The Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room - British
77-82 Whitechapel High Street
London E1 7QX
''The Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room is a revelation. Go, soon.''
I trust, dear Reader, that I have now got your attention because I simply couldn’t run the risk of losing you before reaching the conclusion, so there you have it, in black and white. Some of you may well leave me now and I can rest easy in the knowledge that you’ve digested the most important line, but for the more inquisitive, I’ll elaborate.
The Dining Room is not in the most auspicious of locations (next to Aldgate East tube station) and, as a result, it has to punch above its weight to tempt you through its doors after the gallery has closed; and tempt you it does. You soon forget that you are moments from a main road, as the Dining Room is a haven, contemporary in style as you would expect of an art gallery, yet without trying too hard and reassuringly without any formaldehyde in sight. The food does the talking here.
We learnt that head chef Maria Elia who devised the menu, was apt to change her dishes weekly, monthly or whenever she was inspired by the seasonal produce she sourced from her favoured suppliers. As a result, the dishes had a wonderfully wintry feel and the staff were very attentive and helpful in guiding us through our choices. We were offered roast chestnuts with porcini salt to whet our appetites which were surprisingly good, being hot and satisfyingly savoury once we had peeled away the shells and warmed our hands in the process. The spelt and sunflower bread was equally well received, without the spelt being overly virtuous. Any thoughts of virtuousness happily disappeared with the glass of champagne I enjoyed, but it was Christmas after all.
Char-grilled sage and garlic quail with creamed brussel spouts and wild mushrooms was the stand-out dish of the evening. This was a culinary masterpiece and as colourful as a Picasso, yet far more affordable at £6.75, in fact, we’d happily have paid over the odds for it. The flavours married together beautifully and I would happily trade my Christmas day turkey for quail if Maria could deliver this down the chimney. My dining companion (let’s call him J, lucky fellow that he was) enjoyed succulent pan fried scallops with ham hock rillette and fennel marmalade, yet couldn’t resist finishing off my quail. I made a note to guard jealously my forthcoming dishes.
We proceeded to do battle over spiced lamb with parsnip polenta and sea bass with chestnut pasta rags and cavolo nero. The lamb was wonderfully tender and was successfully jazzed up by rosemary roasted quinces. With Maria at the helm, we learnt to our advantage, that texture and presentation were just as important as taste. The sea bass was pan fried to perfection, yielding crisp skin and firm flesh, and the pasta was adventurous, even if the chestnut was a little heavy for J’s taste (but then he does live in Thailand and loves yoga).
We were advised to order the Christmas spiced meringue with mulled figs and chocolate red wine sauce. I’d like to describe how wonderful it was but I’m afraid that you’ll have to draw your own conclusions from the fact that J polished it all off before I’d had a chance to lock spoons with him. I couldn’t complain though as I was delighted with my chocolate stem ginger malva pudding which was as pretty as a picture and far more edible than an old master, with the sharpness of the ginger cutting through the rich chocolate.
It really is very fitting that Maria is in charge of a kitchen attached to a leading art gallery as she is an artist in residence whom you’d be mad to miss.
Lucy Prichard Jones, Associate, Spring Law
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