I had a haircut over the weekend. They lopped off about six inches. The first few minutes of chopping were pretty exciting. But I have a 40 minute attention span—and once that had elapsed it became agony.
The snipping of individual hairs. Ten minutes deciding where my parting should go. Spritzing and stroking everything into place. It was windy and drizzly outside. Deep down, both the hairdresser and I knew that I’d tuck it behind my ears and stick on a hat as soon as I left.
That’s the root of the problem. I’m not good at farting about. I’d prefer a haircut where everything just got lopped off and I was allowed to get on with my day. And I prefer a restaurant where they whack everything on the plate and shout ‘service’.
And this was my sadness about supper The Young Turks’ new enterprise. The food was super, the venue was perfect, it was exceptional value…but it took over three hours for the chefs to crawl through the menu. With only ten tables to serve, I couldn’t help but think it was down to the torturous positioning of ingredients. The tinkering and tweaking with smears and sprinkles—when all they needed to do was plonk it all on the plate because, my goodness, the flavours spoke for themselves.
The Young Turks are a super talented trio of chefs. They’re not wanging it—these guys are the real deal. Big names such as Noma and St John Bread and Wine crop up throughout their combined CV, and their reputation proceeds them—their pop-up night at Frank’s Campari Bar sold out within 5 minutes, and The Guardian even wrote a pre-review review last week, in anticipation of their new launch at the Jack the Ripper pub.
The first floor of The Ten Bells is the perfect venue for the trio’s daring British menu—gentrified London meets East End hipster. Racing green walls and neon lights; crimson wax candles rammed in Hendrick’s gin bottles; modern ‘renaissance’ art in gold gilt frames, and a ‘Live East Die Young’ reminder above the entrance. Think gentlemen’s clubs, game and Gevery Chambertin mashed up with Tracy Emin neon and semi-ironic facial-hair.
On arrival we were served a complimentary warm gin, tonic, cinnamon and apple cocktail—very more-ish. It was in a teacup and saucer—and why not? I can honestly say that it was a vast improvement of anything I’d usually drink out of such a vessel—beats Tetley’s.
Next up was oyster and dulse (that meaty, purpley seaweed) with a Japanese sauce. It tasted of the sea, but in a more subtle fashion than normal salty-seawatery oysters. Interestingly, while the dulse made the oysters quite a meaty dish, the home cured Middlewhite Ham served alongside them (but not in the photo) was lip-smackingly salty. A sensory confusion. But in a good way.
After quite a long wait the grouse sausages turned up nestled side by side in a dish. Tom pointed out that they could have at least come with some mustard to dunk them in…but just one bite of the pig-bird combination confirmed that the delicate flavours had been so skillfully put together that to smother them in mustard would be pure sacrilege. It’s hard to describe the flavour of game, but these sausages did it. They were game. The epitome.
Next on the menu was squid and green radishes with tarragon sauce. The meaty squid strips had a superb, bitter kick that came from the dark, chargrilled flecks and the green radish was the perfect balance—high water content, palette cleansing but with a bit of bite, and beautifully presented like finely swirled apple peel.
After another long wait an artichoke, onion and watercress salad arrived in a flourish. As with all the other dishes, it was beautiful, but by this point the candle wax had melted down to the window ledge, and the wait between the increasingly-large dishes was starting to make us feel like we were eating a succession of main courses rather than a string of little taster dishes whipped on and off the table. Anyway, I shouldn’t really whine because the salad was phenomenal. The onion was rich and oily, with the artichoke offering texture to the sweet, peppery salad which I managed to wolf down despite starting to feel a little full.
Around half past ten the main course finally arrived—ox cheek, celeriac and apple. Seeing as we arrived quite hungry, ate all the bread and practically licked clean the other plates, two and a half hours into the meal was perhaps a little late to summon up the piece de resistance. Having said this, celeriac is one of my favourites, and the ox cheek was so rich and tender it fell apart with a mere poke of my fork. This was beefy, autumnal fare at its very best, and prompted me to make a big mental note not to mess about with steaks in the future, when slow cooking the cheap cuts really does produce such mouth-wateringly delicious results.
The restaurant had emptied to two tables by the time the chestnut mousse, pear and honey granita arrived. It was intricately served with carefully positioned pear slices arranged on an elliptical-shaped smear—it did taste delicious, but I wished they’d put it on the plate any old how, and brought it to the table ten minutes earlier. Despite this, the textures of the soft pear, light mousse and slushy granita were wonderful. Strong, Christmassy nutty flavours were tempered with the soft, chilled honey ice, creating the effect of a grown-up, deconstructed ice cream Sundae.
There was no scrimping on ingredients—which made the £39 set-menu seemed even better value. Pretty good for high-quality food prepared by high-profile chefs.
Perhaps it was mean of me not to mention that I went on the second day of service, so the pace of getting food out might speed up. I hope it does because (with the addition of pared down dishes) it would become a daring, admirably British, super-exciting taster menu—though at the moment it’s all just a bit too sluggish—which is exactly how I felt, trudging home late at night, with so much food sitting in my belly.
The Young Turks,
The Ten Bells,
84, Commercial Street,
Running until end of January 2012 (though currently open from Tuesday to Saturday).
£39 for several snacks, three courses and a Hendrick’s cocktail on arrival.
(Wine: From Guy Allion Touraine Sauvignon 2012, £17.50 to Gevery Chambertin Mark Haisma Burgendy 2009, £37—flat £10 mark up on all bottles).