Boundary is an old warehouse building in a dead-end street in Shoreditch that has had a Conran makeover: there is a basement restaurant, a ground floor café called Albion, a food shop, a rooftop bar and even hotel rooms. Just weeks after opening it was packed out, which is pretty good going for an area that a decade or so ago the police would have been nervous walking around. The designer has done an excellent job with the cavernous basement space, which has an open kitchen, tiled floor and carefully chosen décor.
The menu is an appealing set of British classics, with some “fruits de mer” options that will be familiar to those who have dined at other Conran venues like Bibendum and the Bluebird. Starters are £6.50 - £16, mains £16 - £24.50, vegetables £3 - £4.50 and desserts £5 - £9. The wine list spans the world and has choices such as the fine JJ Prum Spatlese 2001 at £75 for a wine that costs around £28 to buy in the shops, Ostertag Pinot Gris 2005 at £51 compared to a shop price of around £20, while at the upper end Ridge Montebello 1999 was £250 for a wine that will set you back around £87 to buy retail. The “sommelier” was unable to name the grapes of two wines that I asked about, so why not just ask “which number wine would you like?”.
Bread was slices of baguette and brown bread, and serviceable (2/10). My smoked eel salad with carrots and pea shoots had eel that lacked much taste, while instead of a blob of crème fraiche something like horseradish cream would have added a bit of depth to the dish (2/10). Much better was wild smoked salmon, served theatrically on a trolley and carved at the table,, offered with a variety of garnishes. This was a nice change from the usual lazy pre-bought packet smoked salmon, and crucially had excellent taste. This is not an easy thing to score, but it is hard to criticise (5/10).
My quail with foie gras was served with pieces of beetroot and a sauce flavoured with Madeira. The quail itself was cooked fine, but the foie gras and beetroot flavours rather overwhelmed the quail (4/10). Halibut was nicely cooked, served with girolles and peas, a simple but satisfying dish (4/10) that was well seasoned (my dining companion found this over-salty, but this was fine for me). On the side chips looked a little pale but were crisp and well-salted, while gratin dauphinoise was pleasant, though I would have preferred more cheese relative to potato than was present (3/10).
For dessert a crème caramel was correctly made and pleasant (3/10) but a tarte tatin was a bit of a disaster. This is one of my favourite things, but here it was seriously over-cooked: where it should be a golden-brown colour it was actually a very dark brown indeed, and there was distinct hint of burnt caramel about the taste. This was sloppy (0/10). Coffee was fine. Service was quite well drilled, with careful topping up and attentive waiters.
At £75 a head with a quite cheap wine between two plus one additional glass, the bill was hardly cheap but not excessive either. It reminded me a little of High Road Brasserie from Soho House (a branch of which is in fact nearby), which also has a successful formula of an appealing menu, nice atmosphere, good staff and prices that are just a bit high for what you are eating. There is little to dislike about the place, just a sense that you are paying a little over the odds for the level of cooking, which is arguably a common feature of Conran’s restaurants over the years (his restaurant empire was sold in 2008 to D&D Restaurants). Still, judging by the full house tonight, the customers seem untroubled by any such concerns.