Saturday 14 July 2012

Upstairs at the Ten Bells: Simply Brilliant

Made up of James Low, Isaac Mchale and Ben Greeno, the Young Turks were formed way back in 2010.  These three, along with the Clove Club (a private dining club based in Dalston), have been nomads for some time now, wandering around the Capital, popping up in strange places (atop a ten story car park in Peckham!) to cook delectable treats.  And so, when they set up in the space above the Ten Bells pub (of Jack the Ripper fame) between November last year and April this year, it looked like it was going to be the usual fleeting visit.  But at last they seem to have found their home, no longer are they twisting, this time they seem to have found somewhere in which they are happy to stick: a permanent place,  Upstairs at the Ten Bells.

There is no longer a tasting menu, but the addition of a "snack" option at the start and cheese at the end made it into a five course banquet when we went.

The snacks are intriguing, challenging, delicious.  Homemade chipsticks (so retro!) with smoked cods roe, buttermilk chicken with pine salt, served in pine needles - the best chicken nuggets you've ever had, but the pine was unpronounced - and single segments of white onion with a dollop of aubergine and walnuts on top.  We shared the three between five, loved them all.

Homemade chipsticks with smoked cod's roe

Buttermilk chicken with pine salt

White onion, aubergine and walnuts
Next I had the poached egg, fonduta (an Italian fondue made with fontina cheese, milk egg and truffles) and gherkin. The fonduta was rich and creamy, working well with the yolk of the egg, could have done with a bit more crunch though, despite the addition of almost raw cauliflower.  Other starters included tomato salad (three types) with shiso and iced goats milk.  The sweetness of the tomato worked well with the chilly goats' milk, the shiso provided the punch.  The smoked mackerel, pickled melon and green olives was intriguing, the Fashionista loved it - pickled melon was a new one on me.  However, my favourite dish was the courgette soup with razor clams and Indian spice.  The soup, which came chilled, was poured around a tower of fried razor clam:, crispy, hot, smooth, cold, excellent.

Poached egg, fonduta and gherkin
Chilled Courgette Soup with Razor Clams and Indian Spice

Mackerel with picked melon and green olives

Tomato Salad with Iced Goat's Milk
For main I had a saddle of lamb with spinach puree which was spiked with small dots of in-your-face anchovy puree! On top was balanced a light potato rosti, with more air than potato.  Masterful cooking, one of my favourites of the year, sadly no pic.  Also very good was the smoked pork belly with radishes and oat groats (a favourite ingredient of the Turks).  Less impressive was the plaice, mushrooms, elderflower and wild fennel.  Excellently cooked, but I felt it lacked substance and paled alongside the other options. There was severe food jealousy from that end of the table.

Pork Belly with Raddish

Plaice with mushrooms, elderflower and wild fennel
One dessert was strawberry tart with white chocolate and elderflower ice cream.  Accomplished?  Certainly. But blown away by the alternative of blueberry mousse, tarragon sponge and milk crisps.  Light mousse (made with creme fraiche rather than cream), aniseedy sponge that would probably have taken off if you hadnt already eaten it and the most incredible biscuity milk things (I am sad to say I have no idea how these were made).  Perfect is a strong word.  I am reticent to use it.  This was perfect.

Blueberry mousse, tarragon sponge and milk crisps
We finished with a good selection of French cheese (from Androuet in Spittalfields - owned by Alex, an affable Frenchman who trained under the great Mr Androuet in Paris and who now trades under his name in London) and some incredible wine recommended by our chirpy waiter.  Sadly by that point we had had rather too much and the name escapes me.  Needless to say it tasted like a very dry scrumpy, but was definitely red wine: a good match for cheese.
Get yourself a reservation at Upstairs at the Ten Bells before the queue snakes around the block.  The atmosphere is welcoming, unstuffy, the food of the highest order and cheap at half the price.  Five courses with three and a half bottles of wine and a cocktail for around fifty quid each.  You will struggle to eat better in London.

Ten Bells Pub on Urbanspoon

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