Blixen Review: A Friendly Brasserie Alternative to Corporate Canteens
Let's blame the Wolseley.
Ever since that grand European brasserie opened on Piccadilly in 2003, London restaurateurs have been seeking to replicate its success, packing in punters the whole day through.
Blixen is the latest establishment to follow that formula of all-day dining with an accessible and affordable menu, served up with a dash of glamour.
This restaurant has a handy location: The high-ceilinged former bank is on the edge of the City financial district and just a whisker away from the East London fashion hub of Shoreditch. It's a welcome alternative to corporate canteens and crowded bars.
What's special about Blixen is that it doesn’t try too hard. Co-owner Clive Watson is an experienced chap who recognizes that success in restaurants is generally based on getting the basic things right. It's not rocket (salad) science.
The menu is seasonal and short, with each course featuring seven or eight options. The service is relaxed and very friendly. One notable feature about Blixen's customers is how many of them are women. It's a pleasantly mixed crowd, a place to chill out and explore the wine list as much as to enjoy the food. It is for friends and for conviviality.
Not that the food is bad. A starter of mackerel, pickled vegetables, and caperberry vinaigrette is well-cooked—with crispy skin and soft flesh—and well-balanced in terms of acidity. (6.50 pounds, or $9.70)
The chef is Matt Greenwood (formerly of Caravan). He knows how to create dishes that are familiar without being predictable, and how to keep the food coming out of the kitchen at a steady pace without cutting corners. The courgette and goat cheese fritter with kohlrabi slaw (also 6.50 pounds) is well-seasoned and flavorful. Seared beef carpaccio comes generously topped with anchovy, Parmesan, and crispy shallots that look like mini-onion rings. The toppings save what might have been a boring starter by adding taste and texture.
For mains, the grilled sirloin with Cafe de Paris butter and fries is competitively priced at 18 pounds and also very good. The portion size is generous, the meat is perfectly fine, and I really can't resist butter slathered over a steak. This dish is beautifully rich and I'll only watch the price rather than my waistline when I go back in coming months. (Some restaurateurs start with low prices, which they increase once the critics have moved on. This dish was 15 pounds last week, and there’s nowhere to go but up.)
I realize there are healthy people among you who might prefer to go for the salad of kale, pomegranate, walnuts, avocado, beetroot, and pickled courgette, at 10 pounds. I respect your choice, I really do.
For the rest of us, there is a large tranche of crispy pork belly with spaetzle, kale, and quince. Personally, I am becoming bored with pork belly and I've never been a fan of kale, but the meat is big and juicy beneath the crunchy skin and I imagine this will be a best-seller.
Desserts are similarly mainstream. There's crème caramel with brandied prunes; and a pistachio ice cream with lemon shortbread with the full nutty flavor and not too much sweetness.
The daytime menu features crowd-pleasers including a cheeseburger with onions, mushroom, and Belper Knolle. (This is perfectly acceptable, but if it's a burger you are after, the nearby Bleecker St. knocks everything out of the ballpark.)
Watson's previous restaurants include Riding House Cafe, another all-day brasserie, which has been packing in diners since 2011. The wine list at Blixen is short, well-chosen, and as accessible as the food. A good choice for a light red is the Zweigelt 2013 Pinot Noir from Austria (33 pounds). If you are celebrating, the top-priced red — 2011 Chateau Lalande Saint Julien (66 pounds) — is George Clooney smooth.
Dining in the City is improving all the time and yet the pickings are still slim. Blixen helps to fill the gap between fancy restaurants and soulless chains. If I were a fat cat, it would give me something to purr about.
Blixen is at 65a Brushfield St., Spitalfields, London, E1 6AA; +44-20-7101-0093 or blixen.co.uk.