Cornerstone in Hackney opened in April 2018. It is the first solo venture of chef Tom Brown, who was previously head chef of Outlaws At The Capital. He had previously worked with Nathan Outlaw in Cornwall for six years. The dining room has a central open kitchen and can seat up to 46 customers at any one time. The restaurant is located in a quiet street not far from Hackney Wick station. Given the background of the chef, it is unsurprising that the menu is distinctly fishy, so carnivores may flounder here. The chef uses a number of seafood suppliers including Flying Fish of Cornwall.
The wine list had thirty bottles from £32 to £80 and a median price of £52. The average mark-up to retail price was over 3.4 times, which would raise eyebrows in Mayfair, never mind Hackney. The list was 47% French, with only Italy and Australia otherwise featuring more than one bottle. The choices seemed eccentric in places: with all the glories of Riesling to choose from, the solitary German option here was an orange wine. Seriously? Sample labels were George Michel Sauvignon Blanc 2017 at £44 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £16, Bodegas Ocha Gran reserve 2009 at £68 compared to its retail price of £20, and Marquis de Mons Margaux 2015 at a hefty £80 for a bottle that will set you back £20 in a shop.
Sourdough was bought in from Coombeshead farm in Cornwall and was very pleasant. The first dish that we tried was salmon “pastrami”, which had been cured for five days along with mustard seeds and coriander seeds. The salmon was from Loch Duart in northwest Scotland, a fish farm that has been running for forty years and is one of the better-known Scottish salmon farms. Of course the flavour of farmed salmon cannot compare with wild salmon, but the use of mustard seeds and coriander seeds in this dish added a spicy kick that was quite interesting (13/20).
Brill tartare came with capers, mint and a hen egg yolk, as well as asparagus from St Enodoc in north Cornwall. This was a pleasant dish, the egg and asparagus going nicely with the fish (13/20). Mackerel pate was made with cider vinegar gel and seaweed, and was served with treacle bread that was made in the kitchen here. This worked nicely, the flavour of the mackerel coming through well and the plating being quite attractive (14/20).
My favourite dish was crab crumpet rarebit with Worcestershire sauce. The crumpet was made from scratch, and the crab flavour stood up surprisingly well to the melted aged cheddar and the bite of the Worcester sauce. This was a comforting and unusual dish (15/20). A hand-dived scallop was served in its shell with butter flavoured with the coral of the scallop, garnished simply with a squeeze of lime. This was a good quality scallop with nice inherent sweetness, and was lightly cooked. It could have been warmer by the time it arrived, but otherwise it is hard to argue with such a simple but enjoyable dish (14/20).
Hake rested in a katsu curry sauce and was topped with a garnish of fried strips of potato. Katsu is Japanese for cutlet, and katsu curry is a Japanese version of curry sauce often served with pork or chicken cutlets. Few things are truly original in world cuisine, curry powder having been introduced to Japan by Britain in the 19th century from its empire in India. The hake was nicely cooked and the thick curry sauce worked well, hake being a robust fish and well able to handle spice. The crisp potato added an extra dimension of texture (easily 14/20). A whole John Dory was served with shimeji mushrooms and a roast chicken butter sauce. The fish was accurately cooked and had good flavour, the buttery sauce working nicely with the John Dory’s mild natural flavour (14/20).
We tried two desserts. Chocolate torte comprised a dark chocolate biscuit base on top of which was chocolate mousse, coffee jelly and a quenelle of milk ice cream, topped with gold leaf. The chocolate had deep flavour and the mousse was enjoyably smooth in texture, the milk ice cream a good foil for the richness. Personally I have never really understood the point of gold leaf as a garnish, as it has no inherent flavour and so is pure decoration (14/20). Rhubarb pavlova featured ginger and clotted cream. The meringue had good texture, not being too crunchy, and the rhubarb was excellent, not being overly tart. Ginger is a classic pairing with rhubarb and worked well (15/20). Coffee was from an Italian supplier called Borbone and was decent.
Service was friendly, our Australian waiter quite enthusiastic. However, given that 12.5% service was already added, it seemed to me to be pushing things to prompt for an extra tip on the credit card machine. The bill came to £97 per person with some glasses of wine. Small plates sharing menus always seem to result in a larger bill than you expect, and indeed it could be argued that this is pretty much entirely the point of them. If you shared a modest bottle of wine and coffee and ordered the volume of dishes suggested by the waiter then a typical cost per person might come to around £105. Overall I quite enjoyed Cornerstone, which produced some well-executed dishes including some quite unusual ones, without the menu ever being wacky. However this is not a cheap outing.