This family restaurant, branching out into its second site, is producing gutsy yet refined food. Zeren Wilson reports
East London has been in the throes of a quite startling improvement in the quality of its dining destinations for some time. Clapton is the latest darling of the postcodes, taking the reins from Dalston as the one to watch. There's a renewed sense of rejuvenation and innovation in the area, and Eat 17 typifies its energy, creativity and regeneration.
Eat 17's story began in Walthamstow (East 17, geddit?), when brothers Chris and Daniel O'Connor, Chris' partner Siobhan O'Donnell and stepbrother James Brundle took over a run-down off-licence in Walthamstow Village, another area that had been crying out for an injection of energy from a food entrepreneur.
The Spar convenience store they opened there is a clever combination of elements that sees them championing artisan produce and craft beer, and features an organic bakery, an in-store pizzeria and a restaurant next door.
The new restaurant in Clapton aims to emulate the success of its Walthamstow cousin, with the same attention to detail and dedication to sourcing quality ingredients.
"Our core focus is on good quality, organic ingredients, the best you can find locally," says chef-director Chris. "We care about where meat is sourced. We're working with rarebreed butcher Turner & George for all of our meat for the restaurant and burger bar."
The burgers were a hit in Walthamstow, and there is a burger bar beneath the Clapton restaurant. "The burgers were always a winner in Walthamstow. With the new venue we wanted to refine the experience slightly to tie in with the space," says Chris.
Upstairs, it's a mightily impressive room; a stylish revamp of the former Brooksby's Snooker Hall, which in 1913 was originally a cinema and then converted into a bingo hall. Sweeping dark green banquettes and a striking arched ceiling give it the feel of a swish private members' club.
The menu trots across the globe for its influences, so we find dukkah-crusted hake (£13) and jamón with radicchio, celeriac, peanut and rosehip (£6), sitting alongside crab and avocado with ‘dirty rye' (£6.50), as well as jerk duck breast with sweet potato (£13).
"We score the duck skin, season generously and then marinate in jerk sauce. We cook it over hot coals to give it that barbecue flavour, and serve it pink. We garnish with sweet potato mash, cabbage and crispy plantain and pour over the cooking juices," Chris says.
The menu touches on some of the ‘Americana' trend too, offering hot chicken wings with lemon cabbage and blue cheese (£4), buttermilk chicken burgers (£10.80) and the popular cheeseburger (£10).
"We keep the burger patty very simple, using chuck steak with about 20% fat content, and only add seasoning and a dash of Worcester sauce. We grill the patty for about two minutes each side and cover with cheese and a cloche for the final minute. We serve it with a toasted roasted-onion bun, aïoli, pickles and iceberg lettuce," Chris says.
In this grand environment it's rather fun to experience big "impactful flavours", as Chris puts it, which grab the attention. One of the popular dishes is the ‘grazing/side' dish of tempura broccoli with pomegranate and soy.
The menu is eclectic and wide-ranging, but Chris is very clear about the proposition they are bringing to Clapton. "I would describe our menu as refined comfort food. Elegantly presented yet rustic, with a focus on carefully sourced, full-flavoured meat dishes cooked
over coals," he says.
The company turnover now exceeds £3m a year and they employ 30 people. Another success has been their Bacon Jam, an onion relish with smoked bacon, which is stocked in Selfridges, Harrods, Tesco and stores around the UK. So is there any chance of them taking their foot off the pedal? "We're waiting to open a cinema behind the restaurant," Chris says. A family affair on a mission.
From the menu
- Hot wings, lemon cabbage and blue cheese £4
- JamÁ³n, radicchio, celeriac, peanut and rosehip, sherry reduction £6
- Crab and avocado with dirty rye £6.50
- Rump of beef, potato, whipped rosemary butter and brioche crumb £14.50
- Jerk duck breast, sweet potato, greens, plantain crisp £13
- Dukkah-crusted hake, beetroot, julienne vegetables £13
- Brownie, pistachio ice-cream, passion fruit purée £6.40
- Banana sticky toffee pudding, custard £6
- Homemade cookie dough ice-cream, white chocolate sauce £4
64-66 Brooksby's Walk, Homerton, London E9 6DAwww.eat17.co.uk
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