Here’s what my Monday looked like:
Flight arrives in London at 5:30am
Check into Hotel at 7:30am
F45 Training Session at 9:30am
Visit to Lyles at 12:30pm
I was feeling particularly jet lagged as I arrived at the Shoreditch train station, so I was particularly happy to find that Lyle’s was only a few meters away. More so when I realised that it was right in the heart of one of London’s coolest and up-and-coming districts. The cool shops and stalls right by the restaurant gave me something to look at while I waited for my reservation time and my first bite to eat in many hours.
One of the new breed of global restaurants, Lyle’s is the kind of place where you throw away the usual rule book for fine dining cooking; indeed, at first glance you’d be mistaken in thinking Lyle’s was a downmarket bistro. But the casual ambiance and bare-bones interior belie the true nature of the dynamic little restaurant; yet the accolades achieved in such a short time give away the illusion that Lyle’s is anything but amazing.
Chef and owner James Lowe has done well, very well indeed.
A coveted Michelin Star is just the beginning; Lyle’s has been recognised by the San Pellegrino Top 50 restaurants as a future world leader; ranking it as the equal 65th best restaurant in the world (at time of writing).
No mean feat for a guy in his early 3o’s.
The casual ambience of the place was reflected in the casual but professional approach of the wait staff. My waitress for the day sat on her haunches next to me while she explained the menu; which accurately reflected the no nonsense approach adopted by Chef Lowe.
The menu contained a heap of offbeat combinations that probably once graced menus but had gone in and out of fashion over the years. Upon first glance, there were a heap of ingredients that I’d normally steer clear of; in fact I began to fret that I wouldn’t find anything on the menu that I’d enjoy eating. But after a deep breath, I decided to put my faith in the chef and went with my gut.
I wasn’t disappointed.
From the very first bite of the house made rye bread served with a slab of hand churned butter that had a texture and consistency of cheese, to the last bite of my dessert, I was transported to my happy place. The butter was hard to spread (which was my only minor quibble with the entire meal), but once I managed to lather up my bread, I was rewarded with a wonderful creamy and crunchy start to my meal.
My starter was simply called Oxtail & Buttermilk Potatoes and most certainly contained ingredients that I’d normally steer clear of. But I was rewarded with a simple looking dish that literally took my breath away. The rustic looking dish that was presented had more flavour than I can put into words, but I’ll try! The oxtail was soft and fell apart to the touch; it was fatty to be sure, but the fat was intensely flavoured. The buttery mash that accompanied the oxtail was so smooth and silky with a beautiful flavour that just worked. A sauce came with the dish that had hints of chimmichuri and taragon that when combined with the robust flavour of the oxtail and the creamy mash, was insane. I was glad the kitchen provided a spoon with the dish; it allowed me to scoop up every little bit of that sauce (I wanted to lick the plate clean)
It was hard to believe that anything could top the wonderful flavours of my starter, but somehow the Teal, Swede & Brussels Tops managed to do so. Again looking very rustic on the plate, the Teal (a small dabbling duck normally found in North America) was hidden under swathes of vibrant green Brussels tops, the dish was finished with a bright Swede puree, sauce, fermented blueberries and flakes of sea salt. Wow. Just wow. The dish was so well balanced, the bitter leaves were complimented by the sweet puree and the very strong flavour of the teal was accentuated by the yummy sauce and crispy skin. A sharp hit from the fermented blueberries helped provide the perfect balance of sweet, sour and salt.
The dish would be a contender for my ‘final meal’ if I was on death row!
We were two from two so far; could the dessert possibly match the highs of my starter and main? At this point I had no doubt that I was on track for the perfect meal.
After a short and very illuminating conversation with my waitress; I had to try the Blood Oranges & La Coste Olive Oil (thanks for the recommendation). It was probably the most refined looking of my dishes for the day, but only slightly. It was incredibly vibrant, with candied blood orange, blood orange segments and a jelly like sauce all surrounding an olive oil ice-cream. I was expecting something much sharper from the blood orange, but it was citrusy and acidic without being tart. Translucent candied-look orange pieces helped with the sweetness, but the ice-cream was the real star of the dessert. Creamy and sweet with a subtle peppery under taste, it had amazingly texture that brought the whole dish together and rounded out the meal perfectly.
I felt almost giddy with pleasure from a meal that had been faultless. It helped that I felt incredibly comfortable in the downtempo dining area, surrounded by cool peeps who looked as if they really enjoyed sharing the space with me. It was also nice and warm inside, a stark contrast to the freezing conditions outside (I was quite reluctant to leave after my meal).
James Lowe was one of a trio of chefs that formed a little group called the Young Turks collective, the others being Ben Green and Isaac McHale (of Clove Club and a destination for later in my trip). The Young Turks had created one of the most desired destinations when they joined forces to host a series of pop-up dinners in 2010, mixing relaxed environs with cutting edge cookery. So it was no wonder that Lyle’s was rated as the 65th best restaurant in the world (McHale’s Clove Club sits currently at #26).
Indeed, if I was to recommend that you visit only one restaurant when visiting the UK, I’d find it hard to not recommend Lyle’s. Cool and relaxed space in the heart of London’s up and coming locations; with a chef that can only be called visionary and food that is as good as it gets.
What more can I say…
I will never forget the meal and cannot wait to return.
**Ranked number 65 at time of dining