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As of March 2010 the Eastside and Eastside Bistro have essentially merged formats. The more elaborate food served originally at Eastside is now available only in the private dining room.
Bjorn van der Horst (who is Swiss French) has worked in the US as well as the UK, most recently at the Greenhouse and then the ill-fated Noisette. Now free of the Gordon Ramsay Holding empire, he is chef-patron of Eastside, at the bottom of St John Street, near Smithfield market. This is two restaurants in one, with a formal dining room seating around 35, and a bistro seating around 55, the latter having a view of the open kitchen. The dining room has pleasant and fairly neutral décor, with cream walls, beige carpet and low-backed orange leather seats, though I would review the need for muzak in the room; country and western songs in particular seem to me ill-suited to dining of this kind. A three course menu is at £45, a tasting menu at £65, but there is considerable generosity disguised in these prices, with no less than three stages of amuses-bouche.
The wine list is in its early days but has some very good growers and spans the world, while mark-ups appear quite varied. Examples are the Egon Muller Riesling Kanta 2006 at £40 for a wine that will cost £17 to buy in the shops, Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2007 at £30 for a wine that will cost you around £7 to buy retail and, at the higher end, Tignanello 2004 at £165 for a wine that costs around £64 to purchase in the shops. Bread appeared later in the meal, and showed the care and attention that the chef has put into sourcing. The supplier was a new one to me, Boulangerie de Paris (actually based in Uxbridge), run by an ex-chef at the Capital. The sourdough was nicely made but the star was a baguette with superb crust and airy texture; the latter was one of the best breads I have tasted in London (6/10 overall for the bred, higher for the baguette).
We began with slivers of foie gras flavoured with sea salt served on toast, the terrine sliced very thinly but having good liver taste and smooth texture (5/10). A little cube of fromage de tête with caviar was rich, the caviar giving a welcome saltiness (6/10). Next an almond gazpacho was thick and tasty, making use of celeriac and garlic, and a bold shot of pepper to liven it up (6/10). A starter of warm Scottish lobster was carefully cooked, the lobster having no hint of chewiness (something few restaurants get right), served with caramelised endive and a rich vanilla brown butter; a luxurious dish (6/10). I preferred this to braised eel with spring peas and broad beans with a little basil and garlic oil, where the eel flavour seemed surprisingly subdued (4/10).
For main course I enjoyed aged rib eye of beef (the beef from a small farm in Yorkshire, aged for at least 28 days), which had excellent flavour and was carefully cooked, having enough fat to give good taste. This was served with a smooth mash of ratte potatoes, a good olive-flavoured jus, pecorino salad and a little lettuce; personally I’d have preferred something more exciting than the lettuce for the greenery, but the beef was very good indeed (6/10). Wild salmon from Scotland was seasonal and had the lovely depth of flavour that you only get from wild salmon, which is so rare these days. This was simply served with excellent cucumber and sour cream, with gravad lax on toast served on the side tasting nicely of dill (6/10).
Cheese is supplied by La Fromagerie and here was a selection of just three cheeses in good condition: Swiss Etivez (rather like Comte), an Irish goat cheese from County Clare called St Tola, and ripe Roquefort (6/10). This was served with more of the excellent bread.
For pre-dessert, a verbena sorbet was well made and served attractively on a block of ice, though I am not sure whether verbena is so well suited to a sorbet, reminding me of the scented soap it is often used in (surely a sorbet of, say, grapefruit, peach or champagne would be more appealing?). Both desserts we tried were presented as spheres, one of white chocolate and one of meringue. The former had a filling of milk chocolate and popcorn sorbet, the latter of raspberry and pistachio sorbet, with a little popping candy. Both seemed to me to promise more than they delivered in the pretty presentation, the contents merely pleasant (4/10). Coffee was good, served with a very good macadamia nut and a chocolate mousse with coconut that had good taste but was fridge-cold (5/10). A final sweet taste of home-made yogurt with red fruit and thyme compote seemed overly sour to me, and while it is ever-so trendy to mix herbs in with desserts these days, I remain unconvinced by the notion.
Service under the experienced Thierry Sauvanot was very well-drilled, and indeed the whole operation was remarkably smooth for a restaurant that had literally been open for four days. Overall the food, while certainly having room for improvement in some areas (particularly the desserts), is already in borderline Michelin star territory, and I have little doubt that it will settle down and attain this level in due course. I found the menu interesting, the produce showing unusual care in selection, and cooked with a high degree of technical skill. I have initially scored this 5/10 based on the meal tonight, but it certainly has the potential to go higher.