This railway arch restaurant will set your heart racing
Update 12/02/18 – this restaurant has now closed
Unless you walk around London, it’s hard to appreciate just how close many of the city’s neighbourhoods are to each other. Bethnal Green has the City and Shoreditch directly on its western border, while Mile End and Stratford sit to its east. It’s therefore unsurprising that there are plenty of ‘hipsters’ and students in Bethnal Green and it’d be tempting to dismiss Paradise Garage has a gentrified folly for the former.
This latest restaurant from the masterminds behind The Dairy and The Manor is set in an old railway arch, looking out over organised graffiti murals and a BP petrol station. From the £60 per head average spend to the handsomely tiled and lit interior, it couldn’t be more different from the old school caffs more typical of the area. But Paradise Garage isn’t just expensive for the sake of it. It takes your money and your trust, repaying you handsomely.
Paradise Garage tasting menu
Ordering a la carte at Paradise Garage may seem reasonably priced at first, but the tapas-sized dishes priced at around £10 each means the bill can quickly spiral out of control. The seven-course tasting menu, on the other hand, costs just £45 per person. You just need to unclench long enough to place your faith in the kitchen’s choices.
Although Paradise Garage’s butter wasn’t quite as profoundly thrilling as the ones often available at Pidgin, the smoked whiskey butter I had here was nonetheless delightful. Wispy in texture and served in a puddle of whey, the soured milky taste of which emphasised the light boozy tang of the spread as it hit the tongue. It was also so soft that you could simply dip the bread straight into the butter.
The two bite-sized portions of soft, pliant salami would probably count as amuse bouche and certainly left me panting for more. The slice of pork salami had a spiced apple hit to it, while the beef salami was jerky-like in its salty tanginess.
I quickly set aside my cutlery when tackling the small segment of grilled sweetcorn – if only because it made it easier to smear the cob with the scattered hemp seeds. The latter had a surprising popcorn-like flavour which went with the corn like a horse and carriage. Scumptious.
I honestly don’t know how one preserves an egg yolk. Lovecraftian sorcery or biosynthetic time dilation, perhaps. Regardless, the preserved egg yolk here was very rich and runny, meshing well with the slightly chewy, smoky and lean strips of raw venison. It may have been the smokiness that initially tricked my senses into mistaking the venison for bacon, but this playfully satisfying combination of preserved and raw ingredients was pig-free as far as I could tell.
Cockles are traditional East London fare and they received a deceptively simple makeover here. A moreishly herby oil made the firm, zingy fresh cockles taste even better than they did already. The firm yet thin slivers of richly buttery courgette were not only the perfect follow-up, but shows how magical vegetables can be when handled properly.
One of the very few missteps of this meal was the segment of globe artichoke. The only thing as firm and fleshy as the artichoke was the accompanying padron pepper, but neither were particularly interesting – especially when compared to the light milkiness of the whipped curd and the thin, yet moreishly herby salsa. The latter two more than deserve their own spin-off.
The only other faux pas of the evening was the mackerel and even then, this dish was by no means a lost cause. A pair of sashimi-sized slices of mackerel were blowtorched table-side by the enthusiastically friendly chef. Although the tender, lightly flaky texture of the just-cooked fish was pleasing, the almost complete absence of the usually punchy, distinctive mackerel flavour was not. More fishiness came from the light yet creamy cod reduction, but it was the accompaniments that were the real stars of this dish. The lightly malty rice crackers and the pickled vegetables were far more interesting than the mackerel – especially the samphire. Its immense herby depth of flavour was a silent rebuke to the one-note saltiness of samphires served elsewhere.
The kitchen was back on form with the lamb. Although small, the tender slices were perfectly formed with a gentle earthiness balanced out by an almost honey-like sweetness. The lamb medallions were made even better by the thin sauce which was reminiscent of caramelised butter. The taut, lightly bitter cabbage leaves were surprisingly well-suited for mopping up excess sauce, while the lemon flavour of the firm peas took on an almost tamarind-like quality. The only dud on this plate was the singular breadcrumbed sweetbread – blisteringly hot, it needed more resting time rather than being served fresh out of the deep fat fryer.
