Finding new Dalston restaurant A Little of What You Fancy is a bit of a challenge.
It hides in plain sight on the Kingsland Road, blending in beside 'Angel's beauty and slimming clinic', a unisex hair salon and an off-licence cum mini-market. It's difficult to find because it doesn't have a sign. A chalkboard near the street is the only indication that this is the right place, which with a smeared scrawl, announces the restaurant's name. This is either a stroke of marketing genius or a mis-judged attempt at projecting an underground image.
Inside it's stripped down, yet homely, with crates of eggs and lemons sitting around, a drafty toilet and reclaimed school chairs. It's packed with loud and chatty people, uniformed with undercuts and boat shoes for the boys, artfully dishevelled hair and baggy jumpers for the girls - a typical Dalston crowd.
But the prices are not Dalston prices. You could feed a whole family at Huong-Viet, just a few blocks down the road, for the price of three-course meal here. I suspect that A Little of What You Fancy is aiming to pull in the second wave of Dalston dwellers. The ones who came because they liked the edgy, vibrant area, and could afford the inflated rents. The ones who work in the City by day, but want to feel quite bohemian of an evening.
The ones who would love, in other words, to go to a dishevelled, word-of-mouth restaurant on the Kingsland Road and be served with potted shrimp and confit duck. Maybe that lack of a sign really is a cunning idea. Then again - it wasn't the only absent aspect of the evening.
'Charred artichoke hearts on pan con tomate with lemon and caper butter' came without lemon and caper butter. The artichokes were abundant but acidic. The fresh-tasting mussels came au naturel with just a little fennel and white wine, but even though it was a decent sized portion it came without carbs. My companion asked for bread and was given one half of a slice, no butter.
The succulent confit duck leg with braised red cabbage (£17) was missing the interesting addition of sour cherries as stated on the menu. A shame, because they could have lifted the dish from ordinary to interesting.
The slow-braised beef (£15) was more of a goulash, in a richly umami-tasting porcini mushroom sauce. Yum. I couldn't taste any parmesan – which could have been a wonderful savoury companion to the mushrooms – in the 'parmesan polenta', it seemed to have been substituted for cream and butter (maybe that's where the caper butter went?) rendering it a bit sloppy and heavy.
The vegetable Thai curry was balanced and lightly spiced, but at £11.50 it didn't do anything more than the local Thai restaurant could do for half the price. Beers included Meantime - from a microbrewery in Greenwich and London Porter - from the Kernel microbrewery in Southwark, the wine list (£12-£25) was similarly small but well chosen and had the handy option of a half-bottle carafe.
This place is sure to thrive as the area is crying out for something just like it. It needs to work on portion sizes and making dishes a bit more creative. Although some of the plates were heaped up, just as many were too small - or missing a key component. As Mae West said, “too much of a good thing can be wonderful” and, I'm forced to add - A Little of What You Fancy is not enough.
A Little of What you Fancy, 464 Kingsland Road, London E8 4AE, tel: 020 7275 0060. Open Tues-Sun