Does a regular diner reach the same conclusion about a restaurant as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Laura Rowe and olive reader Rosie McArthur compare notes on this new fish restaurant in Hackney Wick
Looking for best restaurants in Hackney? Or want new restaurants in Hackney? Check out our expert restaurant review of chef Tom Brown’s restaurant, Cornerstone in Hackney, London.
The pro restaurant reviewer
Our editor Laura Rowe has reviewed restaurants for more than a decade. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @lauraroweeats.
The punter restaurant reviewer
London-based Rosie McArthur loves Asian-inspired dishes. She eats out three to four times a month, and her best dining experience was at My Neighbours the Dumplings in Clapton. Her guilty pleasure is peking duck pancakes with an endless supply of hoisin sauce.
About Cornerstone, London
Cornerstone – named after chef/owner Tom Brown’s favourite Arctic Monkeys track – opened in April in trendy Hackney Wick, in east London. Just minutes from the Overground, the restaurant is the first from Cornish Tom, who has worked for Rick Stein and most notably Nathan Outlaw (check out Nathan’s guide to cooking fish here). After making a name for himself in his home county, he worked as head chef of Outlaw’s eponymous restaurant at The Capital Hotel in Knightsbridge, which was awarded a Michelin star after only one year of opening.
Aside from its similar penchant for fresh fish, though, Cornerstone is a far cry from Tom’s previous. Here a menu of plates designed for sharing are affordably priced between £5-15 (£45 for the chef’s choice of eight). You can eat at the bar, which wraps itself around the open kitchen in the middle of the restaurant, sat across from the chefs or at one of the minimalist tables. And there’s a short, international and mostly low-intervention wine list, with lots available by the glass, some stellar home-infused cocktails, and a bespoke Cornish house gin, too.
I could make a tenuous link about the site of Tom Brown’s debut restaurant (it’s part of the new Fish Island expansion – it’s a fish restaurant, go figure) but what really matters here is that this talented young chef has found his home. There are succulents and wicker chairs galore, and a clattering of shellfish in pans competes with a soundtrack of Arctic Monkeys (pre-2013, thankfully) and The Smiths. It could feel cold but there’s a buzz and a warmth from the open kitchen.
We start at the bar with a mezcal number, pepped up with kaffir lime and pink peppercorn tonic. *I’m recognised and given another drink.
The menu changes every lunch and dinner, and asterisks are placed by Tom’s favourites. We take chef’s lead, after sourdough toast with dripping butter. It arrives ready buttered, bouncy soft. Butter pools in its crevices, but there’s an extra puck on the side should we want more. We do.
Next comes a pickled oyster – its soft, milky flesh matched beautifully with a fiery horseradish cream. Then cured slivers of monkfish wow with pimples of curried, sharp lime pickle purée and thick coconut yogurt, and shards of caramelised garlic. Mackerel pâté is made with fresh rather than smoked, and all the better for it. A scotch egg reveals just-cooked Secret Smokehouse smoked salmon from down the road, and a jammy yolk.
A much Instagrammed potted shrimp crumpet is heavy with butter – crunchy, yet yielding, the shrimps sweet but with a proper wince of heat from mace and cayenne. It’s a dream.
They keep coming and they keep getting better. Our glass of 2017 Vermentuzzo from Umbria (funky but with a wash of honey) goes best, though, with the roasted hake. Crisp skin, confidently seasoned, with a properly piquant Café de Paris hollandaise.
A dessert of pistachio cake, fresh raspberry jam and vanilla cream is without fault but we’re still wishing we could order another portion of the bream with seemingly the sticky bits of a roasted chicken pan and a lick of forest garden (via wild garlic, leeks and spring onion greens) – it’s that good.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Tom Brown is a master of fish who has come of age and grown in confidence at Cornerstone. He’s walked out of the shadow of his esteemed former boss, and made fish cookery seriously sexy again.
Total for two, excluding service: £130.50
Our punter’s Cornerstone, London restaurant review…
We entered Cornerstone with a combination of hope and trepidation. Hackney Wick is a hub for bustling summer canalside drinks but not one for high-end restaurants. The décor is modern, sleek and well thought out, with stylish lighting and beautiful crockery.
We were greeted immediately by two friendly members of staff who quickly offered us a drink, recommending the Cornish-brewed Atlantic IPA, along with a glass of refreshing, light rosé wine (check out our expert guide to rosé wine here). Our waiter took us through the menu with the option of either a tasting menu (at £45 a head) or a separate à la carte option. We opted for the former.
To begin, raw Orkney scallops came with a minty salsa verde and crunchy roasted hazelnuts – the dish was fresh and every flavour bounced off the other. We were just finishing up when the next plate of skilfully plated food was placed in front of us: cured monkfish with roasted garlic, coconut yogurt and zesty lime pickle purée. The strength of the lime pickle was intense but toned down when combined with the freshness of the fish and the light flavours of the yogurt. Our only disappointment was that our plate was empty very quickly. Luckily for us by the time we were finishing off the last of the lime pickle the next dish had arrived.
There is a tendency with the small-dish trend to come away feeling unsatisfied. Cornerstone, however, ensures portions are ample. After six dishes, we were presented with the finale of the night: a pistachio financier (sponge cake), fresh vanilla cream, sweet raspberries and a thick raspberry jam. The sweet, sharp, nutty flavours paired together beautifully.
The only drawback was towards the end of the meal. Our diligent waiter was replaced by several others who came and went without really knowing what we’d had and what we still needed, before overcharging us. All teething problems I’m sure will be ironed out. As we grabbed our coats to go, head chef Tom approached to shake our hands and ask whether everything was okay with our meal – a very nice personal touch.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you enjoy well-thought-out flavour combinations and exquisite food presentation then Cornerstone is well worth a try.