Saturday, 20 August 2016

Restaurant Review: Marmelo Kitchen, Leyton, London

London! Brilliant, isn't it? Well, I think so anyhow, at least in compact doses. London is a bit like Gentleman's Relish; a little really does go a long way. Catching up with friends who travelled south years ago and went native; getting your fix of the shit-hot cultural offering that you pay for in tax but don't normally get the chance to enjoy; and, of course, peering in at what's happening in the world of London food. All of this, at least for a few days, is surely worth the inconvenience of having your bogeys go black with pollution and the shock of paying six quid for a pint of underwhelming beer.

We're just back from our Nation's capital, having had a quite cracking time. We spent an afternoon at Kew, which was great and shall feature, if I am spared, in a future "Lovely things to do" post. Food-wise, we reduced my "really want to go here" list (Bonhams, The Dairy, Hedone, Clove Club- some other time, yeah?) by one, splurging on a ridiculously lavish lunch at The Ritz. Stay tuned for more on that. However, what makes London's food scene so jealousy-inducing isn't just the big hitters, but the quality that can be found at the more informal end of things. Such as at Marmelo Kitchen, out east in Leyton.

The story here is that of Natalie Stopford who, while working in the film industry started making and selling preserves, which clearly went well enough for her to decide to continue her adventures in food. Hence, Marmelo Kitchen, which opened in December 2014 and, importantly, is within walking distance of the friends with whom we were staying. After a long day of ogling plants at Kew, we were primed and ready to eat.

The daily changing chalkboarded menu of small plates is one of those tastefully short affairs from which, if you've brought friends, you can just about order the whole damn thing. Eat your heart out Mr Creosote. We ploughed through 11 of the 14 dishes on offer.

Sauteed snow peas & green beans, tarragon, red onion, lemon and horseradish creme fraiche
Things arrived as they were ready which can be a bloody annoyance at times, but worked well here. Decent bruschetta performed its role as a vehicle for a perky tapenade with aplomb, while a plate of peas and beans, enlivened by the addition of tarragon, were served with a really lovely horseradish crème frâiche.

Charred leeks, poached egg, hollandaise, tapenade
An excellent hollandaise was draped over a poached egg which in turn perched on some deliciously blackened grilled leeks. This really is one of the finer ways to treat this lengthy allium. Minus a mark for a not quite oozy egg yolk.

Baked aubergine with pommodoro & bocconcini
I'm coming to the conclusion, having tried a few belters in Naples, and since at Cal's Own, that the mark of a truly superb tomato sauce is that it reminds you a bit of the one you get in tinned Heinz Spaghetti Hoops. No, really. There must be something about using tomatoes at the absolute height of their powers which generates a level of sweetness sufficient to conjure that particular taste-memory. The baked aubergine at Marmelo was bathed in just such a potion. Deep fried balls of (unpictured) mozzarella were great.

Braised beef brisket in red wine, celeriac remoulade
I really enjoyed the simple integrity of a hunk of braised brisket, which was served as a whole tangle of muscle rather than shreds or cubes. The accompanying remoulade successfully managed to be neither too creamy nor too sharp, the amount of mustard and lemon juice just so.

Pea & mint arrancini, harissa yoghurt
The last few savoury dishes confirmed what those to date had suggested- the cooks here have got good taste and solid technique in abundance. A piece of curry-crusted cod was cooked just about perfectly, the flakes relinquishing eachother's company under the merest weight. Perhaps my two favourites of the night came from the deep fryer. Crisp-crumbed arrancini were bursting with summery pea flavour and correctly cooked risotto rice.

Tempura squid and broccoli, ginger, coriander and soy
Meanwhile, the tempura squid and broccoli was notable just for actually being the thing it claimed to be. Tempura batter should barely clothe the stuff it obscures, yet all too often it comes as a grim and clumsy overcoat. Marmelo do an excellent tempura. The squid was bang-fresh too. This was as triumphant as so many also-ran versions of this dish are a disaster.

Chocolate brownie with ice cream
Brownies were decent, while a pannacota featuring basil was an opinion-splitter. I liked the almost mentholly herby thwack of it, while others did not. We could agree that the thing was well made, just as we could that pomegranate molasses had no business being on this plate. Puddings need to be about comfort, not shocking tartness. I was reminded of the "Esther Rantzen" cocktail from the chess episode of Bottom, which isn't really a positive.

Vanilla & basil pannacota
 Cheeses were good, especially a nice bit of aged Comté although not helped by being fridge-cold.

Booze etc
The wine list was full of "low intervention" intrigue. We shared a nice bottle of gamay, before I tried a glass of tempranillo. All good stuff.

Other things- despite the not especially comfy seating, this is a very comfy place to spend a couple of hours over dinner. The interior is all bare wood, whitewash and tile, and makes for a really nice intimate atmosphere. Staff were friendly. Bonus point for having Aesop hand-wash in the loo. I love the smell of that stuff but can never bring myself to drop twenty seven quid on it when the gear in the Poundshop does the job too.

If you live round Leyton way (Hi Bill and Charlene!) then you can count yourselves lucky to have such an excellent proper neighbourhood restaurant. For the rest of us, places like this that serve an eclectic variety of interesting dishes, skillfully produced from good raw materials are the exact thing we'd like to see more near where we live. Restaurateurs take note.


Marmelo Kitchen, 169 Francis Road, London, E10 6NT
020 3620 7580


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