Though the internet is quickly becoming populated with rave reviews from the likes of The Times, The Evening Standard & TimeOut of James Cochrane’s EC3 restaurant, I always think it couldn’t hurt to add another. In fact, you can expect two more alongside this one, from different sides of the table, as I dined at this recently opened restaurant with two fellow food blogging pals just last week, and we all have something to say about it.
Just a short walk from Liverpool Street & Aldgate, James Cochrane EC3 is based on a street filled with office buildings and construction work. You wouldn’t think you’d find such an intriguing dining space along here, filled with eye catching art, a gentle hum of diners anticipation and infamous cocktail bar BYOC East hidden downstairs in one of them.
I arrived a little late (as per usual) to our dinner and found the girls at the bar sipping a glass of red. I joined them and was thrilled to see it was a glass of the Good Ordinary Claret by Berry Brother’s & Rudd. One of my favourite reds with a very low price point, considering the quality.
We were seated in the dining room which was full. It was the 15th of February, and while all the Valentine’s chocolates, cards and other commercial crap had already been removed or discounted in stores, JC EC3 was still celebrating the commercial goldmine that is Valentine’s Day. With no choice but to dine from the Valentine’s set menus, we glanced our eye over the two options. For £35 we could enjoy 5 courses, while for an extra £20 we could enjoy 7.
Neither menu included the infamous Jerk Chicken.
We weighed them up. By dining from the 5 course menu we would miss out on a fish course of scallops and a pre-dessert of meringue. From what I remember from browsing the website we would also miss out on a glass of prosecco. That didn’t seem like £20 worth of extra to us, and besides we wanted to order the jerk chicken as an extra course so the cheaper menu made more sense to us.
Our first course was the Whitstable Rock Oyster with horseradish and apple. I’ve had oysters straight from the bay in Whitstable (if you are an oyster fan you simply MUST visit the Whitstable Oyster Festival in the Summer) and they are glorious, as was this one, though while horseradish may have been in the kitchen at the same time as the oyster, the two certainly weren’t introduced if the flavour was anything to go by. The oyster wasn’t salty as they usually are, rather it was smooth and clean tasting – but it also didn’t have a sweetness of apple that I had expected to it either. Regardless it was lovely, but I wonder what James had intended the flavours to be as it didn’t live up to the menu description.
The following course of Treacle Cured Smoked Salmon with whiskey and apple jelly, cods roe, radish and rye is one of James’ signature dishes, drawing on his part Scottish heritage. This elegant looking plate was light and clean, with a beautifully gentle flavour from the salmon. The dollops (for want of a more graceful word) of jelly provided a sweet zing to the plate and the radish played the part of adding a crunchy texture.
Quail followed, with buckwheat, wild mushroom, a confit egg yolk and… hay? The latter i’m not so sure about as I saw and tasted no evidence of it, but the rest was all un-mistakable with some powerfully divine flavours that all worked so elegantly together. The buckwheat was rich in a deep meaty flavour, as though it has been soaked in a well made gravy (a proper gravy made by chefs that know how to make a good sauce) which was deepened by the juiciness of the mushrooms. The egg yolk which oozed unapologetically across the plate also stuck itself to the quail breast (both poached and roasted), which was both tender and succulent.
At this point we snuck in our order for the Jamaican Jerk Chicken. The danger here was that this dish had been praised so highly across London by many of the reviewers I admire the most that my expectations were so high and I feared I would now be expecting too much and be left disappointed.
I wasn’t left disappointed. In fact, it surpassed all of my expectations and surprised me on many a level.
There is an instant impact of heat that swarms around your mouth with your first bite. It’s shocking, but it’s pleasant too. The kind of heat that keeps you going back for more, in a delicious masochistic way. The buttermilk crust is in no way greasy, rather it is crisp and nicely dry, keeping all the juices from the succulent chicken within. There is a chutney hidden beneath it in the bowl which is a gorgeous touch, giving a bit of sweet relief, though had it not been there I wouldn’t have thought the dish was missing anything. The chicken isn’t on the bone which means you get to enjoy every last morsel of the dish, and had we not been about to enjoy our main course and a pudding to follow, I’d have ordered another portion.
With our main course of Haunch and braise of Venison, beetroot, potato and smoked creme fraiche there came mixed emotions.
The venison was stunning, undeniably so. The haunch was beautifully pink and tender, while the braised portion was rich but slightly tougher and dryer (but only in comparison, it was still delightful).
The smoked creme fraiche was extraordinary: beautifully smooth, velvety and subtly sour with an intriguing level of smokiness which somehow just worked. As it was a sharing course (since when does Valentine’s equate to food sharing? That is not love, that is an argument starter!) we were left to dish up the food ourselves so I gave it my best shot at plating up in a fancy restaurant way… I’ll leave the verdict up to you.
What you’ll notice on my plate is firstly that the beetroot has a slither of something white and slimy on it. We asked, and after a quick check with the kitchen the waitress returned to announce it was lardon fat. Why? No idea, as it added literally nothing to the dish, other than mystery as to why it was included in the first place.
Secondly, the size of the potato portion. One bite, and this crunchy bit of carbohydrate was gone. For the entire sharing board, there were three small cubes of potato. Now, we wouldn’t have been too irked by this had we not taken a gander at our neighbouring table’s portion before us (they had even asked to see the menu we had kept behind to confirm which dish it was they were eating, so we had opportunity to scout out what we had to come) – we dining from the same menu and enjoying the same dish, however they had a bowl of large cut potato chips, probably three times the size of each of our cubes, and certainly more than one each. We raised this with our waiter and he said he would ask the kitchen for an extra portion.
That portion never came. The kitchen had closed.
What appeared to have transpired is that the kitchen either hadn’t prepared itself to cook the number of covers for the set menu they had booked in, or they had over served portions to other tables and ours, being one of the last served, had therefore missed out due to bad calculation. It didn’t ruin the course by any means but it did leave it a little unbalanced and we felt ever so slightly robbed of our full main course.
Dessert arrived, Chocolate Tart with cream cheese ice cream and chocolate soil, looking tempting and rich. The chocolate was dark and thick, on a crunchy pastry base and the ice cream nestled on a bed of the chocolate soil. We all agreed around the table that the ice-cream was outstanding. The unusual use of cream cheese made it creamier, and for me tasted like a thick Malteaser milkshake! The sweetness of this ice-cream helped to cut through the bitterness of the chocolate which at times became a little over-powering, and it wasn’t long before I was scraping the last dribbles of the melted ice-cream from the plate to aid and balance my palate. I could have done with an extra scoop or five!
Our meal had come to an end, and by the pure nature of food bloggers, we all immediately reflected on the experience we had just had.
One piece of criticism we had to offer (besides making sure you have enough ingredients to plate up appropriately!) was that when dining from a tasting menu, the waiter should always explain the dish as it is placed in front of you. We found ourselves constantly having to refer to the menu we had kept behind in order to work out what it was we were eating. We raised this with the waiter and unfortunately for him it was his first day and he wasn’t clued up on the menu yet, and when we then raised it with the duty manager (along with our potato woes!), it transpired she had only been working in the restaurant a week or so, too! That’s not all to say that the staff weren’t lovely and polite, but the lack of training and knowledge about the food was apparent.
So what did I think of our evening at James Cochrane’s EC3?
I loved it, and I would certainly return, but would perhaps be more inclined to enjoy the A-La Carte menu next time… so I could have three courses of the Jerk Chicken! I’d also love to try out the BYOC bar below, and now that their new wine bar is open i’d be keen to give that a test drive as well! Value for money wise, this was a very reasonable evening (made more reasonable by the duty manager giving a small discount by way of apology for PotatoGate!) – splitting the bill between the three of us, we paid around £57 each which for 6 courses, a few glasses and bottle of wine plus service I think was very decent indeed.
The decor in the restaurant is interesting, with some pieces of art verging on the hideous, while others brought a smile to my face. It felt a little cramped at the back where our table was due to a large round table of 8 next to us, but the ceilings are quite high and it’s bright enough that it’s not claustrophobic.
Make sure you look out for my fellow diners thoughts on our evening over on their blogs: SavlaFaire and SoFoodieBlog. And then be sure to do whatever you can to get yourself a portion of that Jerk Chicken. Your mouth will thank me, I promise.