Most restaurants roll their eyes when patrons start making things difficult with regards to the menu: asking for substitutions, additions, other items altogether, and in particular, asking the chef to alter the way he or she cooks his signature dish in which case, shooting him or her would be less painful.
At Lyle’s this seems to be the exact opposite. They want you to have some sort of ridiculous demand so they can show you what they are capable of. Gluten-free, vegan, hate all vegetables and have an aversion to anything salty? No problem, let us put our heads together in the kitchen and emerge with a feat of culinary genius.
The waitress seemed disappointed when she asked if I had any allergies or intolerances and my response was that I eat everything and anything prepared however the chef likes. That was too boring for her. My dining companion’s responses generated far more interest when she expressed difficulty in choosing between the regular set menu and the vegetarian set menu because she eats meat, but doesn’t eat fish – was there a way they could substitute the fish dish on the regular menu so she could still eat the meat dishes and not have to order the vegetarian menu? Why yes, of course there was. The waitress seemed more content.
Starting with some “snacks”of crisp lettuce and a perplexing hard boiled egg with a yolk that somehow managed to stay as runny as if it were poached, in broth, I was a bit relieved. Sometimes the portions of set menus are so small you end up needing to eat cheeseburger after you depart the restaurant which makes you feel incredibly guilty.
The first course in the four course menu is Asparagus, Cured Pork Fat & Walnut (minus the fat for the veggie menu). The fat, rather than being the texture of lardo which I assumed it would be, did not have that melt in your mouth goodness effect which was a bit disappointing. However the asparagus itself was perfectly cooked.
The Brill is the highlight of the entire menu – beautifully flaky and almost eerily light in taste. The whey butter is so flavorful, yet not overly creamy, but still maintains the consistency of freshly churned thick butter. The rape greens provide the perfect complement. It’s a simple dish but it is absolutely delicious — it is one of the best fish dishes I have ever had. This is truly where Chef James Lowe shines.
The chicken dish consisting of both breast and thigh along with bits of the liver is nothing to write home about but is decent enough.
As someone who doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth and bemoans having to eat a dessert as part of a set menu (and why is the cheese board always at least a £9 supplement?!), I was pleasantly surprised by the pudding: Brown Butter Ice Cream, Hazelnuts & Caramel. The burnt flavor and smell of the butter wafting through the recesses of the cool soft ice cream was heavenly and the perfect end to the meal.
Let’s talk about the restaurant itself. The space is airy and simplistic, with not much by the way of décor. The building it is in is the most intriguing part. Called The Tea House, due in part to John Lipton using it as his tea holding grounds for storage and shipping (which is ironic since he is American and most known for iced tea which Britons generally hate) – the building now no longer used for tea, but is home to Pizza East, Lyle’s and a whole host of offices. In Marina O’Loughlin’s first review nearly a year ago she compares the space to that of St. John in Clerkenwell owing to its whiteness and austereness. I’d have to respectfully disagree on that score. When you enter St. John you feel almost as if you have entered a doctor’s office or going one step further, an asylum. There are literally no decorations, give or take a few coat hooks on the wall, just sheer blankness. In Lyle’s, you get the sense of an old warehouse or builder’s office converted into a restaurant that now has that cool edgy vibe that Shoreditch cherishes so dearly. Full size windows provide a full view of the street and the bar and the kitchen are also entirely exposed.
The service lacks consistency and it is obvious. The table next to us was one plate ahead of us the entire dinner until they got to their third course and then we suddenly fell of sync and were served our third course long after they paid the bill and left. The table next to us which arrived an hour after we did was served their main dish only about 10 minutes after us. I happened to be with a very good friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in a while and we were more than happy to catch up and chat so the service didn’t irritate me quite as much as it would have done on another occasion.
All in all a very delicious meal and very satisfying for a set menu, which can always be a tricky undertaking. The ambiance was exactly as it should be: cool, casual but with a hint of elegance.
Address: Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High St, London E1 6JJ, United Kingdom
Telephone number: +44 20 3011 5911