Lyle’s in Shoreditch Serves Stripped-Down Fare That Stands Out
Lyle's looks like the gallery that it used to be.
The walls are white in this Shoreditch restaurant, the floor is bare, and the large windows flood the room with natural light. It serves stripped-down food in a stripped-down room.
That's not to say the dishes are plain. A starter of cured cod, for example, is sprinkled with nasturtium. The yellow-and-red colors lift the look of the plate just as the peppery flavors elevate the salty fish. It's simple and clean, yet delicious.
This is a restaurant by chef James Lowe. He formerly worked at the nearby St. John Bread & Wine with co-owner John Ogier, who runs the front of house. While Lyle's carries some of the DNA of St. John, Lowe came to wider attention as one of the Young Turks, a collective of chefs with Isaac McHale, who now presides at Clove Club, another modern British restaurant in Shoreditch. Financial backing comes from Karam Sethi and his family, who own Gymkhana and Trishna and also back Bubbledogs and Kitchen Table. London has few such successful restaurant stables. (Sethi is about to add another venue, Bao, serving Taiwan street food.)
At Lyle's, the style is friendly and informal. There's a bar at one side of the room and an open kitchen at the other. For dinner, there is a short tasting menu. At lunchtime, you pick from about six starters, three mains, and three desserts. The small-plate starters are particularly good. An expertly seasoned pheasant parfait came topped with thinly sliced, raw portobello mushrooms sprinkled with beetroot powder. The soft rich parfait, again with spot-on seasoning, worked so well with the crunch of the mushrooms, I wanted more.
In fact, my main reservation at Lyle's is over the portion sizes, which are small. On the other hand, the prices are low—the parfait costs 5.90 pounds ($9.08) and the cod 5.50 pounds—so the best option is to order many dishes and share.
Another starter, blood cake ($7.90), was served with burnt-apple purée and grated walnuts. It was rich and sweet and moist, like a kiss on the plate. I'm getting distracted here.
Among the mains, Old Spot, turnip, and anchovy (15.50) featured beautiful British pork with turnip tops. The meat was juicy and sweet, while the anchovy emulsion added a salty kick. The dish had a yin-and-yang balance, swapping a kiss for ancient Chinese philosophy without missing a beat.
That's Shoreditch for you.
Desserts included a caramel, pear, and ginger loaf that was fresh, with a hint of spice, and not too sweet.
Lowe obtains his produce from a network of farmers and suppliers that he has developed over eight years. The bread, butter, charcuterie, preserves, and pickles are made in-house.
For my most recent meal at Lyle's, Lowe wasn't in the kitchen and there was no drop in standards under sous chef Arran McCredie. The service was also notably good: friendly and approachable and very knowledgeable. Our (Italian) waitress said she eats at Lyle's on her days off, and I don't blame her.
The wine list is short and adventurous, with several options available by the glass and carafe. An Austrian white, Gelber Muskateller 2013, Ewald Zweytick, Südsteiermark (37 pounds), worked well both as an aperitif and with the fish. It comes from Newcomer Wines, just across the road, which stocks only Austrian wines, from a range of small producers.
Lyle's doesn't try to be a fine-dining establishment. Lowe sets aside the sauces and the sorcery to show what a U.K. chef can achieve with British ingredients in a London restaurant.
In the process, he shows how far the city has traveled in 20 years, from culinary desert to dining destination.
Lyle’s is located at Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High St. (entrance on Bethnal Green Road), London, E1 6JJ; +44-20-3011-5911 or http://lyleslondon.com/.