Lesser known ingredients, perfectly understood, handled with expertise
Claim to fame: Simplicity is the art of making each ingredient sing
Reason to go: The articulated flavors of nuts or vegetables that have been dehydrated and then brought back to life
To look out for: Stop by for coffee, tea and snacks, Lyle’s is open between services
Clearly chef James Lowe picked up a trick or two while working at legendary restaurant St John, it shows both in the spartan, white-tiled interiors and in the emphasis on simplicity and unusual British ingredients. Lyle’s is refreshingly un-stuffy, it’s also one of London’s best dining establishments. What’s more, you can still nab a same-day reservation. Lunchtimes offer an à la carte, and a quieter option in the light-filled room. By early evening, the staff cranks up the music in a bid to create more buzz.
First out is a warm hug of exquisitely crafted sourdough bread: chewy, tasting of feral yeasts, begging to be slathered with the irresistible house-churned butter Two sets of nibbles precede the four-course menu. Perhaps a char-grilled, smoky purple sprouting broccoli with a dip of fish roe emulsion, a whipped, airy taramasalata. Or maybe some large shreds of radicchio leaves, their bitterness given a twist by a grating of a hard British, pecorino-like sheep cheese. ‘Pumpkin, kale and whey butter’ is the first of the officially listed dishes on a tersely written menu; a flamboyant affair garnished with a bright purple filigree of variegated kale leaves. Surprisingly, it’s not the kale that shines with robust flavor, but rather the whey sauce, which is distinctly tart. Slivers of dehydrated chestnut add an almond-like texture.
A small fish course follows, the brill just-cooked and still translucent in the center. It’s a brave kitchen that pairs the firm flesh but delicate flavor of this flatfish with the bold sharpness of fermented gooseberries, yet it succeeds given the foil of some kindly cavolo nero that gently dials down the piquancy. This is all British produce yet it tastes as if it belongs to a newly discovered continent. Dexter beef – a miniature breed of cattle, popular with hobby farmers – produces tantalizing aged meat, it’s paired with dehydrated, then rehydrated beetroot. It’s a stroke of genius as the vegetable adds a blood-like vibrant color and an intensified flavor of its own to the eight week-aged meat. Lowe seems to have decided that dehydration is the new black. He even uses the technique in the desserts; a delicate, malty fragrant ice cream with nuggets of toasted brioche and wisps of parched apple.
The service is as attentive and well informed as the wine list is carefully composed of biodynamic rarities and old world treasures.