The Stratford Hotel, 20 International Way, London, E20 1FD, United Kingdom

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I used to change tube trains in Stratford a lot back in the early 1980s when I lived in Leytonstone, and at that time there was not a great deal in the area to attract restaurant goers. However, the area received a major development boost via the 2012 Olympics, and Stratford has for over a decade been home to the huge Westfield Shopping Centre. It also has smart building developments such as the Manhattan Loft Gardens, housing The Stratford Hotel. On the 7th floor of the hotel is Allegra ("joyful"), with its kitchens headed by chef Patrick Powell, who previously was head chef at Chiltern Firehouse. He had formerly trained at l’Ecrivain before travelling to Australia and cooking at Cutler & Co in Melbourne, moving to the UK and working at Wild Honey in Mayfair for two years. The dining room can seat up to around seventy guests, being looked after by a team of seven chefs. There was a tasting menu for £88 as well as a set lunch at £38. We opted for the former.

The wine list had 242 labels and ranged in price from £32 to £695, with a median price of £72 and an average markup to retail price of a chunky 3.3 times, which is normal in Mayfair these days but might raise eyebrows in Stratford. Sample references were Disznókő Furmint Tokaji 2020 at £46 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £17, Yangarra Estate Roussanne 2020 at £65 compared to its retail price of £17, and Cuvaison Estate Wines Pinot Noir 2018 at £90 for a wine that will set you back £40 in the high street. For those with the means there was Chateau Leoville Barton 1998 at £290 compared to its retail price of £122, and Sassicaia Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri 2011 at £695 for a wine whose current market value is £325. 

The meal began with a series of canapes. Blood pudding muffin with pickled jalapeno pepper had good texture and was not too rich. Line-caught mackerel was served in a delicate tart with cucumber and herbs, and fried chicken was served with mustard fruit and aioli. The chicken was nicely cooked and had a crisp coating and the aioli was nicely judged. The star canape was the pistachio choux bun filled with liver parfait and preserved mandarin. This was gorgeous, the parfait flavour beautifully balanced by the acidity of the mandarin, and the choux bun texture light and airy (easily 16/20 canapes, more for the choux bun).  

Crab from Dorset was delivered just hours before the lunch and was hand-picked, dressed with olive oil, salt, lemon and pumpkin seeds. The white crab meat was arranged into a circle and topped with a disc of pumpkin and a little pickled ginger. On the side was a curried pumpkin sauce made with Thai yellow curry paste, ginger, lemongrass, turmeric and garlic. The crab had excellent flavour and natural sweetness, with the Thai sauce giving a contrast. Pumpkin is also inherently sweet and I wondered whether another element might be needed for balance, but the Thai sauce provided that. Personally, I feel that the spicing was very subdued, and the sauce could have had a touch more of a kick, but this was certainly enjoyable (between 14/20 and 15/20).

Pigeon from Anjou was aged in the kitchen for ten days and roasted, then served with charred bitter leaves, a sauce from the pigeon bones and a beetroot and pecan mole. The latter was made using charred onion, garlic, tomato, Chipotle and Morita chillies, rendered duck fat and of course pecan and beetroot. These were cooked together then blitzed into a paste and finally emulsified with the duck fat. This was used to enhance the sauce. The pigeon was high quality and the earthy flavour of the beetroot was a good foil for the richness of the meat, the hint of spice enlivening the dish. As a bonus, some pigeon leg meat was fried and served on the side (15/20).

Hand-dived scallop from Orkney was pan roasted and served with turnip tagliatelle than had been finely sliced with a Japanese mandolin. This came with turnip sauce with fermented turnip juice and fermented white asparagus juice. Alongside was braised dulse and kombu seaweed, and the turnip was topped with oscietra caviar from France. The brand used was Sturia, a quite good caviar supplier.  The sturgeon was a breed of Russian sturgeon (aka diamond sturgeon), technically called acipenser gueldenstaedtii, which had a pleasing nutty flavour. This was a very good dish, the scallop of high quality and working well with the earthiness of the turnip (16/20). 

Scottish cod from Peterhead was stuffed with Cornish lobster, served with a shellfish and lobster mousse. The cod was steamed and then wrapped in carrot ribbon with lobster mousse. Alongside was pickled and smoked shredded carrot top with nasturtium leaf. The lobster sauce was made using lobster and langoustine shells as well as ginger and lemongrass. This was an interesting and unusual dish, and I particularly liked the use of the carrot, which went very well with the fish and shellfish. I wonder whether the dish might be even better with a grander fish than cod (15/20). 

The final savoury course was venison from Wales. Rack of venison was aged in house for a couple of weeks and then broken down into its elements. We were served saddle of venison grilled and served rare. This was accompanied by red cabbage puree made with pear juice and mixed spices, with pear brushed in spiced vanilla syrup, and parsnip cooked confit in chicken fat then glazed with parsnip juice, topped with parsnip crisp and chicken skin with yeast. Alongside was a venison faggot made with venison shoulder and trimmings, enriched with ox livers and lamb heart. This was a very enjoyable dish, the venison of good quality and the faggot in particular having deep flavour. The acidity of the pear provided balance to the richness of the meat (16/20).

The dessert chef was apparently on holiday this week, but the kitchen was still able to produce three desserts for us to try. Before these was a pre dessert of Epping honey ice cream with red flesh apple granita. This was pleasant and refreshing, as a pre-dessert should be (14/20). A Mont Blanc comprised a vanilla sable biscuit that was topped with a sour cherry compote, with poached pears shaped into little balls and topped with vanilla Chantilly. There was a milk chocolate disk layered with chestnut mousse and finished with a dark chocolate tuile. This was very pleasant, though perhaps a touch more fruit for balance might have been beneficial. Caramelised apple baba had a baba sponge soaked in a spiced sugar syrup, then filled with caramelised apple compote and topped with spiced Chantilly cream. The apple brought some pleasing acidity to balance the dish, though the baba itself did not have the ultra-light texture that the really best baba has, such as that at Louis XV. The final dessert was a milk chocolate one, a feuilletine biscuit base layered with chocolate mousse, with speculaas caramel (a spiced shortcrust biscuit) coated in chocolate and accompanied by a mint ice cream (just about 15/20 desserts).

Coffee was a Peruvian coffee brewed by Union, which is a fairly local business but is now quite a big company, and is served at the British Airways Heathrow lounge for example. It is a drinkable coffee, but to be honest the restaurant could easily upgrade this without leaving east London. This came with some very pleasant white chocolate and vanilla macarons that had been made in the kitchen. These had good texture and pleasing flavour.

The bill came to £285, admittedly with quite a lot of good wine, with the food element £88. A typical price per person at dinner might be £125 or so if you ordered wine parsimoniously, and if you had the set lunch then you could certainly eat for less than that. Service was terrific, led by a lady who I think is now acting general manager. Allegra was a lovely experience, with cooking that for me was in rock solid Michelin star territory, though so far it has been overlooked by the tyre company. It is particularly welcome since Stratford is not an area that has previously been noted for its fine dining. If you are ever nearby then I highly recommend that you make a beeline here.

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