In terms of quality of cooking and value, it puts most similar places to shame.
Some say it’s bold, others call it arrogant; serving a no-choice set menu certainly divides opinion. Despite this, more and more restaurants are joining the club and diners are getting on board with it. One such place is Lyle’s, a recent arrival in Shoreditch’s Tea Building.
Inside it feels oddly like a cross between The Clove Club and the original St. John. This applies not just to the austere decor (open kitchen, stark furnishings), but also the style of cooking (simple, precise yet creative) with dishes varying from day to day. Sadly the welcome was ice cold, the maître d’ unable to conceal her thinly veiled disdain for humanity.
An ever changing, no-choice menu can be a bit hit and miss from the diners’ point of view (as we experienced at The Clove Club). It’s essentially down to pot luck when it comes to how the dishes match your tastes and wants. No such trouble at Lyle’s – we were absolutely delighted when we saw the menu. If I’d had a choice, I could’ve easily seen myself ordering most of this.
Before the first course proper, we were treated to a couple of off-menu extras. Breaded and fried pressed lamb shoulder was a brilliant way start the meal. Served with a sharp yet sweet mint dipping sauce, this was easily good enough to be a starter in its own right. Queenie scallops with sea blight was of a similarly high standard.
The main menu kicked off with a dish which I would best describe as a cross between posh gazpacho and consommé. It was summery and refreshing – the essence of tomato in a bowl with added tomato (and gooseberries) for good measure. Fish courses can sometimes be easily forgotten but our ray and samphire, cooked in brown butter was simple but superb. With ingredients this good, why mess with them?
The only negative all night was the cooking of the pigeon on our ‘main’ course. It may well be a blushing pink in the below photo but half of it was overcooked. Sadly this meant it was verging on being tough and had taken on a livery aftertaste. Luckily, the other half was just about right so it wasn’t a total loss. It’s a shame because otherwise it would’ve been perfect.
The cheese course was a fancy take on cheese on toast. Grated hazelnut on top added fragrance so it smelt every bit as good as it tasted. Let this be a lesson to all those restaurants who get lazy with this course.
Dessert combined a few textures and temperatures. Strawberries were served warm with vanilla ice cream, granita and crisp fennel blossom meringue to make up a truly delicious bowlful. Mini brown butter and lemon thyme cakes were warm, chewy and full of butter. What a perfect way to end an excellent meal.
One thing to note: when I booked, the website specified a two hour slot. Interestingly enough, we only just finished within our allotted time, just as the restaurant was getting busy. If your sitting is later than 18.30, be prepared to be in there for a good amount of time.
The menu cost a competitive £39 plus service and we enjoyed a near faultless meal, accompanied by its fair share of lovely unexpected extras. In terms of quality of cooking and value, it puts most similar places to shame. As long as you are an adventurous eater (they have had raw beef and snails on the lunch menu this past week), this is a great place to go. If you prefer to have a choice, à la carte is available at lunch.
For me, the best thing about set menus (when they are done well) is that they help you discover new dishes and combinations that you’d never give a second look to if you had a choice. Hand on heart I’d probably never have ordered the tomato starter but I’m glad I got the chance to try it.
Meal for two inc. service: £87.75
Meal for two inc. drinks and service: £123.14
Address: Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6JJ
Phone: 020 3011 5911