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Lyle’s London for dinner – no choice, good choice

Lyle’s opened a few months ago in the Tea Building at the corner between Shoreditch and Bethnal Green, so in my very neighbourhood – but having been living in Singapore I missed this and few other new openings. Upon my return, I gave priority to “old” favoruites like The Clove Club and Ten Bells before turning my attention to the third restaurant offspring from the Young Turks trio – chef James Lowe & restaurateur John Ogier’s Lyle’s. My high expectations were fuelled not just by Lowe’s reputation and the fact that I like the (former) Turks style of cooking but also from the positive reviews of bloggers I trust. At the same time though my enthusiasm was dampened by the ultra-trendy location (just behind Pizza East) and looks, so I approached with mixed feelings.  

Lyle's London

Where: Lyle’s – Shoreditch, in the Tea Building – next to the overhyped Pizza East and to a bunch of hipster offices and galleries. The décor is as minimal and post-industrial as it’s chic, with whitewashed walls, accents of warm wood and a very prominent open kitchen. Minimalism is in the air too- no music, just conversation (thankfully acoustics are not bad in spite of high ceilings).
A critic called it “St.John’s Baby“, and clearly there is a resemblance, but I thought it looked refreshingly pared down for Shoreditch.

When: for dinner, on a random Tuesday night, we could only find a table for three for 9 PM. Very few empty tables around and a good buzz, so they seem to be doing well.

What: for dinner, Lyle serves only a set menu, as in – a NO CHOICE menu. I repeat. A NO CHOICE menu. I repeat it again, lest you ended up disappointed because this or that dish you saw pictured here was not available. It is a NO CHOICE menu and it changes daily. What you see on the website is what you get – of course, they do cater for dietary requirements but you’d better go with a fairly open mind, and ready to look up a thing or two on the Internet. Or maybe you are the type of person who knows what sea beet is, in which case, I salute you (and hate you a bit).

The £39 set menu includes 5 courses and cover. We also had three small extra courses from the kitchen (no special favours- all diners seem to get them, making the set price deal even more of a bargain). Our menu for the night

Amuse bouche (off-menu)
- Smoked Trout with Horseradish Cream
Lyle’s has made some buzz around its use of aged fish (namely, Dover sole); I am not sure if this raw trout was aged, certainly it was smoked in house as our waiter explained. It had a peculiar “creamy” texture, which was offset nicely by the tangy sauce. If you mind fishy tastes though, this may not be to your liking.

- Hogget Croquettes with Mint Sauce
I am not a fan of fried stuff but I love lamb and these were truly scrumptious – moist, flavourful hogget in crispy breadcrumbs. The cliché of lamb + mint was elevated by a delicious homemade sauce looking more like a bright green emulsion. I could have happily eaten a basket of those (*hint hint*)

- Tomatoes, Gooseberries & Lovage
As the critics have remarked, vegetables are everywhere at Lyle’s and often given centre stage. Of course these are not your (well, mine) steamed carrots and broccoli but a concoction looking more like a painting than something you’d want to eat. The tomato and gooseberries were swimming in their mixed juices and I guess those were supposed to be drunk like broth… a very herby, vegetable, cold soup. To be completely honest, to me it did look better than it tasted, but I always appreciate when a chef experiments with making vegetables taste good without a ton of butter or cream.

Lyle's set menu

Smoked trout, Hogget croquettes and Tomato, Gooseberry & Lovage

- Cuttlefish & Samphire
Again, happy to see that greens were more than just a nominal presence on the menu – a generous amount of buttery samphire stems hid a luscious grilled baby squid. My fellow diners remarked that their squid was a tiny bit undercooked; mine was perfect, charred yet tender and I loved how the minimalist appearance did not mean minimal flavour.

-Saddleback, Bobby Beans and Anchovy
This dish was a triumph in it simplicity – the pork was melt-in-your-mouth tender and went along perfectly with the creamy reduction, the criunchy beans and savoury anchovy bits. I love the use of salted fish to salt dishes and this was no exception.

Lyle's dinner menu

Top right: Saddleback Pork with anchovied Beans; bottom: Squid & Samphire

-St James, Honey & Hazelnuts
This was basically a posh cheese on toast – and I say this in no derogatory terms…I mean there is nothing better than cheese on toast if you ask me. Gooey, mature, fragant cheese oozing from crisp bread. The sweet-savoury combo was infinitely satisfying – my type of dessert.

-Blackcurrants, Fennel Blossom & Vanilla Ice Cream
Although at this point we were more than pleasantly full, we still managed to wolf down the second sweet course. Unlike the starter, this was just as pleasing on the palate as it was to the eye and all the flavours really came together.

As I was told from Twitter sources to “not miss coffee” (Lyle’s sports a magnificent vintage La Marzocco on its bar counter), I obliged and realized why everybody is so fond of coffee here. With my strong little espresso came the most delightful madeleines I had for a long time, all caramelized butter and sugar and a great end to our meal.

Lyle's London desserts

All in all, with some very minor thing I did not love and which I consider unavoidable in a no-choice menu, this was a magnificent dinner in terms of quality, presentation – if you appreciate the voluntary restrain – and level of cooking. My initial skepticism about yet another former St.John hipster restaurant was definitely proven wrong and I hope I’ll be back soon to confirm this first great impression.

How much: the dinner set menu is £39; with three cocktails and an excellent bottle of Ribolla white wine, the bill came at just under £60 per head. If this seems steep, consider skipping the booze but definitely go – the food is a bargain.

Yay or nay?: for now it is a resounding yes and I can’t wait to go back for lunch to try more of the dishes and maybe the famous Lyle’s aged fish.


lyles london 2

Lyle's on Urbanspoon

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