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Sunday, 27 November 2011

Corner Room, Bethnal Green

I have always wanted to try Viajante, Nuno Mendes’ adventurous first restaurant in Bethnal Green. Following its unrivalled success Mendes has recently opened a second eatery – Corner Room in the Town Hall Hotel, located close by. I got totally lost for thirty minutes trying to find the Corner Room; Bethnal Green is not a very pleasant place lose your way in, even in daylight. Noticing my confusion a kind (but odd) man took the time to personally accompany me to the restaurant, an offer I would normally decline but running dangerously late for the bloggers lunch, I reluctantly accepted, and walked with him as he told me stories of his Moroccan family.

Turn a corner away from the dingy takeaway joints and you find the grand Town Hall Hotel, very different in character to its surroundings. The Corner Room is a tiny, lovely light restaurant inside, a petite dining room decorated with a quirky assortment of hanging lights and a particularly unique spiral staircase acting as a sculpture rather than a functional feature. This restaurant has wasted no time in getting into the locals' good books - while we dined, we noticed a group of girls who already consider this little place a firm favourite for girlie lunches.

Mendes is a creative chef who takes risks with his ingredient combinations, experimenting with flavours and textures and creating dishes for foodies who wish to be intrigued. His dishes can be challenging but at the Corner Room he seems to combine his enthusiasm for unique flavours with comforting recipes. First came a punchy amuse-bouche of large green olives stuffed with anchovy, orange and parsley then a selection of fresh bread and salted butter. The menu is concise, and at only £15 for two courses at lunchtime, it is amazing value.

Our table tried a variety of starters, I was most impressed by the fresh presentation, all plates arrived green and healthy looking with a mix of vibrant colours. My beetroot with butternut squash & stracciatella salad was a glorious combination of creamy soft cheese, sweet chunks of fuchsia beetroot, pureed squash and crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds; the contrast in textures was particularly exciting. The mains arrived displayed counter-intuitively only on one side of the pristine white plate. The Iberico pork &Portuguese bread pudding looked divine, cooked unusually rare and juicy. I tried the Onglet steak with wild mushrooms & aubergine: the meat was sensational, and despite preferring my meat well done, I couldn’t fault this superior cut - moist and flavoursome inside with a caramelised crispy edge. There were a few too many mushrooms in danger of overpowering the meat, but a very interesting woody smoky flavour came from the accompanying aubergine puree, I couldn’t quite decide if I liked it or not.

The desserts are the most inventive and luxurious thing on the menu - some of the ideas work, others are a bit odd. The dark chocolate & peanut butter ice cream is a lovely take on a retro classic. I have tried various peanut butter inspired puddings and this was the best - a devilish combination of chocolate brownie, ice-cream and peanut buttery caramel. As a pannacotta fiend, I opted for the apple and hazelnut example… I was a little disappointed that the consistency was more like ice-cream, but the addition of apple crisps and nougat pieces compensated. Across the table the blueberries with goat’s cheese, caramel, brioche & shiso looked like a weird and wonderful experiment from Willy Wonka’s factory, the plate covered in a green granita type mixture. We finished with finely roasted cafetiere coffee.

Nuno Mendes’ exciting restaurants and original cooking is sure to draw foodies to Bethnal Green. For value and taste Corner Room is impossible to fault.

No bookings are taken but the Corner Room is worth queuing for. Visit the website here.

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