Rebecca Seal is a food and drink journalist and presenter on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. Her latest book, The Islands of Greece, is out now. (£25, Hardie Grant)
Rana Darbyshire lives in London and works in local government. She loves Italian food and considers Gauthier Soho as her best eating-out experience.
Situated in London Fields’ fashionable Netil House, Ellory is the new venture from chef Matthew Young (previously of now-defunct Mayfields restaurant a few streets away) and sommelier Jack Lewens, who has enjoyed stints at both The River Café and Skye Gyngell’s Spring.
The room itself is aggresively neutral, with a polished concrete floor and simple wooden tables. It’s also entirely fuss-free – even the bar area is neat and tidy – and diners can see the pristine open-kitchen from where they sit. Food is affordable (the set dinner menu is £38 for five courses) and clean; light, colourful plates are the thing here, with fresh seafood and meat taking centre stage. There’s also a rare collection of Old World natural wines on offer, studiously chosen by Jack.
Our pro says…
Eating at Ellory left me with the odd impression that the staff consider the food more important than the diners. Although the handsome men in charge were attentive and polite, they were utterly reverential about what was coming out of the kitchen, and that made them appear aloof.
Our waiter had tasted everything on the menu as well as most of the wines; he also gave good advice about how many sharing dishes to order (five between two). *I might have been recognised – two complimentary glasses of excellent Piedmont moscato magically appeared after dessert, along with an apology for ‘ignoring us all night’, which we hadn’t felt.
Ellory opened late last year in an extremely trendy corner of Hackney, and the influence of Matthew Young and Jack Lewens’ pasts – at restaurants where food and drink was or is taken very seriously – is clear.
We were given both à la carte and set menus; here even the menu design is pared-back and restrained. Dishes are described with a simple ingredients list and are indeed un-fussy on the plate: lamb tartare with carrot and mustard cream is a neat pile of raw, tender lamb with a single roasted carrot and a little puddle of tangy sauce on a wide plate; mackerel and avocado are hidden under discs of almost-translucent kohlrabi, somewhat overwhelmed by citrus and vinegar.
We chose two fish mains: brill with grapefruit butter and January king cabbage; and lemon sole with citrus butter and liquorice. Of the two, the brill was more successful, reminding me of classic, butter-heavy French fish cookery, cleverly updated. At first bite, the sole dish worked well, but the fish’s flavour was slowly obliterated as the taste of liquorice built up.
Desserts were better – jerusalem artichoke ice cream doesn’t sound like a good idea but it is: light, nutty, earthy and sweet. Mousse-like ricotta ice cream with cooked rhubarb and nuggets of crumbly, dark rye shortbread is a perfect mixture of tartness and creaminess.
Our punter says…
Service was friendly and helpful, if a little careless at times. For example, having informed our waitress that we don’t drink alcohol, she shrugged and walked away without asking if we would like anything else to drink. That said, staff were extremely obliging in all other cases. The wait between courses was about 20 minutes, which wasn’t the end of the world, but there’s a temptation to keep asking for bread.
Food here is not simple and, despite eating out two or three times a week, there were items on the menu I had never heard of. It could be argued that in its efforts to be avant-garde, Ellory can overlook the basics – nothing came with black pepper and, upon us asking, our poor waiter had to scramble around the whole restaurant to find some.
However, almost every course we had was sublime. Beautiful, satin-smooth slivers of raw scallop were given a crunch by the addition of hazelnuts; and a potato velouté with smoked eel and ginger sabayon was warm, earthy and creamy, with melting chunks of lightly smoked eel. My brill with grapefruit butter came succulent, meaty and perfectly seasoned, and it worked well with the ever-so-slightly bitter leaves of January king (cabbage).
The standout dish was Blackface lamb in a mouth-watering anchovy jus with puntarelle and caramelised onion. The lamb was seared on the outside, pink and juicy in the middle and meltingly soft. The crunchy, sweetly caramelised onion went with it perfectly.
A cheese course was the one let-down of the meal: a nice-enough goat’s cheese went well with a honeycomb sauce, but was nothing exceptional, and the second option, Durrus – a hard, unpasteurised cheese, was underwhelming. But sweet chunks of beautifully cooked rhubarb served with ginger ice cream, vanilla crème pâtissière and a crunchy, crumbly, sugary piece of rye shortbread was perfect.
The bottom line
The food isn’t all perfect, but when they get it right (jerusalem artichoke ice cream, lamb tartare) it’s genuinely exciting. Rebecca’s total for two: £115.31, including service
Vibe 6/10; Food 7/10; Service 7/10; Total 20/30
I wasn’t disappointed. There are some minor niggles, but these could easily be fixed. On the whole, I loved my meal and can’t wait to go back. Rana’s total for two: £103.50, including service
Vibe 9.5/10; Food 9.5/10; Service 9/10; Total 28/30
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