38-42 St. John Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1M 4AY
Background: One of the perks of writing about food and restaurants is that you end up meeting other people who are similarly impassioned by the same topic. Hence how I met Charlie McVeigh of the Le Café Anglais and The Draft House (I highly recommend both). We got a talking about cheese, wine, restaurants and the like and planned to have lunch. Eating with a restaurateur is a little daunting. He made the reservation at Eastside Inn (through the PR office at Le Café Anglais!), a newcomer to Farringdon around Smithfield market, in the previous home of Vic Naylor’s, opened by Bjorn van der Horst, formerly with Gordon Ramsey Holdings.
When I hear the word “Inn” I immediately think of Jesus, for no other reason than he was born in the stable of an inn or so they say. After Jesus comes small country get-aways in Connecticut or the Cotswolds. This place was not very “inn-like” according to my standards but I am not in the habit of setting them so take them with a grain of salt. The interior is modern and minimalist, a little too well-lit for my taste, and is divided into two sections; the restaurants and the bistro. There is also a little lounge area where there is supposed to be jazz (apparently not lunchtime) but struck me as a little awkward.
Lunch is often the toughest time for most restaurants, new restaurants especially, thus the place was rather sparsely populated when we arrived. Thankfully we opted for the less formal option, the bistro, and to eat at the bar of the open kitchen which to my great pleasure was not pre-set with Easter egg coloured chargers like the restaurant.
The Starters: I have a bit of a habit of asking the waiter what he or she likes the best of the menu. It comes out automatically without my having much control over it. So I did. Sometimes you can tell that they are completely sincere and love the item they are suggesting and sometimes you just know that they are trying to move a dish. In this case it was the former. A good thing, you might be thinking. In theory, yes, but you forget my rather complex eating habits these days. So he earnestly recommends the Bone marrow and oxtail marmalade: Horseradish and orange zest which sounds absolutely amazing. I have a thing for bone marrow and a completely separate thing for oxtail anything, so this is pretty much heaven except for one thing. I cannot fathom being that much of a glutton that I can eat bone marrow not on bread, just with a spoon. It seems just too Edwardian. So I instead order the Baby squid à la Basquaise. Charlie goes for the Organic Egg: Frisée, walnuts and blue cheese.
The squid dish is rather wrongly named as its more A la Basquaise with Squid. In case you are unaware (as I was); à la Basquaise means it is a dish whose ingredients will include mostly tomatoes and sweet peppers. This could be great except that I am not a fan of peppers and my culinary ignorance has gotten me into a pickle once again. But wait, I really enjoyed it. I thought the squid was too sparing and a little tough but I absolutely loved the Basquaise bit. Charlie’s egg was, well, an egg but a beautiful and delicious orange-yoked egg and damned right at £10 (please excuse the "before and after" pictures but the yolk colour must be documented it).
The Mains: For the mains, I went with the Monkfish bourride: Fennel and clams and Charlie chose the Plats du jour which was a skate wing with a side of ratatouille. This was pretty daring on my part as I consider myself a fish novice and rarely order it in a restaurant for a) fear of being disappointed, b) offending the restaurant, c) embarrassing my dining companion or d) all of the above. As a fish Charlie’s skate looked pretty scary (to me, not a normal person), but it was apparently very good and the ratatouille excellent. My decision, however, was genius. “Wow” was the first word out of my mouth and (sorry Mom) I hadn’t even finished chewing yet. The monkfish was adequately rested and tender and the clams were juicy and flavourful but it was the sauce that tipped the balance for this dish. Since the bread embargo prevented me from sopping it up I was forced to use a spoon.
Closing thoughts: The décor wasn’t exactly my taste but I loved eating at the bar and watching the chefs cook. That being said it can get a little awkward when one of the sous chefs or line cooks (I can’t tell, definitely need to brush up on kitchen hierarchy) gets yelled at or burns himself (both happened while we were there). We didn’t take dessert but were offered a beautifully presented ball of sorbet on a block of ice. Hopefully the traffic gets a little heavier and the place fills up, but it should as the food is really very good. One last thing, maybe it was the star-studded cast (Charlie, not me) or the fact that we were almost alone in the dining room but I felt a little stalked by the wait staff; a little bit eager to please.
Silverware: Standard issue. Nice and sturdy.
Silverspoons: 7.5 / 10
Damage: £40 per person (no wine)