The Ten Bells pub in Spitalfields is a jolly little place, which is unexpected given that it is most famous for being the boozer of choice for many of Jack the Ripper’s victims
The Ten Bells pub in Spitalfields is a jolly little place, which is unexpected given that it is most famous for being the boozer of choice for many of Jack the Ripper’s victims.
The downstairs is a bustling pub, full of Shoreditch locals and the occasional banker who wandered up from Bishopsgate, nice but nothing outrageously exciting. Upstairs at The Ten Bells, though, is outrageously exciting for anyone interested in food.
After the original plans for an upstairs restaurant failed to materialise, the space was run for six months as a pop-up by a group of young chefs using a tiny kitchen cobbled together in just two weeks. They were sold out for the whole run. But when you can count Nuno Mendes among your supporters that is hardly unexpected.
Three of the ambitious group behind the pop-up now run the place as a permanent restaurant. Isaac McHale of the Young Turks along with Daniel Willis and Johnny Smith have overseen the transformation from set menu to a la carte as well as bringing in an exciting and multinational group of chefs to run the kitchen.
Head chef Giorgio Ravelli (pictured top), previously of the Ledbury, and Isaac popped over to talk to me on the day that I went in for lunch. The lunch, incidentally was fantastic. Isaac’s signature Buttermilk-fried Chicken with Pine Salt is the most beautifully tender and succulent chicken I’ve eaten in a very long time. Served in a little bundle of pine twigs the batter is flecked with the pine salt, giving it a delicate fresh edge. Utterly scrumptious.
Pictured above: Isaac McHale’s signature Buttermilk-fried Chicken with Pine Salt at Upstairs at The Ten Bells
I then had the Chestnut and Truffle Soup, which arrives as a little bowl precisely decorated with a line of brussel sprout leaves, little squares of vegetables and celeriac crisps. The velvety smooth soup is then poured over by the chef. You don’t expect this level of care and attention to detail for £6.40. Nor do you expect the soup to be that good, but its stonkingly good. Rich, creamy and infused with heady truffles it is an impressive display of cooking – perfectly balanced flavours and contrasting textures that are a pleasure to eat – trust me, textures can very easily go wrong…
BACK TO GIORGIO and Isaac. When I asked Giorgio what their plans for the future were, his reply was ‘to smash it’. Pretty good plan if you ask me. Working with Isaac, Giorgio has put together the new menu, which showcases British ingredients with a few European twists. They are, Isaac tells me, trying to do something that isn’t just doing X plus a puree. They try to use their ingredients in slightly rougher ways, with a bit more texture and character, ‘thought through but pared back’.
On the current trend in fine dining to do different ‘textures’ of one ingredient, the general view here is that you don’t need to show how many different things you can do with one carrot but rather create interesting dishes that aren’t stupidly outlandish but have a nice little twist. As Giorgio says, the dish should be ‘a mouth explosion’.
(I should point out that Giorgio was joking around when he said this, very aware of how pretentious it sounds. Same applies to the cracking line ‘I’m not being modest, but last night someone said I was a genius.’ Both boys have a very well developed sense of humour. I liked them – and the place – hugely.)
Isaac has taken a step back from the cooking at Upstairs at The Ten Bells to work on a new project with Daniel Willis and Johnny Smith in Shoreditch Town Hall. Leaving Upstairs in the capable hands of Giorgio has allowed him to focus on what will be called The Clove Club, set to open in February 2013. It will be a restaurant and bar serving a five-course menu in the dining room and snack plates in the bar. It promises to be something really rather good and I will be first in the queue to try it.
But in the meantime, go to Upstairs at The Ten Bells (where you will probably find me in the corner, working my way through the menu). It is unpretentious, good value and great fun. A super place, run by lovely people who serve wonderful food – what more do you need?
Christmas opening hours for Upstairs at The Ten Bells (from 27 November):
Tuesday – Sunday
12noon – 3pm
Tuesday – Saturday
6pm – 10:30pm