Deceptively simple dishes in a restaurant paying homage to Parisian buvettes and San Sebastián pintxo bars
Claim to fame: It’s the second opening from the duo behind one of London’s hottest modern European restaurants, Lyle’s
Reason to go: The space, within Borough Market, is beautifully designed and the food lives up to the surroundings
To look out for: The excellent house-made sourdough bread and pastries: an incentive to go for Saturday morning coffee
You might think, given the success of their first restaurant, that James Lowe and John Ogier would have gone bigger the second time round. Since opening in Shoreditch five years ago, Lyle’s has, after all, become a cult hit with local and international diners. Top chefs jet in from around the world to cook at their regular Guest Series dinners. The restaurant has won myriad accolades.
The partnership, first kindled when Lowe and Ogier were head chef and manager at St John Bread & Wine, was ripe for expansion on a grand scale. Instead, the duo has opted for compression. At Flor, which opened at Borough Market in July 2019, they’ve squeezed a restaurant, wine bar and bakery into a compact two-floor space, as low-lit and intimate as Lyle’s is bright and airy (it is, according to Lowe, Òinspired by the buvettes of Paris and pintxos bars in San Sebasti‡nÓ).
The food, meanwhile, takes the precise, thoughtful, resolutely unfussy approach that Lowe has been honing at Lyle’s since 2014 and adapts it for a more casual setting. Dishes are marginally simpler here, with more emphasis on baked goods (flatbreads are a fixture on the menu), but even something as apparently straightforward as scarlet prawns involves fine-grain processes to which most diners will be oblivious.
Nudge in at the L-shaped counter on the ground floor for a view of the kitchen in action. Begin with those prawns. You get three of them: three heads grilled to a char, three tails served raw. The orange yuzukosho drizzled over the latter works well with the gelatinous sweetness of the raw flesh. Less obvious, but just as enhancing, is the red dust, made by grinding down dehydrated prawn shells, that is sprinkled over the heads to make them somehow even prawnier. Forget about just sucking out the brains: you’ll want to crunch your way through the entire things.
Mackerel with green olive and green tomato is a delight, the impossibly thin discs of tomato bringing delicate acidity to the fish. Lamb rib is another hit, the sweetly unctuous meat offset by yoghurt, black lime and pistachios. And a flatbread, served hot with Palourde clams, Spenwood sheep’s cheese, vin jaune and pink garlic on top, proves the wisdom of giving up extremely limited kitchen space to a hefty baker’s oven. Sicilian almond granita with tiny Reine Claude plums, finally, is refreshing and notably unsweet (like many of Lyle’s desserts) but no less satisfying.
Flor is a resounding success for Lowe and Ogier, as the long waiting list on a dull Wednesday evening testifies. It’s a modestly-proportioned second restaurant, yes, but one with a great deal of thought, care and ambition packed in.