Over half a year on, and the bloggers’ bukkake that is Upstairs at The Ten Bells in Spitalfields, East London is still going strong. In fact, things are going so well that the people behind it will shortly be following it up with a larger scale operation in Shoreditch Town Hall that will be known as The Clove Club. You can bet the house that day 1 will look like a who’s who of the London food blogosphere. Reason enough for a thoroughly despised blogger like me, who values self-preservation, to lay low until the initial stampede has passed through. So consider this my advanced apology to anyone who was hoping I’d be one of the first on the scene: I’m really sorry.
Buttermilk fried chicken & pine salt £6.20
In the meantime I decided to refresh my memory by booking into The Ten Bells for lunch (my previous review can be found here). The Midlander welcome of FOH Jarrod is as warm and friendly as ever. The Tracy Emin neon still glows on the paint-stripped walls, and of course there’s ‘that painting’ involving some man-on-man nipple-action. Then there’s lots and lots of wood. It’s just as I remember. But, if there’s one thing I can count on from past experience, the menu will bear little resemblance to the last time I ate there. Save for the sole-survivor of every menu rehash there’s been, which is of course their legendary buttermilk fried chicken, which never fails to hit the mark no matter how many times I seem to have it. The chicken is marinated overnight in buttermilk with a hint of polenta and tapioca, then deep-fried to order. The end results are sizeable nuggets of scorching, moist chicken, encased in a perfect brittle coating with a stubble of herby, fresh pine.
Smoked pheasant consommé, tortellini & barley £7.20
A pheasant sold its soul to a warm, soothing consommé, which has successfully downloaded all of the information that once belonged to the animal with such fidelity that every concentrated sip almost stings with life. What isn’t used in producing the stock is put to work elsewhere on the dish: Resting at the bottom are pearls of barley, on which lie four finely crafted tortellini with a meaty pheasant core. As a finishing touch there are wafer thin slices of carrot and chunks of pheasant which are a tad dry and underseasoned, but can be overlooked for the rest.
Cornish hake, crushed salsify, brown shrimps & turnip tops £15.80
On a bed of sweet mashed-up salsify is a fillet of Cornish hake, cooked how you’d want it. On top are a handful of brown shrimps and crispy ribbons of fried Jerusalem artichoke that donate a much appreciated texture to a plate of otherwise soft and floppy things. On one side of the fish are tender, vivid green turnip tops. On the other are neatly-piped blobs of a delicious, potent brown shrimp purée whose flavour aligns itself with everything else on the plate to make them work as a single unit.
Chocolate pavé, vanilla ice cream & pecan praline £7.00
To finish, there is a jaw-dropping chocolate pavé, which is a svelte cuboid of rich, bitter, dark chocolate, with the sheen of a car bonnet. Alongside is a truly vanilla ice cream where speckles of vanilla can be seen running through it. Beneath it are crumbling pebbles of chocolate on a smear of pecan praline emulsion that adds yet another dimension of texture to this endorphin rush on a plate.
Though the menu changes, the standard does not. Head chef Giorgio Ravelli is cooking up a storm above this old, East London pub and he’ll carry on doing so even when The Clove Club opens nearby, as executive head chef Isaac McHale will be heading up the kitchen at the new venture. The service is the kind that meets you on your own level, whilst still managing to handle business like a professional. And there’s no better way to do it than that. Within the bounds of London I know of no better gastropub, and few restaurants period, offer better value for cooking of this level. That about covers it.
food : 8.5/10
service : 9/10
ambience : 8/10
value : 9/10
Upstairs at The Ten Bells
84 Commercial Street, London E1 6LY
07530 492 986