It would be wrong to judge the ambiance of a restaurant on a Monday night, in a time when our wallets are becoming emptier and, as a result of this, the restaurants are too. However, even considering this, entering Lena’s from the cold, dark streets of East London was a light and warming experience. Though I was the first to arrive at 7.30pm, more customers arrived later on and gave a warm buzz to the room. I can imagine it being a great restaurant for an extended weekend lunch, the predominantly white and occasional lime-green décor would be trendy enough for the young types but not so much as to scare away parents.
Lena’s obviously care passionately about the authenticity of their ingredients, listing the provenance of all the major components on their menu, and this focus has proved worthwhile, lifting the dishes from being good to fantastic. We can’t deny that our mains of salt-baked sea bass and aged beef fillet were also helped out by superb cooking. My enormous portion of fish (finished with finesse on a central table in the room) was meltingly tender and my partner’s aged fillet of beef was beautifully seared and perfectly rare when cut. The steak’s Italian twist was to come with pear, sautéed mushrooms and sharp Parmesan. Our shared accompaniments of buttered spinach, sautéed green beans and rosemary potatoes were wonderfully seasoned and quick to disappear.
We learnt from the menu that the bread, pasta and biscotti are all made in-house. This is something that always makes me think there must be a great kitchen behind the service, and while it all tasted “homemade”, the pasta and the bread were not as successful as the biscotti. The ciabatta and focaccia felt slightly too heavy (but were served with a fabulous murky, almost-luminescent extra virgin olive oil from Tuscany). Though the pasta had a great balance of egg, it had a chewiness that reminded me of the time I made pasta and forgot to leave the dough to rest for an hour before rolling it out. Perhaps this was only a fate that befell the ravioli, because we didn’t try anything else from the list of pasta dishes. The carbonara did come highly recommended (and looked mouth-watering, made with only the yolk of the eggs, pecorino and guanciale). Based on the delicious pancetta that topped my partner’s succulent, seared scallop starter I’m sure it would be a dish worth returning for.
Lena’s sourcing team deserve great merit here for so much of what delighted us. It’s bound to be the best Italian restaurant in the area; good cooking, great ingredients and generous portions, not to mention the divine biscotti that were even better when used to scrape clean the martini glass of the finest tiramisu I have had for a very long time. Right now Lena’s are offering a 2 course lunch menu for £12.50 which looks an incredible deal, especially if your wallet is feeling too light.
Lena: 66 Great Eastern Street, London, EC2A 3JT. Tel: 020 7739 5714.
Reviewer: Jennifer Earle