Booking lunch rather than dinner has long been my way of eating affordably at the best restaurants in London. Le Gavroche and Ledbury were the legendary bargains (unfortunately, those lunch menus are no longer), and Galvin at Windows was where we treated our two daughters to their first Michelin-starred meal before they even left. have reached double digits. (Not quite the magnanimous act you might think; back then there was a £10 children’s menu on Sundays.)
Discovering the London Murphia – in particular Richard Corrigan, Robin Gill and Anna Haugh – has also always been interesting; one name on this list that is less familiar but highly regarded is Patrick Powell, the Mayo native who worked as head chef at Chiltern Firehouse alongside Nuno Mendes, the much-loved Portuguese executive chef. At the time, it was a renowned restaurant with carefully guarded doors. Not the kind of place that makes an affordable lunch for civilians; so I never had the opportunity to taste Powell’s cooking.
That’s why, on my first trip back to London since all this hoo-ha, I went to lunch in Stratford, where Powell is the main man in what’s being billed as the next hotspot in the east of London. It’s a bit of a trek, I must say. And the field is certainly emerging. The Stratford Hotel is located on the first seven floors of the 42-story Manhattan Loft Gardens, which stands against a backdrop of what looks like Stalinist-era Brutalist architecture.
But the Allegra restaurant is an international luxury; João Gilberto lounge music, muted tones and seating areas far enough away for discreet conversation; although for some unfathomable reason, the bench seats are a little too high to allow comfortable crossing of the legs. If you have the Goldilocks gene, go for the chair.
Our very first bite, choux pastry (£3.50 each) smothered in bright green pistachio chips, is quite spectacular. A delicious crunch gives way to a rich but light fowl liver parfait with the slightest hint of sweetness, punctuated with a hint of black garlic and a burst of candied clementine.
The same meticulous care and flavor magic goes into the three mini Waldorf tartlets (£7). Incredibly flimsy crates hold precision-cut cubes of pressed Colston Bassett apple that has the most delicious kick of tartness, sprinkled with an ethereal cloud of blue cheese. The Domaine Wachau Gruner Veltliner (£44), from a list that might make you a little nervous, pairs well.
Although it is not specified, all the products used here are of first choice. For the beef tartare (£15), it’s dairy cow, minced by hand, and tiled with smoked, marinated red and yellow carrots and nasturtium leaves. The crab on toast with shellfish sauce (£16) sounds simple enough, but it’s a dish I would eat again for starters, main course and dessert. The quality of the hand-picked Devon crab is exceptional – individual chunks of well-defined sweetness on brioche toast – and the shellfish sauce is exquisite, sprinkled with peridot-coloured spheres of oil. There are hints of chervil and just a whisper of something floral, which I discover, checking the menu later, is elderflower.
Our shared main course – we opted for the plaice (£42) out of seven very good roast options – has a much more rustic approach than the previous dishes. A Skeppshult cast iron skillet is brought to the table, with a big slice of plaice on the bone. It is surrounded by mussels and pearls of fregola and trout roe in a butter sauce, seasoned with marinated fennel. There’s so much to eat in the dish that we could have skipped our side dish of roasted carrots with harissa and crispy slivered almonds (£7).
There is of course room for dessert, and we end with a very good millefeuille (£11), three golden pieces of compressed buttery puff pastry, filled with squiggles of pastry cream and served with a quenelle of ice cream. Epping honey. It is the central Michelin casting, precise and greedy.
Stratford is unlikely to top my list of London destinations, and the Westfield Mall next door ticks off every concentric circle of hell. But the Murphias talk a lot about Powell, how he cooks his best food yet, and that certainly seems to be the case. Lunch isn’t cheap, but a new £38 set menu has just been introduced and would definitely be worth checking out.
Lunch for two with snacks, bottle of wine and 12.5% service charge was £168.63 (€193.59)
THE VERDICT: Precise and delicious cooking
Music: João Gilberto, Celso Fonseca and relaxing vibes
Food: Provenance Txuleta Beef, Welsh Lamb, Bethnal Green Fish, Primeur, and Shrub for Vegetables
Vegetarian options: Celeriac in salt with Vadouvan spices, pancake of roasted porcini mushrooms with rutabaga in the oven, vegan and vegetarian tasting menu available
Wheelchair access: Accessible, with accessible washrooms