Corner Room is the less formal little sister of Michelin-starred Viajante. Tucked away in, well, a corner of Bethnal Green, can it live up to its elder sibling’s reputation?
There is a very famous burger joint in New York called Burger Joint. While its name might be unimaginative, its location – hidden behind a velvet curtain in the very swanky Le Parker Meridien Hotel – is pure surrealism.
With only a tip off and your nose to guide the way, the brash fast food outlet is an incongruous, badly kept secret that makes one think of the obscure seventh and half floor in Being John Malkovich.
The other night I was reminded of Burger Joint as I passed the reception area, traipsed the corridors, and climbed the windy staircases up to the corner room of the Town Hall Hotel looking for Corner Room.
Despite it being the sister restaurant to the renowned Viajante downstairs, if you’ve not yet heard of – or dined at – Corner Room yet, don’t panic. For a start, it doesn’t have a website, or even a sign for that matter, and you can’t book a table there.
My friend food writer Ellie Grace and I decided to dine there last Thursday evening. Arriving at around 7.30pm there were no tables available, but a very friendly waitress wrote our names on a pad of paper and said she’d call in about half an hour or so.
We waited downstairs in the Viajainte cocktail bar and sure enough we were called up about 40 minutes later.
Whoever thought to put a restaurant in the corner room that is Corner Room is blessed with some considerable foresight. Very much a plain rectangle of a room, and not very large, it’s the last place one would imagine dining in.
Yet – the decoration works.
The simple, unfussy and bright décor is refreshing. (Unfortunately, a real bug bear of mine, the staff clumsily dimmed the lights halfway through service as if to say, “okay, bright time over”.) At the back of the room is an assortment of beautiful hanging lamps, reminding one that this isn’t a canteen but actually quite posh.
To start we shared the squid with jersey royals and fennel. The squid was lightly charred and dressed with a mix of squid ink and olive oil. This provided just the right degree of bitterness and was delicious.
The fennel was chunky and firm. Too firm for my liking, in fact, but I’ve never been a great fan of al dente vegetables. The tiny jersey royals were subjected to the opposite fate: overcooked. As if that wasn’t enough for them, they were tainted by the rest of the dish at the expense of their delicate flavour.
That said, this was still an interesting dish. Ellie thought one of the best parts of our starter were the surprise elements: lemongrass and (we think) nettle both added an unexpected but welcomed touch.
The pork was stunning. Served daringly pink (but not scarily so), it tasted much more expensive than the £12 I paid for it
For the main course I had the pork and Portuguese bread pudding, Ellie had confit salmon with beetroot and horseradish.
The pork was stunning. A tenderloin, it lived up to its name and melted in the mouth. Served daringly pink (but not scarily so), it tasted very expensive – much more expensive than the £12 I paid for it. The bread pudding – brioche that had been fried – was divine. Rich, but divine.
Ellie’s salmon was good too – though she appeared less impressed with hers than I was with mine. But at £10, it was still very inexpensive.
Both of us felt we could have eaten more and I would not take a male friend purely on this basis. (Yes, men eat more than women.) Corner Room, I suspect, affords such fine ingredients at reasonable prices because there’s not a lot on your plate. It’s good for the waistline though – I didn’t need any more, and I didn’t leave hungry.
I also wouldn’t take a vegetarian. Of the six main courses there is one vegetarian dish on the menu called “our carrots & cauliflower”, for £10.
Both Ellie and I balked at this.
We asked the waitress and she explained that there was of course much more to the dish than carrots & cauliflower (alluded to, I suppose, by the “our” bit). But the damage was done; I felt indignant on behalf of my vegetarian friends.
We finished our meal with the dark chocolate and peanut butter ice cream, and blueberries with goats cheese caramel, brioche and shiso – a type of herby mint common in Japan.
All ingredients worked beautifully together bar the brioche, which we both found to be a clumsy addition that added nothing to the dish and felt more like an unnecessary afterthought. The shiso and goats cheese caramel, however, were a perfect pairing worthy of great applause.
As was the peanut butter ice cream: magically smooth – “how did they make it so smooth?” asked Ellie in wonderment. Alas, the dark chocolate was only okay, verging on disappointing.
I drank a glass of Reserve de Gassac 2010 from the Languedoc-Rousillon region of France, and Ellie went for Touraine Sauvignon Domaine Ricard, 2010. Both wines were light and suited the occasion and the food well.
All in all we left satisfied but not overwhelmed. In this respect, Corner Room very much lives up to its undramatic name.
The Suitometer: LLB’s quick guide to sleeping and dining in the capital.
Would dinner at the Corner Room….
- Inspire a productive business meeting? No. Bad acoustics make it too noisy. Quite small tables too.
- Impress the boss when everything else has failed? No. It’s too cheap.
- Break the ice with those awkward clients? Yes. An interesting, quirky menu, décor and fashionable chef make good talking points.
- Sufficiently blow your bonus and make you feel like a king? No. Far too relaxed and modestly priced.
- Provide the right setting for an all-important first date? No. Bright lighting and tables close together mean people can overhear you (embarrassing).