Taking The Amber Road to Aldgate
If you’ve driven through the Aldgate/Whitechapel area over the last few years you will have noticed the huge amount of construction work that’s been going on. So when I was invited to review Amber, a new all-day Middle-Eastern restaurant in Aldgate East, I was expecting the usual forest of cranes, construction traffic and general hubbub surrounding the building work. I was surprised to find a new and cooly elegant urban environment with more in common with Berlin or Tokyo than London. It’s a mixed development with residential and office spaces interspersed with a pleasing amount of new restaurants and bars to discover. One of these is Amber, an attractively airy space with light wood furniture and old soul playing on the sound system creating a relaxed friendly atmosphere that would work just as well for a quick breakfast or lunch, or a dinner feast. The team behind Amber have taken their primary inspiration from The Amber Road, the original trade route used to transport the fossilised tree resin, dubbed ‘The gold of the north’, from coastal areas of the North & Baltic to the Mediterranean Sea. They promise a ‘modern and refined take on Middle Eastern cuisine so I’m interested to see what the menu offers. But before eating one must always stimulate the appetite by having an aperitif. I tried the Figmary, an effervescent sweet and herbal blend of gin, fig, rosemary and bubbles. Catherine who is more grounded than me went for a mineral glass of Sicilian Grillo, Il Folle, 2015. With our drinks we munched on some piquant marinated olives and with beautifully fresh flatbread scooped up a vegetal basil labneh sweetened by beetroot puree and given some crunch by ground pistachios. Perfect with our drinks.The menu is divided into snacks & dips, fish, feast, cheese & cured, meat, sides, vegetables and pide (Anatolian boat-shaped pizza!). Most are small plates but the feast section has two mains dishes so there is a lot of choice. For our starters a lovely dish of fried cauliflower, green shallots, green tahini, pomegranate salad was unusual and delicious. The very on-trend cauliflower was a vessel for layering flavours, the tahini given sour-sweetness by the pomegranate and the shallots adding crispness. Crispy fried squid with the mild spice of a harissa mayo was hand-cut and freshly cooked in a panko-style batter.The burnt leek pide was the best one I’ve ever had. With a wonderfully light base and a covering of blue cheese, luscious, caramelised red onions, red basil and figs it had a great mouth feel and a sweetness from the figs and onions. By this time we moved on to a creamy, buttery biodynamic bottle of Gran Cerdo. Rioja Alta, Spain 2016 which was a great match for our ‘feast’ dish of whole trout, leek, potato, onions, raki butter sauce and fresh herbs. This was another great dish. The indulgent buttery sauce had a hint of aniseed from the raki (Turkish firewater – a sort of turbocharged ouzo) and it made the trout taste wonderful. We were both really full but decided to share a Babka – it’s a cross between a Chelsea bun and a non-alcoholic rum baba. Served with pistachio, almond, sultanas dipped in orange syrup and vanilla ice-cream it was lighter and not as sweet as expected and a great exercise in texture and flavour.
We really enjoyed Amber and it would be worth a trip to see the area and enjoy a cuisine that you might be unfamiliar with. The food is genuinely delicious with dishes I haven’t encountered anywhere else in London. With a relaxed environment, friendly and informed service and an all-day offer it should do really well.
21 Piazza Walk,