8 November 2011
They didn’t bat an eyelid at the tattoos, but, after all, it is Shoreditch. It must scare a few pinstripes; I mean, they know it exists, and only a minute’s cab ride from Liverpool Street, but it’s actually in ANOTHER WORLD. I mean, it’s in Tower Hamlets, for God’s sake.
Best for: Englishmen pining for the Dordogne
Worst for: People who don’t like to venture beyond their boundaries
Nearest tube: Liverpool Street
The location is indeed a talking point. Boundary Street formed part of the “Old Nichol”, which, in the 1880’s, was apparently London’s most notorious slum and known as “The Sweaters’ Hell” in reference to the prevalence of home- based artisan work carried out there.
Nowadays, it’s more artisan bakery than sweatshop (not that the latter have altogether disappeared) but the area is still, shall we say, unpolished and would make an interesting and unusual choice for City lawyers and their clients.
So accompanied by my muscle-bound, shaven-headed and heavily decorated friend M, we rocked up at the Boundary. Not just a restaurant, this is a warehouse converted into an hotel, shop, cafe and rooftop bar. Design-forward, this is a Conran baby and it has his fingerprints all over it. You either love that or you don’t. Remember when Shad Thames was a bit scary and Conran went and did Pont de La Tour early on? It’s a bit like that.
We found the well-disguised entrance to the restaurant and descended through what felt like a Stygian gloom of luridly painted, deep blue walls. A community project maybe? No other easy explanation for the bizarre murals. At the halfway point, a roughly drawn sign for the lavatories (unnecessary, given the overwhelming smell of disinfectant) made us think we had taken a wrong turn.
We carried on however and were somewhat thrown to find, at the base of the stairs, a stylish, sophisticated and rather fabulous-looking restaurant. It’s an evening place, we said to each other, wouldn’t be right during the day with clients, we said. And we were right. It’s only open evenings and weekends. The decor is interesting; and eclectic. Wide expanses of glass let you look into the kitchen and a zodiac-themed floating ceiling is far more stylish than I am making it sound. The lighting is good and it had a great grown-up atmosphere.
And they did really look after us. I ordered a kir, extra cassis. The sommelier, took the liberty of recommending a framboise syrup they make themselves. Delicious. I could have had a lot of those. It’s a good wine list, reasonable choice at all levels and decent wines by the glass.
And what about the food? It’s an English view of traditional French simple: Charcuterie, Bourride, Plateau de Fruits de Mer - you get the picture. I chose Crème du Barry. A prize for you if you know what it is. Creamy and delicious, it’s a simple cauliflower soup, decorated with croutons. M ordered the beetroot and anchovy salad (I know, but someone has to). It was pretty, but a little bland, given that the beetroot was raw and not pickled, which would have made for a gutsier dish .
The real news of the evening (for me, at least) is that I had oysters. This may not mean much to you, but it’s a milestone for me. I’ve always avoided them. Slimy As your fearless reviewer, however, I felt that I had to put aside my childish prejudices and give them a go.
Oh my God. What have I been missing? They were completely wonderful. Salty and fresh; served with lemon, Worcestershire sauce and chopped onion, I could have eaten nothing else the whole evening and made up the rest of the review.
Being the honest lawyer that I am, I followed with lobster, grilled simply, with a side of parsley butter. It was good, but not outstanding though and I know this makes me sound totally Tamara but the lobster with hazelnut butter that I had at Hawksmoor the previous evening was far superior. M loved his steak with pepper crust, though and served with a rich wine gravy, it looked great.
We had sides of frites, which I pretended not to eat, soft intensely-flavoured roasted red onions, and carrots, which were, well, just boiled whole carrots, on a plate. A little too simple-cooking/ingredients speaking for themselves for my liking (we aren’t at St John, after all) and not carroty enough to stand up to the strong flavours of our main event.
So, even though I had (again) eaten a mountain of food in the service of duty, I made myself order dessert. Tart of the day. A chocolate and hazelnut tart. “Posh Nutella” M said, but I thought it was better than that, a rich, sweet glass of Pinot noir Beerenauslese adding greatly to my enjoyment. Roving spoon strayed over to M’s gooey caramel-y Tarte Tatin and very nice that was too, in a sugar-overload sort of way. I did mention to the chef that I thought crème fraiche would work better with the chocolate tart than the clotted cream, and he didn’t come at me with a knife so I think I got away with it.
I liked this restaurant. I’d come here with friends on a night out or work colleagues who don’t want challenging food. I’d also probably end up at the rooftop bar which looks like it would be fun. The owner cares, the chef cares, the sommelier cares indeed they all care and it makes for a warm and welcoming dining experience. Not ground-breaking food and unexpectedly traditional in this quirky wrapper. Conran does Shoreditch.
Nicky Richmond, managing partner, Brecher @saysitsstraight.