Tried & Tested

Restaurant check: Typing Room

26 Sep 2014 by Jenny Southan

BACKGROUND

Opened in May, on the ground floor of the Town Hall hotel in Bethnal Green, the Typing Room replaces Nuno Mendes’ Viajante restaurant, which closed in February.

It is run by youthful executive chef Lee Westcott (pictured), who previously worked at Per Se and Noma, as well as fronting two of Michelin-star chef Jason Atherton’s eateries in Hong Kong. He also headed up Tom Aikens’ 43 Elystan Street.

The Typing Room is Westcott’s first solo venture, and although he missed out on a star in the recently announced 2015 Michelin Guide for Great Britain and Northern Ireland, (click here for the winners) he is surely deserving of one.

THE RESTAURANT

Seating about 45 people across two sections, separated by a pair of arches and an old fireplace, the understated dining room has the feel of an elegant country home, with parquet flooring, fresh wild flowers in bottles on the tables, simple Scandi furniture, and walls in Farrow and Ball grey.

At the front end is an open kitchen (de rigueur these days), where the intricate plating up takes place (the bulk of the cooking and prep is done downstairs). The staff – of whom, that night, were a solely male, as my companion JLR pointed out unrestrainedly – perform their duties with smooth, choreographed movements and intense concentration. It’s fascinating to watch, providing when you can tear your eyes away from the beautiful plates in front of you.

The head sommelier is Miguel Gomez, specialising in Spanish and Italian wines, with a fondness for biodynamic and organic varieties (70-80 per cent of the labels). The restaurant represents about 110 bins (60 per cent Old World, 40 per cent New World), with most people opting for pairings with their tasting menu. Before each glass is served, Gomez, or one of the waiters, will describe the wine and provide some background on its roots, before pouring.

Personally, I liked this (food, brought over by the cooks themselves, is served in the same fashion) but it can break the flow of conversation. That said, if you are eating at the Typing Room, a degree of focus on the food and drink is a must, as so much thought has been put into it.

Our waitress, Eva, deserves a special mention for being so sweet, professional and attentive. It was also a pleasure to have the opportunity to chat with Lee in the bar after – you couldn’t meet a more humble, talented man.

THE FOOD

Firstly, the bread was amazing – two freshly baked rolls (one milk-sweet brioche, one malted brown), which were placed on a piece of slate smeared with Marmite-infused butter. I was a fan. Seriously delicious.

The menu was incredibly inventive, with every course a surprise of some kind, not only in the presentation but in the combinations of flavours and textures. Almost without fail, they worked – rarely becoming too clever, too ambitious or too weird.

The unifying concept is seasonal British with ingredients such as lovage, partridge, elderflower, sorrel, trotter and cobnut somehow embodying the fruits of rural England in a way I haven’t experienced before.

There are five- and seven-course tasting menus, with vegetarian and pescatarian versions for the more fickle among us. These are printed daily on simple sheets of paper that look as if they have been hand typed.

The meal began with a choice of four snacks: crispy fish skin, smoked cod, oyster and dill; courgette and basil profiteroles with black olive; beef tongue, apricot and dripping; and chicken skin, parfait, curry and raisin.

I went for the profiteroles, which were filled with a cool, pale green savoury cream, while JLR chose the beef tongue, which came in the form of deep-fried oblongs of tender meat in a crispy panko coating (most of which she peeled off).

The first of the seven courses began with a feminine construction of just-picked pea shoots, peas from the pod, flower petals, lemon consomme, cold basil sorbet, micro turnips and fresh crab (the vegetarian version came without the shellfish). A delight.

Next came earthy, yeasted cauliflower offset with sweet raisins, tangy capers and palette-cleansing mint leaves.

Then a thin disc of beef tartare scattered with crispy breadcrumbs, baby nasturtium leaves and tiny sprigs of sorrel.

“It was immaculate,” said JLR. “The smoked beetroot and egg yolk worked perfectly with the beef, and the hint of horseradish was nice.”

Echoing the look of the tartare, I enjoyed a colourful panzanella-inspired salad of chilled tomato, croutons, pickled radish shavings, scorched watermelon and creamy Childwickbury goat cheese.

Bjork walked in at around the point the next course was served. A distraction of sorts, but soon our attention was back on the bass, heritage tomato, courgette and squid carpaccio (the best thing about the plate, according to JLR).

The most challenging dishes came last. JLR had the lamb, which she said was “almost over-powered” by the smoky, burnt aubergine purée but “cooled down by thick, tart yoghurt” and caramelised onions. She added: “They paired nicely with the lamb but the meat, the belly, was overcooked for my taste. Every mouthful was different – you could add more smoke or more sweetness.”

Meanwhile, I was dissecting a whole roasted leek filled with rich, finely diced vegetables, delicate slices of Ratte potato, sorrel and cep mushrooms. I found the flavour of the leek a bit intense and the texture a little off, but I would give it points in terms of creativity.

Finally there were salted caramel macarons; and chunks of chocolate sponge with sorbet, lovage granite and toasted, candied hazelnuts. Top marks. The only thing required to complete the experience was a post-prandial peanut sazerac in the bar after.

PS Look out for the human hair chair upon exiting the building.

VERDICT

Bethnal Green is not an area most business people will find themselves in so you will have to venture into unknown territory (it’s a little edgy) if you want to try the Typing Room. But it’s well worth it.

The restaurant and the food has a certain intangible innocence to it – the dining room acting as blank canvas for the artistic fare that appears before you, demanding much of your attention, but not so much that you can’t drift along in a haze of wine and good company while appreciating it.

The tasting menu demands an evening of your time, and if you want to get your teeth into something hearty then this might not be the place for your – portions are (appropriately, in my opinion) modest, and as pretty as a summer meadow, picked out in wild flowers.

If Westcott can maintain consistency in his offering, the Typing Room will be deserving of serious recognition.  


FACT FILE

  • OPENING HOURS Open for lunch and dinner 12pm-2.30pm/6pm-10pm Tues-Sat (closed Sun and Mon).
  • PRICES Seven-course tasting menu £70; seven-course vegetarian tasting menu £60; five-course tasting menu £60; wine pairings £45-£55; lunch (two courses) £24 (three courses) £29
  • CONTACT Typing Room, Town Hall hotel, Patriot Square, London; tel +44 (0)20 7871 0461; typingroom.com


Jenny Southan
 

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