A selection of cheeses are available for an extra £3.50 which, on my visit, consisted of a British trio. The Coolea was described as a gouda-like cheese by my waitress, but its nutty creaminess was more akin to a gruyere or an immature comte in my mouth. I’m not usually a fan of sheep’s milk cheeses, but the Beenleigh Blue went down well with an earthiness that wasn’t too overwhelming and a surprisingly clean, pure aftertaste. The Tymsboro goat’s cheese was a damp, flavourless squib and was outclassed by the bran flake-like oat crackers.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that cucumber sorbet would be a limp, bland affair, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The lightly sharp and sweet sorbet was smooth, icy cool and refreshing with a clean, pure aftertaste very much like that of cucumber-infused water. Bolder flavours came not from the so-so sprigs of basil, but from the intensely sweet and juicy little spheres of melon, ranging from watermelon to honeydew, and the candied watermelon wafer. Overall, it was a skilful dessert that provided welcome relief from the summer heat without plumbing the usual cliched sorbet flavours.
I wasn’t expecting much from the caramelised white chocolate. I was therefore pleasantly surprised by the smoothness and lightness of this fudge-like confection, but which didn’t have the usual teeth-sticking tackiness of fudge. The zesty granita was a a refreshing counterpoint and melted on the tongue. The fleeting strawberry jam wasn’t up to much, but the sharp raspberries and malty crackerjack biscuit wafers more than made up for this. Spot on.
Paradise Garage weekday a la carte
Paradise Garage’s tasting menu was stunning, but its a la carte menu was slightly more variable in quality. There was only one dish that I had which came close to being an outright stinker – the cod brandade. This fish emulsion served at room temperature was moderately creamy, but ultimately rather bland. The equally limp shellfish crisp, halved olives and helping of squid ink did little to warm up my apathy.
Far better were the dense, chewy and unsurprisingly offaly slices of lamb heart. The fennel ‘kimchi’ was nothing of the sort, but the tart, supple and decidedly unspicy leaves were pleasing nonetheless, neatly counterbalancing the strong taste of the heart.
I’m not sure where the promised lardo went to in this egg yolk dish. It may well have somehow ended up in the delicately cooked yolk itself which, like a fag lover’s upper respiratory system, was rich, runny and smoky. The slippery spinach leaves and supple, smoky green onions went well with the egg, although halving the egg yolk to share it with The Euro Hedgie proved to be a little fiddly. This dish really isn’t designed for sharing.
If there’s one dish on the a la carte menu that immediately catches the eye then it’s the rabbit ‘picnic’ consisting of several parts from numerous bunnies cooked in various ways, making a feast for two to four people.
A heap of confit legs proved to be disappointing. Although the leg meat was dense and firm, it didn’t have any of the glossy taut fattiness that the Euro Hedgie and I would expect. The legs would’ve been very dull eating if it wasn’t for the helping of slippery, taut and sharp chicory leaves served in subtly moreish broth. Then there was a pleasing little side show in the form of coarse and earthy little bits of offal, even if they were quite similar to chicken livers.
The kitchen appeared to have cheated with the rabbit saddles at first glance, with the rabbit meat wrapped in bacon and garnished with crispy bits of pork belly ‘scratchings’. Drape a saddle with some of the gravy and piccalilli though (both served on the side) and the saddle takes on a rich unctuousness that effectively coats your entire tongue in glorious meaty fattiness.
The final part of the rabbit roast looked like an afterthought at first, but turned out to be the best bit of all. Although called a turnover, this pie looked more like a side-crimped Cornish pasty. The buttery, gently flaky pastry had just the right amount of firmness and consistency – neither too soft nor too hard and crusty. The rabbit meat filling was everything the confit leg was not – fatty, unctuous, juicy and soul soothingly satisfying. This warming rabbit pie is more than good to stand on its own as a separate dish.
