Boundary, 2-4 Boundary Street, London E2

Anyone looking for a neat illustration of the Two Britains would find the polarity starkly showcased in the Shoreditch area of east London. Just off Shoreditch High Street, where Brick Lane market peters out into a grungy warren of warehouses and strip pubs, are hidden some of the capital's most opulent palaces of entertainment.

The opening of the eccentric, expensive Les Trois Garçons in this down-at-heel quarter, followed by Shoreditch House, the largest and most fabulous London offshoot of the private members' club Soho House, triggered a general dusting off of A to Zs by fashionable pleasure-seekers.

And now, with a certain inevitability, these pioneers have been joined by Sir Terence Conran, who has known an up-and-coming area since he opened the Soup Kitchen on the King's Road in 1953. His latest offering, Boundary, comprising a restaurant, café, hotel and foodstore, is very much a labour of love for Sir T, who has largely financed it himself (presumably using some of the profits from the sale of the Conran Restaurant Group). He has also overseen most of the design, drawing on an all-star cast of artists and designers.

The result looks wonderful – a Victorian warehouse, remodelled into a thoroughly modern East End pleasuredome. Two new storeys have been added, including a rooftop grill, and an air-conditioning system installed, using bore holes drilled down to the water-table, enabling the building to be as eco-friendly as possible. This work massively delayed the building's completion, but, as the Conran family motto has it, per ardua ad gastrodome.

First to open was the ground-floor café, Albion, plus adjacent food store, one of those modern delis that nod to the corner shop by stocking Oxo cubes alongside the artisan cheeses and designer breads. On a Sunday lunchtime, the café was already doing good business. The light, canteen-like space, its industrial lines softened with great lighting, has a buzzy open kitchen and seems to have been designed to tick as many "trends to watch" boxes as possible. Every element, from barstool to gravy boat, deserves its own plinth in the Design Museum, but the humble and homespun are also embraced, with teapots swaddled in mad hand-knitted cosies, and cutlery standing in Golden Syrup tins on the table.

Most importantly, the food is great: well-made versions of traditional British caff grub – steak and kidney pudding; beer-battered haddock and chips fried in beef dripping; full-flavoured rib-eye steak with a roasted marrow bone; rhubarb crumble. Prices are astoundingly reasonable, and the staff couldn't be friendlier. The arrival of Conran in the 'Ditch may be seen by some as the occupying forces of corporate gentrification, but there's a quirkiness and personality at work here that's really pleasing.

I returned to the Boundary building a few days later for dinner in the restaurant, a handsome, subterranean space whose combination of bare brick walls and high-style furnishings evokes a Prohibition-era nightclub hiding in the basement of a Chicago warehouse. One entire wall is taken up with an open kitchen, so open in fact that it feels like you're watching Hell's Kitchen, and someone from Steps is about to start crying.

Head chef Ian Wood, ex of the Almeida, has put together a menu of classic French dishes, including a wide selection of fruits de mer and grilled and roasted meats, plus the odd British stalwart such as beef Wellington.

A half dozen langoustines, split and grilled a la plancha to retain their fleshy sweetness, and a precisely seasoned steak tartare topped with a raw quail egg, were both well-made dishes. But a main course of braised pig's trotter, stuffed with sweetbreads, was too chewy in texture to come together as unctuous comfort food. Nor was a venison chop, served with a juniper reduction, quite as tender as it could have been.

These slightly sub-par dishes didn't dent our confidence in the Boundary experience, so seductive is the room, and so winning the service. Like the front-of-house team, the wine list is both classy and approachable, with plenty of choice at the lower end to balance the vintages designed to withstand the kind of serious City Boy pounding that may now never happen.

As a restaurateur, Conran has had his critics over the years, as the originality of successes such as Bibendum was eclipsed by the business-class blandness of later offerings. Now, at 77, he has unveiled an amazing, ambitious project, every detail of which bespeaks his lifelong obsession with restaurant culture and brilliant design. The empire he built may have passed to others, but the emperor's new outfit has to be seen to be believed.

Boundary

2-4 Boundary Street, London E2 (020-7729 1051)

Food 3 stars
Ambience 4 stars
Service 4 stars

Around £40 a head for dinner before wine and service

Albion

Food 4 stars
Ambience 4 stars
Service 5 stars

Dishes from £1.25 to £9.75

Tipping policy: "Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff"

Side Orders: Gastro domes

Valvona & Crolla

Edinburgh's oldest Italian cafe-bar, deli and wine merchant continues to serve some of the city's finest Italian cooking today.

19 Elm Row, Edinburgh (0131-556 6066)

Bordeaux Quay

Barney Haughton's restaurant, bar, brasserie, deli and bakery is Bristol's most glamorous foodie destination.

V-Shed, Canons Way, Bristol (0117-943 1200)

Bill's Produce Store

This foodie emporium comprises a café, deli and shop; the menu specialises in hearty comfort cooking.

The Depot, 100 North Road, Brighton (01273 692894)

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

    £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Estates Contracts & Leases Manager

    £30000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Estates Team of this group ...

    Guru Careers: Brand Manager / Marketing Campaign Manager

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Brand Manager / Marketing Campaign Manager is req...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
    Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

    Berlusconi's world of sleaze

    The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
    Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

    Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

    Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
    Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

    Could gaming arcades be revived?

    The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
    Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

    Heard the one about menstruation?

    Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage