Eating out: Cool but certainly not cold

Great Eastern Dining Room; 54 Great Eastern Street, London EC2. Tel: 0171 613 4545. Open Mon-Fri, 12.30-3pm, and Mon-Sat, 6pm-12am. Adjoining bar open Mon-Fri 12pm-12am and Sat 6pm-12am. Average price for dinner, pounds 20 per head. Credit cards accepted

EVERYONE in the East End lives on chips and lager. Our idea of a good night out is a sing-song around the old joanna and a bottle fight. There are no decent restaurants, and there would be no point in opening one, because none of us knows how to use a knife and fork properly.

You know this is rubbish, and so do I - but half the people who write about eating out seem to get their idea of East End cuisine from Peggy Mitchell's lunchtime pies. It really is frustrating to leaf through the latest restaurant guide and find the only decent entry on your side of the West End is a curry house in Brick Lane. It's not that the places don't exist - although they do require a bit of rooting out - but that most reviewers get a nosebleed if they stray too far from Notting Hill.

The one exception is Islington, a kind of honorary Portobello Road, whose popularity is a con perpetrated by estate agents who feed on the gullibility of new arrivals to London. The endless sub-division of the city's villages into the trendy and the passe must seem tiresome to anyone who lives outside the M25, but a good address can make a studio sell for the price of a mansion elsewhere. And the best way of telling whether a dead end is about to become a trendy enclave is by looking at its new restaurants and bars.

Now that Islington is full and costly, the empty warehouses and tatty residences of Shoreditch are the focus of much hype. It is being sold as though the boundaries of civilisation are being pushed back to make proper frothy coffee and pancetta available to all, and those of us who live beyond Hackney Marshes can only rejoice at the distant prospect of being rescued one day. The theory goes that if you can't afford Clerkenwell, (and Clapton's a bit too ethnic, of course) then a bedsit above a shuttered shop in Shoreditch will at least be within walking distance of some nice arty-class watering holes and nosh houses. Which brings us to the newest and perhaps the best of them, the Great Eastern Dining Room.

The culinary missionary behind it is Will Ricker, who owns Cicada in Clerkenwell. The building is a former fabric warehouse on a dark corner, only a short sway from the ultra-fashionable attractions of Hoxton Square, where the Blue Note club once played funky, vaguely jazzy, bass-heavy music of an early evening. The club has moved on, but similar chest-pressing sounds can be heard in the bar of the Great Eastern.

We knew it was the right place by the very posh scooter parked outside. Not a motorcycle, you understand - that would have been common - but a beautiful Italian machine with shiny black bodywork and chrome pipes that reflected the red neon sign above the door. On the way we'd seen the entryphones of video production houses, photographers' studios and design companies. The bar was crowded with their employees, but we were bound for the quieter and more intimate restaurant room, where a black-clad Australian from the Nick Cave school of handsome was waiting with a smile.

"Ah, Mr Moreton," he said, without looking down at the list. "Good to see you."

The staff was friendly and informal, like new friends hosting a party at home. When my partner had a minor coughing fit, the waitress poured water and rubbed her back. Some might have found that intrusive, but we felt welcomed. It's best to resist saying things like this, but the service at Great Eastern was the best I have experienced anywhere: relaxed and chatty, but fast and discreet.

My first course was also pretty good, a rabbit and rosemary stew with haricots. The beans were buttery and there were chunks of bread soaked in the golden gravy, which was an unexpected reminder of the bread and warm milk my mum used to feed me as a child. It would have been comfort food, but for a few tiny shards of bone that were damned uncomfortable. Rachel had bruschetta smothered in warm ricotta cheese, sprinkled with oregano and rocket. It came with too many olives, which had to be rationed to avoid overwhelming the more subtle flavours.

By the time we finished the starters and were halfway into a bottle of (very ordinary) Argen-tinian white, our bums were getting numb. Call me reactionary, but if I pay someone for the privilege of sitting in their room to eat I want to be comfortable. On one side of our tiny table was a wooden chair far too small for my foodie frame, and on the other, a bench upholstered in grey leather. The back of the bench was set at an angle more suitable for post-prandial lounging, which meant I had to prop myself up throughout the meal. A reasonably well-built man at the next table had to sit sideways because his legs would not fit underneath.

Black floorboards, dark ash walls and a white ceiling gave the place that slightly naff Eighties feel that you can achieve so easily with Italian modernist design. It was redeemed by the effect of dozens of tiny, soft lights on two chandeliers.

The stew had been so filling that I was glad not to have too many vegetables with my good thick slice of chargrilled rib-eye steak. It was almost right, but for a worrying raw and greasy spot in one corner. The parsnip patty and garlic mayonnaise with it were fine, but the green beans we ordered as a side dish were more gummy than al dente. The corn-fed chicken breast with bay leaves and little bits of lemon tucked under the crispy skin was a delight, and fell off the bone. Its lemon dressing was watery, but did not drown the roast vegetables, which included a carrot, celeriac and, oddly, a lump of beetroot.

There was no way of avoiding the lemon mascarpone cheesecake once we had seen it arrive at another table. The waitress put it between us, without being asked, then said: "Well, every couple orders one but they both end up eating it." She was right. The mascarpone was dense and crumbly, its confidence restrained by caramelised lemon rind and a little sauce.

We finished full, happy and relaxed. The white paper table clothes and plain glass tumblers had made it clear that this was not a place for grand romantic dining but rather a good canteen for the new EastEnders. Nose rings, tight crops and black clothes were in abundance, but thankfully there were also enough walking fashion disasters to keep us company. None of the other diners seemed out to impress, just to enjoy a good bit of grub in funky surroundings. Then again, to be so at home in a place with prices just into the medium range means they must have felt they had made it already.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week