The Euro Hedgie skipped dessert, while I opted for the the apricot tart. I was lukewarm to the tart itself – its thin, soggy mille feuille-style construction and texture was technically correct but not especially satisfying. The glazed apricot topping was true to the fruit with its sharp sweetness, but this still didn’t make the tart any more appealing. Much more appetising, oddly, was the neutrally flavoured ice cream with its smooth creaminess and lack of annoyingly large, crunchy ice crystals.
Paradise Garage weekend a la carte
Given the mixed bag that was my second meal at Paradise Garage, I felt compelled to return once again to sample more of the a la carte menu. It changes in broad strokes roughly once a month, although the dishes can change in their finer details depending on ingredient availability and seasonality.
A good example of this is the fish with potatoes, seaweed and morels. On the day of my visit the fish was a flaky pollock cooked just-so with a crisp crust, its fresh zing emphasised by crisp bits of skin and seaweed. The gently earthy, densely honeycombed morels dipped in the thin, lightly buttery sauce were delightful enough that I’d eat them alone, sans fish and potatoes.
Just as good, but in a very different way, were the selection of tomatoes. Ranging from umami to syrupy sweet to crisp, sharp and refreshing, all were made even better by the herby zestiness of the eel jelly and nasturtium.
Although the subtle beefy tang of the cow flesh cooked medium may disappoint those looking for a more pronounced beefiness (such as that found in the beef sometimes available at Pidgin), its depth of flavour was nonetheless delightful. It was complimented by the thin and light yet moreishly nutty sauce. Bolder meaty flavours came from the coarse meatball of offal, while supple leaves and gently earthy mushrooms lent this superb dish an autumnal feel.
Few restaurants can source high quality iberico presa and then cook the pork with sufficient skill. Paradise Garage is, in my experience, one of those few. The just-cooked pork had a firm, yet yielding bite and a gently salty, porky tang that was utterly beguiling. As with the beef, bolder, more easily appreciated meatiness was present in a little accompaniment – here, a little pig’s head terrine resplendent with coarse, smoky, fatty unctuousness. The accompanying vegetables shouldn’t be overlooked. The supple bitter leaves were good, but the show was almost stolen by the buttery borlotti beans which had an almost Chinese feel to them with subtle salty fishy hits courtesy of anchovy sauce.
If you’re booze fiend then it’s likely you’ll love the distinct taste of liver killer in the beer ice cream. As a non-drinker though, I found its sharp boozy bitterness off-putting, although the ice cream was smooth and bracingly cold without being too icy. The blackberries turned up, while the hard and crunchy slabs of almond biscuit were a little too rusk-like for me. Still, it was worth a punt.
The Manor and The Dairy were but mere warm-up acts for Paradise Garage. While I enjoyed The Manor’s quirky inventive ambition, I prefer the more playful and accessible style of cooking at Paradise Garage. I found it far more satisfying – intensely so in many cases. The sheer skill and quality on display in the tasting menu is astonishing, but there were some disappointments on the still accomplished a la carte menu. Rarely have I been so torn in deciding between a Four Star and a Five Star rating, but the mishaps are enough to deprive Paradise Garage of the top award. Still, this gem deserves every plaudit coming its way. You need to eat here.
What to order: Tasting menu; Lamb heart; Rabbit turnover; Egg yolk with lardo; Beef; Iberico presa
What to skip: Apricot tart; Beer ice cream; Cod brandade with squid ink
Name: Paradise Garage
Address: 254 Paradise Row, Bethnal Green, London E2 9LE
Phone: 020 7613 1502
Opening Hours: Tuesday 18.00 – 22.00; Wednesday-Saturday noon – 15.00 and 18.00 – 22.00; Sunday noon – 15.00
Reservations: essential for dinner; probably a good idea for lunch
Average cost for one person including soft drinks and service charge: £60 approx.