Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Knappett x Young Turks at The Ten Bells

I guess I’m a bit of a hypocrite.

After slating suckers who crow about hitting the latest super-exclusive, one-weekend-only, pop-up chef-collabs, I am about to do just that: describe last weekend’s pop-up-within-a-pop-up ‘Knappett Night’ hosted by the Young Turks at The Ten Bells.

I never really intended to reach this nth degree of pop-uppery – in fact, I stumbled upon it quite by accident. I had been meaning to try the Young Turks’ temporary invasion of a pub down the road, not only because of its convenience but also because of the stellar reviews of the boys’ modern fare, and when I had called to reserve earlier in the month, Daniel alluded that the 25th would be something special. So when I called back to confirm, I managed to snag some (apparently) sought-after seats. All by accident. And I’m so happy I did.

The reason why these seats were particularly coveted was that James Knappett, the new chef at The Ledbury, was coming to cook in collaboration with the guys for one night only at their already-praised spot. The Ledbury is still on the ol’ ‘To Eat’, but anyone living in London hears enough about it, if only for their heroicdefence of their customers during the London riots – who wouldn’t love being locked in a peerlessly-stocked cellar with bottles of vintage champagne while waiters brandish rolling pins and kitchen knives at unruly rioters, defending your honor and their kitchen. It reminds me of the scene in Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ where the furniture defends the castle. With champagne.

So needless to say I was positive about the promising evening ahead.

When we arrived, the main room of the pub downstairs was booming with East London characters (cue the skinny jeans) who had clearly been on the sauce most of Saturday. We followed the glowing neon sign to the back and up the stairs into the dining room, the converting second floor looking out over Spitalfields.

 photo: The Skinny Bib

First impressions were great – the low lighting punctuated with neon signs, marbled wallpaper, and the effortless service from Daniel and Jonny all added up to a youthful vibe that set the stage for the playful and adventurous menu.

[NB: by “low lighting” I mean almost cave-dark and the neon led to an... interesting effect – please excuse the photos!]

First out were some snacks: crispy sole skin chips cut with pickled onion, “beef tendon” sandwiches which were majority Wonder Bread, and inconceivably light fried artichoke quarters, not remotely greasy and with each leaf individually crisped, to be dipped in a “smoked sole roe”, which was like a sexier tarama. This last dish sent forks clashing for the last few bites – these were the carciofi of dreams, fried in a way I had always hoped beyond hope for, until then unachieved even in Italy.

Our proper plates came out at their own pace – sometimes a little too slowly for overenthusiastic diners, starved from a forced march around town on a sunny Saturday, but I guess you can’t rush art.

We were sent sea urchin, served on seaweed in their spiny shells, with buttermilk & dill, seemingly composed more for visual effect than capitalizing on the uni. As one of our party discovered, to much lip-smacking and scowling, you don’t eat the seaweed.

Next came a beautiful still life of scallop, cauliflower cooked two ways and almonds, with the milky almonds complementing the creaminess of the scallops and earthy cooked chunks and raw flakes of cauliflower. Equally earthy was the bowl in which ramson, a type of wild garlic, purée was poured over a perfectly poached duck egg with croutons. It was a true celebration of spring, welcome after such an unseasonably warm day.

Our ‘main’ was the most tender piece of sheep (tasting like lamb although allegedly hogget) I have ever been served, with an airy texture defying the muscular nature of most meats. The fatty bone-in slice was served over a turnip purée, sprinkled with oats and crossed with bitter turnip greens for contrast.

Sweet stuff started with “liquorice + pear”, which turned out to be a scoop of overly-creamy but not overly-liquoricey liquorice cream with wafers of pear and moist hunks of pear cake which I would have eaten on its own. Next was also winner – “malted barley + caramelized milk”, essentially a deconstructed brown bread ice cream, was deeply vanilla ice cream over malted crumbs with dried milk flakes. An almost savory finish.

We finished up with Square Mile coffee or fresh mint tea and sea buckthorn teacake, vaguely fruity marshmallows over biscuits. I only wish I could remember the wines chosen from the well-curated list.

The meal was an experience, each course reliably delicious but experimental – seriously great food that didn’t take itself too seriously. It was everything a pop up should be. Although it was Knappett’s night, James Lowe and Isaac McHale presented each dish and are clearly truly talented guys – I can’t wait to see where they settle.

They just extended their run at the pub until the end of April – catch them while you can. It’s something worth bragging about.

Young Turks at The Ten Bells
84 Commercial Street, Shoreditch, E1 6LY

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