Three men in a Nest…
Imagine three young men having a beer or three. Two have just lost their jobs and the third is a chef with Fulham’s Michelin starred pub The Harwood Arms listed on his CV. They reach that dangerous point in the evening when one of them cries out “Let’s start our own restaurant”. Now, this is madness, a road to financial ruin and a duodenal ulcer, but that’s what just three long-term friends Luke, Toby and head chef Johnnie have done with Nest. After a year of pop-ups and festival gigs, these three fledgeling restauranteurs have found a home for Nest in the heart of hipster Hackney serving British small plates alongside low-intervention wines. There is an a la Carte option but as with other recent startups Cub and Fodder your best bet is the tasting menu – a very reasonable £28 for seven courses. Prices are kept low by only having one meat in the kitchen at a time. The ethos of the restaurant is sustainability and with its reclaimed wood tables decorated with your very own bird’s nest and birdsong in the loo, Nest has the feel of a small rural idyll in the heart of the city. Mixing drinks seems to be a thing at the moment so before trying some wine from the intriguing looking list we launched proceedings with glasses of Oliver’s Herefordshire Perry and sparkling Cider. The Perry was delicious, medium sweet and honeyed and the cider was fine if less interesting.First out of the kitchen was a plate of pickled celeriac with truffle and hazelnut. The dish was a surprisingly robust call to arms with the vinegary crunch of this winter’s on-trend root soothed by the richness of the truffle.Brown shrimp came slathered with a buttery seaweed and nori powder. I loved this dish. So much flavour in such a little shrimp! It was well matched with a glass of aromatic Valli Unite Ottavio Rube, Cortese, Timorasso, Italy 2016. With its apple notes it had a well-structured acidity and a slight sparkle which at my age is the best you can hope for.The soda bread was like a rich savoury cake with smoked whipped butter upping its desirability to almost unbearable levels.It was perfect for mopping up the intense rich umami flavours of an onion broth with innocent little pillows of Lincolnshire Poacher cheese dumplings floating in the seductive dark liquid. We had moved on to a little sip of a Trelawny and Tapp House Pays d’Oc Sauvignon Blanc-Chardonnay blend from 2015, the creaminess of Chardonnay managing a high-wire balancing act with the acidity of the Sauvignon.Creamy mash, trout, crunchy pickled daikon and sparky allumettes came together in an elegant Schiaparelli hat of a dish.Steamed pudding was doused in a counter-intuitive but brilliant seaweed and cockle reduction. The steam coming off the pudding and smell of the lamb evoked childhood memories of winter Sunday lunches with a maiden aunt in a draughty old seaside house. The cockle syrup and seaweed being the smell of the beach wafting in the window. A glass of Les Figues, Côtes de Rhône, Domaine de la Bastide. Syrah, Carignan, Grenache, France 2015, was a robust response to the meaty offering.As a vegetarian alternative to the lamb, glutinous smoked egg with artichoke shards was a perfect dish of sophisticated comfort food. At this point of the blog, there should have been a photo of the dessert but I had lost the plot by that point of the meal. Bread and butter pudding, soda bread ice cream, nutmeg custard. brandy soaked raisins. beer caramel and oats coalesced in an indulgent mix of sweet and bitter flavours.After a glass of sweet Yarlington Mill cider as a digestif, it struck me that we had eaten through a consistently delicious and intriguing tasting menu for way less than the price of the main course in many London restaurants. The cooking at Nest is innovative and exciting and I love its idealism and sense of unworldliness. Go and support them.
177 Morning Lane, Hackney