10 February 2012
Cleverly crafted in glass from a literal hole in the wall between two taller buildings, like a small child swinging by the hands of its two flanking parents, Bishopsgate Kitchen’s novelty factor is in plain sight from the outset.
Best for: a casual lunch with friends or colleagues who also happen to be your friends
Worst for: anything stuffy or requiring a tie
Nearest tube: Liverpool Street
The old exterior wall is reverently incorporated into the physiognomy of the room it helps its three counterparts to create. As warm and inviting to a Spitalfields city worker as a log cabin to a weary forester, BK is the kind of restaurant you sink into, wind your scarf off your neck and let your heart rate slow to a crawl.
A pedant might take issue with the ostensibly unimaginative choice of name. A restaurant in Bishopsgate – ah yes, word one. Word two: the ubiquitous feature of all restaurants great and small. No prizes for ingenuity there. But in fact it’s rather apt: the first thing that you happen upon as you swing through the doors of Bishopsgate Kitchen is, you’ve guessed it, the semi-open kitchen, complete with a welcome party of smiling chefs serenely stirring obediently bubbling pots and pans and dancing with their reflections over the immaculate surfaces. On closer inspection, it is bafflingly calm in there. Ever cynical, I’m suspicious of too-good-to-be-true-ism – the shouting and sweating and remonstrating of Gordon Ramsey-esque fame must be going on in the real kitchen in a back room somewhere…surely?
Bishopsgate Kitchen does not take reservations, so you take your chances along with the rest of them, but is a welcome snub of the nose to the spontaneity-squashing cult of excessive advance booking which proliferates in many a self-aggrandising City eating house.
The restaurant space is just the right kind of small, and the visual effect of the various types and heights of seating arrangements is aesthetically interesting - a calculated concession, no doubt, when regimented rows of identikit tables might have allowed a higher head-count. A central high table spans the length of the room, populated by animated groups of friends and colleagues; cosy couples occupy a smattering of two-seater tables; and a long bench bolted to the window provides for lone diners and those more inclined to find intrigue in what might be happening on the other side of the glass.
The menu is economical in length but liberal in flavour, littered with game and red meats, rich nutty sauces and the odd curveball (a tomato-based twist on a classic clam chowder). No one could put it better than my dinner date, who - manifestly paralysed by indecision, like a predator finding itself within unexpected proximity to an array of equally enticing prey - remarked with doleful regret that he “really just wanted to eat everything”.
The wild rabbit and mushroom lasagna is like a field trip to culinary paradise, and the tender Barbary duck breast snuggled into chestnut mash is more than a few notches above the ordinary. But the star of the show, which takes some doing for a girl who would always choose a starter over dessert, is the chocolate torte with a fashionable quenelle of mascarpone and an utterly delicious raspberry sauce which stands tall and unique in a crowded arena of tried and tested “chocolate with red fruit sauce” contenders.
We never did manage to work out what made the “Artisan Cheese Board” especially artisan in this case. We asked; but like a practised politician the waitress answered a question we hadn’t asked and described the given names of the four different cheeses on the board. I guess plain old “Cheese Board” by “Bishopsgate Kitchen” just sounded a little, well, unimaginative…
Anneka Bain is a lawyer in Hogan Lovells’ IP team