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The fine-dining restaurant at Bethnal Green’s Town Hall Hotel.
If you’ve got a nagging feeling that the address looks familiar, here’s why: it’s the same room that, since the 2010 conversion of Bethnal Green’s beautiful old town hall into a fashionable hotel, has been home first to Viajante (head chef: Nuno Mendes) then later Typing Room (head chef: Lee Westcott, a protege of Jason Atherton’s). And now it’s the turn of dream team Paulo Airaudo (the chef/owner of San Sebastian’s Michelin-starred Amelia) and his able sidekick Rafael Cagali (who trained under the likes of Simon Rogan and Heston Blumenthal).
Once again, it’s a compelling mix of informal elegance, courtesy of the tasteful dining room, alongside exceptional cooking from the small, nowhere-to-hide open kitchen. In a bold – some might say reckless – move, there’s no menu online, not even a sample, just some vague chat about serving ‘Latin American-inspired dishes with an Italian heart’. But don’t go expecting tacos or pasta. In fact, this is fine-dining of the classical school, the kind that Michelin inspectors love. Its ‘Latin’ accent is a whisper: Mexican herbs, say. It’s also a ‘tasting menu only’ affair, though with a ‘short’ option that costs less time and (slightly) less money.
But while this is precise, unimpeachable food, that’s not why you’ll remember it. It’s special because it’s playful. A stunning dish of scallop, with apple marigold ‘snow’ and a poured-at-the-table smoked fennel sauce, was not only served in the shell, gently resting on a bed of black seaweed (so far, so typically chi-chi), but with a Lego ‘diver’ perched at its edge, seemingly ready to launch right in. On the other side lay a small Lego shark (watch out, tiny diver guy!). Petits fours included doll-sized wedges of bay-leaf-and-lemon tartlets, plus caipirinha-infused jelly cubes.
Then there was the bread course, which came not only with one of the best crusty loaves I’ve ever eaten, but sunshine-yellow home-churned butter, shaped into Lego bricks and mini-figures. ‘We missed out on our childhood,’ joked one of the kitchen team as she brought it over. And that’s the other thing. Aside from the odd appearance by the host or sommelier, most of the food is delivered by the kitchen team, who are a delightful bunch. It feels more like an ultra-gourmet supper club than a hotel dining room.
In fact, it’s testament to the warmth of the staff, their choice of music (laidback Motown and such) and ability to set both lighting and sound at ‘just right’, that the room still had ambience, in spite of us being the only diners. But they desperately need to put more detail on their website: not just sample dishes, but the fact that you can do things like order wine by the glass. But if you’ve got a special occasion, or better yet, a fat expense account, it’s worth a leap of faith.
8 Patriot Square
|Transport:||Tube: Bethnal Green|
|Price:||Dinner for two with drinks and service: around £200.|
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