The Corner Room
Town Hall Hotel, Patriot Square, E2 9NF viajante.co.uk; tel: 020 7871 0461
Cost per person without wine: £30
IF nothing else, the Corner Room, which is the second restaurant to open in Bethnal Green’s Town Hall hotel, gives you a worthwhile opportunity to nose around more of this stupendous art deco building. The hotel’s primary restaurant is Viajante, the cool-as-ice stage for the experimental cooking of Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes. It’s a beautiful place in itself, but having its own street-side entrance, it means you don’t see much of the rest of this supreme example of early 20th century civic architecture.
To reach the Corner Room, you enter by the building’s main entrance into the majestic, marble-lined lobby, where oh-so-groovy pieces of vintage furniture lurk in the well of the grand central staircase. Up on the first floor, beautiful wood-panelled corridors feed away from a giant landing, while well-chosen contemporary art pieces hang here and there.
Round a corner, naturally enough, is the Corner Room – previously a store room and now doubling up as the breakfast room for hotel guests. It’s a simple, airy little space decorated with an installation of old hanging lamps and a wrought iron staircase that spirals pointlessly, but pleasingly, up one wall.
It’s a simple, stripped-back but highly aesthetic space offering a simplified, stripped-back version of Mendes’s highly aesthetic cooking. To emphasise the point further, the menu is printed in a typewriter font on cheap bits of brown paper – and cheap is the thing that really strikes you. Of the six main courses on offer, two are £10, three are £12 and one is £16 – sensational value for the precise, lovingly-made creations of one of Europe’s most exciting chefs.
At which point it’s worth noting that you can’t book for the Corner Room. It doesn’t even have its own website. Get there in good time if you want to sit straight down, or be prepared to down a few cocktails in Viajante’s bar downstairs while you wait for one of the few tables to become free – not the greatest chore, frankly.
Simple it may be, but every dish is a tempter. From potential starters that included squid with jersey royals and fennel, romaine lettuce with mussels and sour cherries and a sharing cheese course, we went for a platter of iberico bellota chorizo, and sea bass ceviche with broad beans. The chorizo was rich, peppery and wonderful – it’s meant as a sharing dish, but my friend had no problems polishing it off. The ceviche was also marvellous – an elegant pile of tender, slippery fish morsels and beans, given sharpness by mustard seeds and coriander, and tiny, golden shards of caramelised bread for crunch.
My chum took the £16 option for his main: buttery, flavoursome brill fillet with artichokes that was brought alive by some smoky pancetta. I could have done with a steak knife to attack a somewhat fatty, lukewarm piece of lamb rump, but the taste took me to the heavens. The nutty sweetness of the lamb, a vibrant pesto, peppery radish shavings and some crunchy pickled onions created a miraculous criss-cross of flavours that was grounded by a giving cube of lamb belly.
The straightforward effortlessness of the cooking belied the sophisticated, fine-tuned understanding of ingredients and taste. Desserts were no different: a wispy quenelle of chocolate mousse matched by a cube of tangy cube of richest caramel, some sweet peanut butter ice cream and crispy clumps of <a href="http://www.bakewithstork.com/recipes/muffins-and-brownies/chocolate-brownies" target="_new">brownie</a>; a chewy crumble with blueberries and frozen crumbs of lime.
The small range of wines is priced between £28 and £35. The service is charming. You leave refreshed, impressed and enriched. The Corner Room gets everything right.