A cosy neighbourhood restaurant serving a no-choice menu
Like your plates small and your options smaller? Then you’ll love Nest. This charming Hackney spot serves a seven-dish, no-choice menu. If a plate needs meat, it’ll be taken from a single type, which changes every six weeks or so (unless, that is, you go veggie, in which case you’ll get a different menu anyway). On the night of my visit, the mammal du jour was deer. Specifically, in-season axis deer, which was on the receiving end of as many outfit changes as a Hollywood actress at the Oscars. One minute, the venison was the fleshy seam of a golden potato cake; the next, the shimmering centrepiece of an exceptional wellington. Then, the minced backbone to a juicy, moreish rissole fashioned around a knobbly twig. That’s right: a sausage on a stick. ‘Some people try to eat the stick’, one of the owners later revealed, his eyes crinkling at the sides.
But there’s more to the menu than meat. There was a dense, micro-sized English muffin piled with piquant, chopped-up devilled egg. An elegant plate of blow-torched mackerel flanked by pale, zesty veg (puréed, pickled). A thick, still-warm slice of malty soda bread with a pat of silky, salty, straw-coloured butter.
My favourite course was simply called ‘potato, onion and barley’, like something you’d find hanging in a gallery. It came served in a bowl, with a deep broth, but it wasn’t a soup. It was more of an elegant take on mash with onions and gravy, with many textures, many layers. At its base, a stratum of confit onions, unctuous and syrupy. Above this, a gentle mound of smooth mash, enriched with hay-smoked butter and sprinkled with crunchy kernels of roasted barley. On top, a fat, imposing onion, softly sautéed, with a blackened surface, like it had been plucked from a coal face. The moat around this tower? Filled with a deep, dark, broth of barley and onion.
One of the reasons I can’t forget that dish was because it said so much about the skill of the chef, co-owner Johnnie Crowe (ex Anglo, ex Harwood Arms). It was in some respects a simple creation, rooted in the rustic food of peasants, yet also playful and inventive and scrupulously constructed. Oh, and did I mention? Absolutely bloody delicious.
I had just two niggles: dessert, an interpretation of ‘bread and butter pudding’, which had so much potential to be interesting (soda bread ice cream and so on) but was begging for something sharp or salty to cut through its cloying, heavy mess. And that wellington, though joyous (they put a pear inside!) also came with a £4 per head supplement, something they failed to mention when recommending this ‘alternative’ main.
But still, Nest is lovely. The look isn’t especially original (think Hackney by way of Paris: all blackboard menus, bistro furniture and lone man polishing glasses at the counter). But they play ska and Latin funk, plus they turn the lights down low. And the owners – you’ll get one of the three, even on a Saturday night – practically fizz with enthusiasm. There’s also tweeting in the loo (the dawn chorus, not the 280-character sort) and smiley faces on the handwritten receipts.
Nest is currently only open from Wednesday to Saturday, but that’s fine, because the nature of the menu means that it’ll never be a drop-in-on-a-whim kind of a place (for that, try nearby Legs, also excellent). This is a place that requires a little planning, a little commitment. So do. Commit.
177 Morning Lane
|Price:||Dinner for two with drinks and service: around £105.|
|Do you own this business?|