East London’s Raw Bar and More – The Richmond:
I’m sure that I am not alone in spending far too much time and energy when I first move searching out local bars and restaurants? The ideal neighbourhood restaurant for me is somewhere I feel comfortable by myself or with friends, somewhere with excellent food, an accessible wine list and perhaps a few cocktails. And, having moved it is particularly irritating to end up in somewhere that would definitely be top of my list if it happened to be on my doorstep. But, Dalston, Haggerston and London Fields are the neighbourhoods served by The Richmond – and not only am I nowhere near, that particular part of East London is quite inaccessible for those of us who live just a little South of the River.
Having hopped on a bus at Liverpool Street and then decided to walk the last part of the journey, I arrived achingly early at The Richmond, right in the middle of Oyster Happy Hour (when you can pick from a menu of seven oysters for just a £1 a piece). Quite a bargain, since the regular price is up to £3.50 (for Menai rocks or Cumbrae). A much healthier idea than a cocktail happy hour, the challenge of course is to avoid drinking too many cocktails with your selection. As it happens, I waited for my dining companion The-Hedonist to turn up before trying any of the oysters, but I WAS tempted by a cocktail – which turned into two.
My first, the Brit Spiritz was a kind of take on an Aperol Spritz, made with Kamm & Sons, Elderflower Cordial and natural sparkling wine. But it was the second batch of cocktails, once The-Hedonist had arrived which really worked for me. ‘Sage against the Machine’ (get it?) with Wolfschmidt Kummel, Cocchi Americano, fresh lime and sage and ‘Shady Pines’ with Espolon Reposado, cider vinegar, Luxardo Maraschino, lemon juice and Douglas Fir. I loved the enthusiasm of the mixologist, former Hix Soho head bartender Lewis Coburn, with a bar lined with a wonderfully broad selection of ingredients to play with. If this was my local I’d be here for a cocktail and a few oysters every night, especially when the prices are so keen (cocktails are £7 or £8 a pop).
On to the food. We were invited to try some of the oysters and picked a mixture – two Menai rocks, a Maldon Kamamoto and Cumbrae, which turned out to be my favourite. Though if I’m perfectly honest I could just have sat and eaten through the oyster menu a few times more and gone home content.
The main menu is made up of a short raw bar, starters, mains and side dishes, so we agreed to share two raw dishes and the already famous English crab muffin.
The wine list deserves a special mention – it’s the work of Isabelle Legeron, France’s only female Master of Wine and the champion of artisan and natural wines. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Isabelle a couple of times now, both at RAW wine show previews and at the launch of her book on natural wines. At The Richmond there is a fine list of natural wines some available by the glass, some in 500ml carafes and others by the bottle. We decided to ask for our food to be paired for us and the result was a delightful selection which worked beautifully with the food we were eating.
To start, a Pinot Blanc from G Schueller, Alsace and a glass of Chenin Blanc from Domain Bobinet, Les Gruches, Saumur. My preference was the minerally Chenin Blanc, though I liked the pairing of the Pinot Blanc with the crab.
Seabass tartare with oyster mayonnaise and rye crackers was served in a china scallop shell with a tiny jar of mini crackers to scoop with. Radish added just a hint of pepper to a beautifully presented fresh dish.
Scallop carpaccio was a delicate and beautiful dish of finely sliced fish with delicate slices of grape, ajo blanco, elderflower oil and what I think were ribbons of basil.
Mains initially seemed a bit of a challenge. There are two sharing dishes, of Goosnargh chicken and tuck, but The-Hedonist is pescatarian. He was keen on the idea of the seafood stew (but shouldn’t really be eating Nduja – a spicy melting sausage – a bit like chorizo) – so, given I didn’t feel like lamb or a cheeseburger, I claimed ownership, leaving him to order a dish of mackerel with couscous, olive tapenade and fennel. Actually when the food arrived neither of us was in the least disappointed. My fish stew WAS a meaty concoction of octopus mussels, prawns and fish, all in a hearty nduja sauce. It came with just a few pasta shells and a dab of aioli.
Here, my pairing was a red wine, C Pacalet, Cote de Brouilly Beaujolais, with a fresh, fruity lightness but enough depth to match the spicy nduja
The-Hedonist’s mackerel had a beautifully crispy skin and a great flavour. His wine pairing was a chilled red cabernet franc from Veneto, Lo Sfuso di Collina.
Portion size was pretty much spot on, especially with the addition of chips and a portion of creamed spinach with indian spices. But, of course we still had a dessert course to come.
By choice I would have picked the lovage cake, but since it is served with strawberries it was out of bounds for me. So, we agreed to share a portion of banana tart with creme fraiche and macadamia and a lemon mousse with raspberries and a pistachio brandy snap.
Alongside our desserts we were served a glass of Chateau Tirecul la Graviere Les Pins Mobazillac and a glass of Clot de L’Origine, Maury, Roussillon sweet wines. I’d probably have settled for just the Roussillon and no dessert, but then again I’d have missed out on a truly delicious lemon mousse and an intriguing banana tart (think ‘condensed banana’ and you have it).
This is the kind of food and ambience I’d love in a neighbourhood restaurant near me. I must make an effort to walk up to Borough Market (just over half an hour from me on foot) and try Elliot’s – also the product of Brett Redman, the co-owner and chef at The Richmond. Margaret Crow, Brett’s partner at The Richmond is a stylist and fashion consultant. But, with a background in food writing herself, she set out to develop a place which meets her own ideals
‘I’m making the kind of place I would want to be all the time. Which is probably for the best, because what with launching the place, I’m going to have to.’
I wonder if I can convince them to move to Kennington…
Disclaimer: We dined as guests of The Richmond
316 Queensbridge Road