40 St. John Street
The theatre of the chefs at work, in their tall white hats gliding around the central open kitchen is the first sight that greets us as we walk into Eastside Inn. Instantly we feel at ease and ready to delve into Bjorn Van der Horst’s French cuisine. Situated moments away from the legendary St John Restaurant, proprietors Bjorn Van der Horst (former chef patron of Gordon Ramsay’s La Noisette) and his wife Justine have created a dining venue of two tales. On one side is the more expensive, intimate and hushed restaurant serving creative and contemporary French cuisine.
Whilst on the left side lies the bistro, a more bright, buzzy and relaxed space with a clear view of the open kitchen (where you can spot Bjorn working) that doubles as a bar area. It is here that we visit, on a wet autumn evening, ready to have our cockles warmed with classical French cooking. The décor is smart and cosy, with dark wooden flooring, square tables, circular lamp shades and a scattering of vintage French posters. One of which reads ‘Work hard and be nice to people’ – sterling words of advice there. In typical ‘quick’ bistro style, a generous wooden board of charcuterie arrives with speck and parma ham, complete with a basket of warm, baby soft bread for us to nibble on whilst we ponder the short place-mat menu (a choice of five entrées, five main courses and one ‘plats du jour’).
For starters we opt for the grilled quail with honey plum glaze and baby squid à la Basquaise. The quail is sumptuously moist and tender (often difficult to achieve) and is beautifully offset with sweet slices of fresh plum. Arriving in a dainty clay pot, the squid is delicate and juicy and is accompanied by slippery red peppers, spiced with a hint of smoked paprika and a gracefully sharp lime vinaigrette - it’s perfect, I could eat a huge bowl of this alone with a hunk of bread and die happy. A main course of roasted plaice with sundried tomatoes, lemon and capers is flawlessly balanced and cooked. If anything it’s slightly on the small side, which is not typical ‘hearty’ bistro style, but hey, there are side dishes on offer and if you have two starters like I did, it’s a perfect portion. My friend’s veal lasagna is a more substantial dish, loaded with chunks of tender braised veal, perfumed with saffron and layered with a rich tomato and cheese sauce - unadulterated autumn comfort.
Our charming waiter is more than happy to recommend a dessert of apple pie with vanilla ice cream. It turns out to be more of an apple tart but this isn’t any old tart. It’s one that Bjorn tells me has been cooked for two and half hours and brushed with butter every ten minutes. This of course results in the most intensely flavoured, lusciously textured tart, that should be placed on a pedestal for all the other apple tarts in the world to worship. My friend, too, was utterly engrossed by his dessert; Araguani chocolate with Tonka Bean ice cream. A dense mousse-like torte with a molten centre and speckled with gold pop rocks that created a bit of drama in the mouth. With Bjorn’s excellent food, charming service and warm atmosphere, Eastside Inn is a wonderful addition to the Clerkenwell league of restaurants. A three course meal for two without wine will set you back £60-70.
Reviewed by: Leila Sarraf