Great formula: sweet staff who know their food, relaxed setting, a leisurely pace at dinner, and brilliant food from one of the most talented cooks in town.
‘Wham-bam, thank you m’am’ – the new normal for London’s restaurants. Book ahead? You’re having a laugh. Queue? Of course. Meals come and go at breakneck speed, and before you can even settle into your faux-distressed school chair, the bill appears and you’re out on your ear, wondering if it was all just a dream. If that’s the kind of fast and furious that floats your boat, then you should probably give Lyle’s a swerve. Dinner here is a long, leisurely affair. You can book (they even have a telephone!) and stay as long as you like, as there’s no turning tables. The pricing is fair: the no-choice menu costs £39, which gets you seven small courses (plus bread, petits fours and filtered tap water), served in a drawn-out procession. The whole thing, from start to finish, takes a languorous two and a half hours or so.
The chef is James Lowe, formerly one of the much-fêted ‘Young Turks Collective’ and still one of the most talented cooks in town. We were impressed by a terrific cube of blood ‘cake’ (baked pig’s head, blood, and semolina); mellow braised baby onions; and a hunk of fatty-edged mutton with an intense anchovy cream. Baked washed-rind British sheep’s cheese was lick-the-plate-clean moreish; as was a poached, slightly-tart rhubarb with a rich crème anglaise custard).
In short, almost everything we ate was notably good. Only the bitter notes of charred dover sole in a somewhat over-seasoned broth disappointed. But the sweet staff knew their food; and the semi-industrial setting (polished concrete floors, exposed girders, whitewashed brick walls) made for a relaxed setting.
If you’re incurably impatient, then perhaps a lunchtime visit, where you can order à la carte and eat at your own pace, would be more your thing. Though to rush cooking like this would be to miss the point. Just make sure you don’t have a dull dinner companion, or this could feel like the longest meal ever.