From Notting Hill via Soho to the City – James Cochran EC3:
I have to admit, I was curious. James Cochran has a stellar heritage, having worked his way up at the two Michelin star Ledbury in Notting Hill and the Harwood Arms, my old local and London’s only pub with a star to its name. His own projects over the last eighteen months or so have included a pop-up in Camberwell and a fine dining restaurant in Hackney. The most recent, BYOC is a speakeasy in Soho where you bring your own spirits, pay a cover and then sit back and enjoy the cocktails on offer.
There’s a BYOC in EC3 too, in the basement of the restaurant. We had a peek through the door before we left – a complete contrast to the modernist design upstairs, the BYOC has a cosy, retro feel. The main restaurant though comprises a handful of large sharing tables. Great for bloggers who like to take photos but just a little lacking in intimacy. It’s hard to get an idea of what the place would be like if it was busy – right now there’s enough space to swing a few cats but round tables with banquette seating might be a little awkward to share?
The menu is divided into Bar Snacks, Small Plates, Large Plates and Desserts. We opt to try a few of the bar snacks and small plates and then share a large plate before we decide what to do for dessert.
First up, brown shrimps with feuille de brick, mace and ale. It’s a dainty and delicious dish, though not the most photogenic thanks to the plating. I’m not quite sure why it is served on what seems to be a paper napkin?
And, bread with whipped chicken butter – something I’ve had at Adam Handling’s The Frog and really enjoyed. Is it a trend? Here it’s pretty much spot on and a good way to fill up.
Not that we need to – our next bar snack is a very delicious and substantial tray of Jamaican jerk buttermilk chicken with pickled scotch bonnets, corn nuts and coriander. We learn that the Scotch bonnets come from James’s garden – and are not that hot. The buttermilk chicken is delicious, with the perfect level of heat for me and with a great crunch from the corn nuts. If I happened to work around here I’d be in every day for a portion (£4). Now the issue for me is that this dish seems quite incongruous against the very delicate brown shrimp feuille de brick. It’s almost as if there are two restaurants – one offering a tasting menu, the other some excellent comfort food. And, though both are really very good the shrimp dish seems truly insubstantial at this point.
Cornish mussels with hispi cabbage, whiskey and oats, our first ‘small plate’ is a lot smaller than the jerk chicken bar snack. We’d have happily eaten twice as much, although for the price (£7.50) it’s perfectly fair. The mussels are lurking under the cabbage, taken out of their shells and poached in a light whiskey broth. It’s really very good.
The vegetarian roast parsnip with hibiscus poached pear and hazelnut pesto is delicious too.
Our ‘large plate’ is Kent coast sea bass with roast onion tea, cauliflower and sea vegetables. James comes from near Whitstable and the menu is heavily influenced by locally available food. We both love the dish – a fillet of sea bass on a cauliflower steak with a richly fragrant onion tea, but somehow feel slightly cheated. It’s not that this is too little, it’s that we’ve had a bar snack which was a lot more! It’s a curious situation and one which doesn’t quite work in terms of marrying expectation with reality. Perhaps we just got lucky with the portion of buttermilk chicken?
On to dessert – I’m keen to try the doughnuts because I remember them from the Harwood Arms. Here they are served plated and perhaps lose a little impact as a result. But, there’s definitely an influence there…and a good one at that.
My companion opts for the cheese, which comes nicely presented with a fruit bread. Her only complaint that there’s no guidance as to the order to eat the cheeses.
All in, we’re impressed with the food though rather less so with the ambience. And, I want to take everything on the menu, lay it out on the table and try to make some sense of the portion sizes. As always, we’ve over-ordered so we won’t be leaving hungry. But, I do worry that it would be all too easy to end up feeling that you’d been shortchanged – if I’d been with my Pescatarian friend, the Hedonist, we’d have struggled a little with the large portion of chicken vs the tiny brown shrimp dish.
I’d like to see this restaurant fly. The cooking is excellent and I love the very personal touch that James brings to the table. My gut feeling is that the interiors need a revamp. One large sharing table would be fine, but here everything seems to be a hybrid posh-communal. And that isn’t necessarily going to work. A menu of more dishes like the buttermilk chicken, chicken butter and doughnuts might be appropriate in the sharing setting but wouldn’t showcase James’s fine dining chef skills. But, the kind of person who wants to dine on pigeon breast, liquorice, hazelnut and bay cream or even on roast onion tea may just expect a little more intimacy?
I can’t fault the food at all – and the pricing is keen. So, check it out for yourself and let me know what you think!
19 Bevis Marks, EC3 (020 3302 0310, jcochran.restaurant). Mon-Sat noon till 3pm and 6pm-10pm