I have heard some excellent reports on Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room (WGDR) lately, and when I learnt that it had joined TasteLondon, Dr G and I decided to pay it a visit.
The restaurant area is surprisingly small and intimate and sits a maximum of 40 diners. Light and airy, the long vertical mirrors on its walls help to create the illusion of a more spacious dining room.
I like the nearly minimalist, understated but elegant décor reminiscent of a 1950’s Scandinavian home, with its beautiful chairs, parquet flooring and light coloured wood throughout.
Head-Chef Maria Elia, daughter of a West London restaurateur, spent a summer working at El Bulli before her ten year stint at Delfina on London’s Southbank. She joined WGDR following the gallery’s multi-million refurbishment in 2009.
Renowned for her vegetarian credentials (she recently published a book called “The Modern Vegetarian”), Maria Elia is a creative chef who makes the most of seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, and her reassuringly short menu at WGDR, reflects these qualities.
On our visit, Dr G ordered the “Clementine and jupiter marinated quail, bitter leaf and char-grilled radicchio salad” @ £7.50 as a starter. This was an excellent choice – the meat was sweet and tender, with a deliciously citric hint from the clementines, contrasting well with the bitter leaf and radicchio salad.
My choice of “Pan-fried scallops, white bean puree, wild mushrooms” @ £8.25 was also good. The white bean puree and wild mushrooms were a nice addition, but despite being very fresh and meaty, the scallops were slightly over-salted.
I’d hoped my starter had been a one-off, but we soon overheard from the table next to ours about their “nice but a bit salty” scallops.
For main course, I had the “Pot roasted rabbit, confit rabbit baklava, swiss chard, lemon dressing, parsnip skordalia” @ £17.75. This was a beautifully presented dish with some interesting gamey flavours balanced by the zesty lemon dressing, but at nearly £18, we felt the portion was slightly ungenerous for such an economical meat.
Dr G’s “Pan-fried duck breast, creamed lentils, January kings, roasted quince” @ £18.75 was a lovely choice. The duck was cooked to perfection and combined well with the roasted quince. I wasn’t entirely convinced about the texture of creamed lentils, but the flavours were good and, unlike my rabbit, there was plenty of it.
As a side dish, we had “Truffled parsnips and winter leaves” @ £3.75. We were both impressed by the combination of caramelized parsnips and truffle oil - it was a delicious accompaniment to our main courses.
Dr G’s dessert “Rosemary and blood orange crème caramel, citrus salad” @ £5.75 was sensational. A light and delicious dessert with some complex flavours at play.
The “Hot chocolate pudding, cha tea mousse, chocolate dirt” @ £5.75 was also good and rich, with a molten chocolate core.
The wine list, although short, represented the old and new worlds well, with bottles ranging from £13.75 to £64 (most bottles were priced between £16.50 and £30). We ordered a bottle of “Marche Sangiovese 2008” @ £16.50 which was light, fruit driven with a nice balancing acidity, and did not break the bank.
Cost: the total bill was £98 including 12.5% service. We paid £64 after the 50% TasteLondon discount on the food was applied to the bill.
Likes: Elegant and intimate dining room, very friendly service, seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, and some impressive cooking. We were also impressed by how reasonably priced their large bottle of sparkling water was @ £1.
Dislikes: Over-salted scallops, slightly over-priced a la carte, although lunch set menus are excellent value @ £18 (2 courses) or £23 (3 courses) from Tuesday to Sunday.
Verdict: Creative cooking and some very interesting dishes made from local ingredients, served by friendly, efficient staff in an attractive setting. Chef Maria Elia is a good proponent of modern British cooking. Not bad value after the discount.