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Thursday, 7 August 2014

Typing Room - A Symphony of Flavours & Textures and Possibly One of the Best Tasting Menus in Town by Lee Westcott

Where: Town Hall Hotel, Patriot Square, Bethnal Green, London E2 9NF, http://www.typingroom.com

Cost: The a la carte menu consists of four snacks (£5), four starters (£5 - £15) and six mains (£19 - £26), all made with local and seasonal British produce, with a seven-course tasting menu also available at £70 per person, with a wine-pairing supplement of £50.

About: After Nuno Mendes left the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green, home to his Michelin-starred Viajante restaurant to open the hugely popular Chiltern Firehouse, the premises were taken over in May 2014 by Jason Atherton's protégé Lee Westcott.

Still in his twenties, Westcott has some very big shoes to fill, but he is proving to be just the man for the job. He has worked alongside some of the world’s most innovative chefs including the Galvin brothers, Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens (whose eponymous restaurant he headed for two years), stages at Per Se and Noma as well as helming two of Jason Atherton’s restaurants in Hong Kong.

Typing Room is located in East London’s fabulous Town Hall Hotel, built in 1910, the restaurant is named after the building’s original typing room in which all communications from the mayoral, council and judicial system were put to ink. It is an elegant restaurant, with a clean design and light, soothing colours – I like the Scandinavian style furniture, the white marbled tables, the parquet flooring and most importantly the open plan kitchen!

What We Ate: We opted for the tasting menu. I never write much about bread baskets, but Typing Room’s surely deserves a mention – this included a wonderfully fresh and aromatic brioche and a superb hot sourdough roll, with a delicately marmite-flavoured butter with crispy chicken skin. These were excellent.

From the choice of snacks, I opted for the courgette & basil profiteroles with black olive while Dr G went for the cumin lavoche (flatbread), with crab, sweetcorn & curried egg. These were also very good, and rather clever in my opinion – the idea of savoury of profiteroles and the intricate presentation and flavours put together over that flatbread were great appetisers for the meal to follow.

From the non-optional part of the tasting menu, we had what I thought was one of the best dishes of the evening - mackerel with passion fruit, burnt cucumber and radish. This dish had a wonderful combination of tantalizing flavours and textures from the crispy toasted mackerel skin, the sweetly but sharp passion fruit cream, the raw crunchy radish and fresh mackerel.

Readers of this site know that I can't resist a good steak tartare, and so I asked the restaurant to squeeze in an extra dish from the a la carte menu – again a very beautifully presented dish with myriad flavours of fresh raw beef, crunchy turnip, sorrel and smoked beetroot.

Another favourite was the yeasted cauliflower with raisins, capers and mint. I was pleased that this was one of the non-optional items on the menu, as I would have probably not ordered it. This would have been a pity as it turned out to be one of the highlights of our dinner – this was a dish of cauliflower served several ways - raw and wafer thin, deep fried until crunchy, chargrilled florets and a yeasted cauliflower puree. I never thought that the humble British cauliflower could taste so good!

This was followed by a fish course of turbot with heritage fresh red, green and sundried tomatoes, served with coiled courgette wafers and grilled squid, and a heavenly courgette and basil puree. With a scattering of samphire, an octopus carpaccio, and an intense, water-white tomato consommé this was an exquisite dish - light yet satisfying, palate stimulating and thought-provoking. It is to eat dishes like this that I go to restaurants, and it is a rare joy indeed to taste cooking of this calibre.

Our meat course was lamb with smoked aubergine, wild garlic, yoghurt and onions. The smoked aubergine was represented in a mahogany swirl around the lamb rump and belly, which were unctuous and perfectly cooked, with little green dots of a highly concentrate sauce and with the colour of parsley chlorophyll.

The pre-dessert was a palate-cleansing combination of pineapple, basil and ginger sorbets. Lastly, we were served a delicious dessert of amaretto ice cream, rich chocolate mousse, and almond crumble, which continued the menu's consistent theme of contrasting flavours and textures, being also a fitting end to our splendid meal.

What We Drank: We kicked off with a couple of cocktails (£9).  The Vesgroni is a colourless Negroni made from clarified Campari, Peg & Patriot London Dry Gin and Vermouth.  Served in an elegant 1920s-style glass with a strip of lemon, this was deeply fragrant with citrus notes with just the right amount of bitterness from the campari. The Rice Rice Baby is a blend of roasted rice ice cream liqueur, which sounded weird but tasted delicious - off dry, it really did taste of toasted rice.

There is a wide selection of wines and sparkling wines by the glass, from £5 to £15. In bottles, white wines start at £27 for a Picpoul de Pinet, and reds at £23 (for a merlot from Domain Montrose, Cotes de Thonghe). The selection is mostly from France, Italy and Spain, with some options from the New World, including unusually a Tannat from Uruguay and a white Chateau Musar from Lebanon. 

For the wine choice, we put ourselves in the capable hands of the head sommelier Miguel Gomez who personally paired all our dishes. Barcelona-born, Gomez has a long history working in some of London’s most prestigious restaurants, including Zuma, The Square and Clos Maggiore.

With the mackerel, we had a glass of English Bacchus. With a New World nose of nettles and gooseberry, this had fresh acidity and yet was just off-dry, and picked up nicely the notes in the mackerel dish. 

With the cauliflower, we had a Petit Clos 2013 Pinot Noir from the Sancerre vigneron Henri Bourgeois' estate in Marlborough, New Zealand. This was very good, with medium body and lovely redcurrant notes, with balancing savoury qualities on the finish. 

With the lamb, we had a carignan, syrah and grenache blend from Camins del Priorat, from Alvaro Palacios in northeastern Spain, 2012. This was a massive wine, intense, crimson in colour, with a chalky nose, and long minty finish.

With dessert, we had a glass of Pedro Ximenez El Maestro de la Sierra NV, from Jerez (15%). Aged in American oak casks for oxidation, this can age for 12 years. With flavours of almond, caramel and raisins.

Likes: Excellent value 7-course tasting menu with matching wines at £120 per person. Impeccable service, well informed, enthusiastic. Fantastic choice of wines, very well judged to match the food. Superb cooking skills and understanding of contrasts of flavour and texture.

Dislikes: None.

Verdict: One of the most interesting meals I have eaten in a long time, and at £70 per person for the 7-course tasting menu represents excellent value for the exceptionally high level of cooking skill. I cannot recommend Typing Room highly enough - go now before it gets the Michelin stars that will surely follow and becomes booked up and unaffordable!

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