder), for others it's a clear stylistic choice. This is the latter. For the last two years, design-led meant glowy filaments, recreation wood-panelled ceilings, and chipped paint over exposed brick. There were photo opportunities next to the golden pineapple and vintage telephone. We refocus on the people we are with when there is nothing hanging off the ceilings to distract us. Stripping back puts the onus on the diner to create the atmosphere, and it's certainly not lacking here. Ellory is teeming with conversations, buzzy and cool. Tables are close together. It's a great place to eavesdrop if you're so inclined.
Food is pared back to match, presentation almost insultingly minimal. Lipped plates are a confident nod at design. I was excited to see what was on them as Ellory now sports a shiny new Michelin star.
For snacks, we had tarmasalata and crisps, and sparking wine from Vouvray. The server brought along a suggestion in the form of a bottle of Tabasco to garnish it. It harkened back to the 90s, when hummus and tarmasalata were entertaining staples, readily available at Tesco, along with toasted, then-trendy pitta bread. The pitta would almost evaporate off the coffee table at the party, meaning you'd have to eat the leftovers with pringles the next day in front of Cilla Black. The crisps were totally 90s too, a bit oily and depressing. I saw this as opportunity to celebrate that somehow, despite modern monstrosities like Donald Trump and Ebola, some form of progress has taken place.
They chose to highlight the bitter, rabe-like flavour of broccoli with curry powder, served a little ricotta-like cheese on the side, and did very little else. I started to wonder if they were going to be severe with us all evening. It felt like they were sticking their noses in the air.
A hearty cut of octopus, draped in lardo gauze, surrounded by green and red tomato, eighths and minced chives. No chargrilling for once. Did a reductive attitude to kitchen equipment foreclose a blowtorch? No. Let me paint a picture for you. Sweet tomatoes created a joyful chorus for two star ingredients, flavours perfectly harmonized, and I was utterly besotted with them. It's one hell of a flavour combination, an evolutionary universe away from chorizo plus octopus.
Prepare yourself, we're coming to the best dish. A damn of chestnut mushrooms, girolles and toasted buckwheat stemming the flow from a small pond of some seriously delicious egg concoction, creamy almost cheesy. Not exactly a fancy plating, but deliberate. I doused my salvaged sourdough in the egg sauce. "Scarpetta" murmured my companion.
Scarpetta was the crescendo. Our chicken arrived, was eaten and they took the plate away. That's all I can say about it, it was totally forgettable. It was at this point that I regretted finishing all the wine so quickly. We had a stellar Syrah, recommended by the owner, from Northern Rhone. The wine list is solemnly researched and curated.
There was a plaice-like texture to the dover sole, which was flanked by bitter chard, turnip and spinach, all rather healthy and pro liver. I felt grateful as we'd now ordered a glass of rose to book-end the bottle of wine and glass of sparking wine.
A little wave of joy in the form of Comte saw us through to the end of dinner, full of pleasurable little crystals. It was perfect with the rose, the darkest pink wine I've ever seen.
All in all, a mixed meal. But I'm glad I mixed it up by coming out to South Hackney. It does feel like a more cutting edge than most of what opens in central London, and it was literally half the price. I'd come back for a glass of wine, possibly not for a full meal.