Elystan Street, London: restaurant review
Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a critic, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Laura Rowe and olive reader Colin Jaycocks review Elystan Street, London
Our editor Laura Rowe has reviewed restaurants for the best part of a decade. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @lauraroweeats
Colin Jaycocks is a teacher from Hemel Hempstead. His most memorable eating out experience was at The Boat House in Instow, north Devon, and he loves chilli con carne.
Elystan Street is the latest venture from restaurateur Rebecca Mascarenhas and chef Phil Howard, who sold his restaurant, The Square in Mayfair, in March this year. Open all day, it serves “delicious, clean, ingredient-led dishes, full of natural vitality,” according to Phil, in an elegant space designed by Clare Nelson. It’s a 64-seat dining room with near floor-to-ceiling windows lining two walls, blue and soft salmon coloured chairs, and teal leather banquettes.
The food is modern British, with dishes typically including smoked mackerel velouté with Porthilly oysters, leek hearts and eel toast; fillet of cod with lightly curried cauliflower purée, golden raisins, coriander and lime; and roasted figs with goat’s milk ice cream, lemon and thyme fritters and olive oil. There’s also a dedicated lunch menu (£42.50 for three courses) and a Sunday lunch menu that includes a house cocktail (£50 for three courses). elystanstreet.com
Our pro says...
Penned as Phil Howard’s ‘accessible’ new venue, Elystan Street (on the same site as Tom Aikens eponymous restaurant, in an exclusive corner of Chelsea) is what you might think of as the foodie’s version of ‘smasual’. *Having been twice in as many weeks, I wasn’t recognised as either professional or punter.
Tablecloths have been chucked out, the waiting staff’s collars have been unbuttoned, polished shoes have been swapped for Stan Smiths, and instead of “sir” or “madam” it’s “hey guys”. It jars. The décor and food might have been pared-down since Phil’s Square days but the prices are not for the regular Joe – at my last check one starter was listed at a tear-inducing £45. You can kick-back – hey, even wear jeans – but just make sure you remortgage your house before ordering a full three courses.
You can get such for 50 quid at Sunday lunch, though, so we did – kicking off with a properly pokey bloody mary. Langoustine bisque was rich and rounded, so good, in fact, that I scalded the roof of mouth in my impatience. Its plate-fellow of soft, buttery potted shrimp on toast was perfectly seasoned, too. Beetroot-cured halibut was more (Jackson) Pollock with its crème fraîché and horseradish, herb oil and pickled cucumber. “Explosive flavours” said my second opinion.
Service feels disorganised and at times cold, although swift, so it wasn’t long before a main of parmesan gnocchi arrived. Pillowy dumplings, ceps (whole and puréed) and truffle were mighty in umami and danced with burnt (in a good way) onion shells and iron-rich cavolo nero. Fillet of John Dory was less successful (the next table sent theirs back). While well cooked, with a soft poached egg and wet mustardy colcannon, it was one-dimensional.
Burnt lemon cream with shortbread was nearly as sublime as the lemon tart on my last visit (that really is a must-order), while chocolate brownie sundae was as playful but sophisticated as the young diners sitting near me with their parents for their highfalutin Sunday lunch.
The bottom line
People are eating differently now to 25 years ago, but as ‘accessible’ as Phil is trying to be here, there’s still a trufflely whiff of the old school. If you can afford it, go, just to experience Phil’s food, but brace yourself for the bill.
Total for two, excluding service: £138
Our punter says...
We dined at Elystan Street for lunch, and the warm greeting was indicative of the service throughout – friendly and effective. But no need to trouble the sommelier; steep wine prices did not encourage experimentation, so a well-priced IPA and a refreshingly inexpensive cranberry juice had to do.
A light and frothy langoustine bisque with a delicious potted shrimp toast started proceedings in exactly the right way. The shrimps were warm, plentiful and comforting. However, a crab and avocado salad with radish and spring onion was let down by overly salty crab.
The sauce accompanying the confit duck with ruby chard, roscoff onions and trompettes main was a little too salty for us, but the duck itself had beautifully crunchy skin with a pink middle. Absolutely bursting with flavour, and nicely accompanied by a Loire red – the cheapest glass available at £9.50. The roscoff onion echoed the duck, with browned top and perfectly soft centre. Smoked haddock, soft poached egg, colcannon and grain mustard was also a success; the haddock was just opaque in the centre, and the egg oozed delight.
So to the finale: a crisply acidic burnt lemon cream topped with delicate caramelised sugar, which added a subtle crunch. It came with shortbread to balance the acidity – an accomplished dessert. Our favourite, however, was the decadent chocolate brownie sundae. A sublime end to our meal, with its richness, velvety chocolate sauce and moist, gooey sponge.
The bottom line
By 3.30pm lunch service had come to an end and the atmosphere – pleasant and buzzy – was just starting to flag. However, fewer people meant the room could be admired: we loved the clever use of mirrors, which made an already large, airy room seem higher, wider and bright, even on a drab day. But as good as the food was, I probably won’t be returning – simply because it didn’t justify the asking price.
Total for two, excluding service: £119.25