Please note, Paradise Garage has now closed. Time Out food editors, November 2017.
How often do you remember the texture of a dish? If you’ve eaten at Paradise Garage you just might. Underneath the railway arches, down Paradise Row - home to some of the best bars and restaurants in the area - the chefs have an intuitive grasp of what makes dishes that delight the tongue.
Take a lamb’s heart. It’s an undervalued ingredient, the meat considered too tough, too full-flavoured by some; but when it’s cooked rare and cut into slivers, the firm bite of the meat makes you notice the purity of iron-rich flavour. To match such an uncompromising cut you need bold flavours. The sharp aniseed of fennel is accentuated by fermentation (think fennel kimchi). Pair this with the meat and you get a double-whammy of unusual textures and sour tastes: one of this year’s must-try small plates.
Paradise Garage also fools around with seafood. Shellfish are deep-fried so they puff up like pork scratchings and end up decorating a plate of squid-ink emulsion with dabs of contrasting white salt cod brandade; the crunch and squidge of the dish gives childish pleasures. For the Chinese, such ‘mouthfeel’ is as important as presentation, aromas or flavours; yet it’s still rare to see European chefs giving much thought to it. It’s easy to make a mess of daring experimentation, but Paradise Garage has form. It’s the latest offshoot of The Manor in Clapham, recently declared the best new restaurant of the year by Time Out. Prior to that, The Dairy – head chef Robin Gill’s first branch, also in Clapham – made people notice Gill’s creative talents. Opening branch number three in Bethnal Green has required an expansion of staff, and so Gill has wisely hired Simon Woodrow, previously at Arbutus, who is clearly firing on all burners. Gill and Woodrow’s menu combines unusual meats (such as White Park beef, from an ancient, long-horned breed) with ingredients such as pied bleu wild mushrooms pictured above.
This smart, avant-garde cooking is served up in a casual, café-like setting of mismatched plates and corrugated-iron-arched ceiling. The former garage workshop has had its sunny forecourt – once used as an MOT parking lot – turned into an outdoor dining space.
We wished the wine list came close to matching that of nearby Mission. We also wished we could have dined outside, to escape the free-jazz soundtrack (playing far too loudly) and admire the impressive street murals. But for some, it’s paradise found.