The optimistically named Paradise Garage is tucked away under a railway arch in Bethnal Green rather than some exotic tropical island. Perhaps it should have been called Paradise Lost. Anyway, opening in July 2015, it is the younger sister of Dairy in Clapham, whose owners also run the Manor. The head chef is Simon Woodrow, who previously cooked at Dairy and also at Arbutus.
The 61 bottle wine list ranged in price from £24 to £91, with a median price of £44. The list focused on France (43% of the list) and Italy (38%) though there were a few wines from elsewhere too. Sample labels were Cassiara Monteforche 2014 at £37 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £18, Cahors “la Fage“ 2011 from Domaine de Cosse Maisonneuve at £49 compared to a retail price of £13, and “Emilien” Château Le Puy 2011 at £72 for a wine that will set you back £22 in a shop. The average mark-up was 3.7 times retail price, which is unusually high even by the demanding standards set by London restaurateurs, and seems excessive given that the rents here are hardly Mayfair levels.
An appetiser of butternut squash with tea soaked sultanas and fresh chestnuts was, well, not that appetising. The sultanas were fine but the texture of the base was distinctly leathery (11/20). Bread was sourdough and made from scratch here in the kitchen. This was excellent, with soft texture and a good crust (15/20). Salami is also made here, or to be precise it is made at The Dairy and then shipped here, and a selection of three different ones was offered. Venison, juniper and beetroot was once choice; beef, beer and horseradish another, and the pick of the trip was pork, black pepper and apple. These were all enjoyable, the classic pork and apple combination with a little pepper bite being particularly appealing (14/20).
A salad of crab, clementines, red meat radish and bitter leaves had inherent balance, though you could spend some time playing “hunt the crab” before locating a little pile of white crab meat under one of the leaves. There was also a lot of salt used, even to my taste (12/20). Beetroot came with fermented apple and pine, and was quite minimalist though prettily enough presented (12/20). Portobello mushrooms with raw turnip, bagna cauda (a garlic, anchovy and olive oil dip) and rye was harmless enough though I can never get overly excited about eating turnip, while considerably more of the bagna cauda might have enlivened things a bit (12/20).
Mackerel was blowtorched at the table and served with salt-baked turnip, an oyster and horseradish. The fish itself was excellent, fresh and having plenty of flavour (13/20), though the horseradish flavour was missing in action and the turnip was, well, a lump of turnip. It is a vegetable with an inherent flavour as thrilling as an accountant’s office party on a January night in Hemel Hempstead. Better was partridge with toasted barley, chervil root, trompette mushroom and bread sauce. The barley added a useful extra texture and the bird was carefully cooked, its flavour quite good (14/20).
I found the dessert options remarkably unappealing. White chocolate and carrot anyone? How about semolina cake and olive oil ice cream to go with your rhubarb and, er, black olive? I am pretty sure that no prisoner on death row ever ordered for his last meal semolina cake and olive oil ice cream, though I may be mistaken. We shared a plate of cheese instead. The coffee was fine.
Service was pleasant, our Irish waitress particularly charming. The bill came to £33 a head with just water to drink. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per person would end up at around £55 or so. The meal here had some highlights, particularly the excellent bread, though for me the menu seemed to be trying too hard to be achingly fashionable rather than actually appealing. Doubtless the local hipsters lap it up.