Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London, E1

The gentrification of east London gallops onward. You can hardly move in Shoreditch or Hackney these days without encountering a new private club or school-of-Mark-Hix restaurant. Whitechapel, long a place of anonymity, grot and serial murder, is on the turn as well. Through the windows of the Whitechapel Gallery's spanking new Dining Room – launched just after the Gallery's re-opening, following a two-year, £13.5m renovation that doubled its size – you look gloomily at the disused buildings across the High Street. But inside the Dining Room, everything is pure Primrose Hill, clean and new, tasteful and sweet-smelling.

It's hellishly small, though: neighbouring lunchers, when exiting their table, have to inch past you sideways so as not to get their jacket-hems in your steamed greens with lemon oil and toasted almonds. It's a cute room, light and airy, whose long vertical mirrors create an illusion of spatial adequacy and the blond-wood floor, wooden tables and wood-and-leather chairs howl "Scandanavian chic".

Remarkably for a gallery restaurant, there's no art on the walls. As we discovered, they keep it for the dishes. The menu is as small as the room (four starters and four mains) and features lots of seasonal, hedgerow-foraging stuff: dandelion leaves, wild garlic, herbs – hardly surprising, when the head chef is Maria Elia, late of the Delfina Gallery in Bermondsey, and the author of The Modern Vegetarian. I liked the promise of "locally smoked eel" – I didn't realise there was a proper smokery in the backstreets of Whitechapel. It seems a far cry from the days when the only eels you'd get round here came with pie, mash and liquor.

We ordered hock of ham and Jersey Royal terrine with English asparagus. It arrived artfully arrayed in a long rectangular plate, a soft quail's egg adding a dab of colour to the green-and-white palette until suddenly we were looking at a Joan Miro painting. My date complained that the asparagus, though perfectly cooked, was oversalted, as was the hock terrine, while a spoonful of anonymous relish put her in mind of Heinz Sandwich Spread. My palate is less sensitive to salt, and it seemed fine to me. The wild garlic, leek and potato soup with Dorset Blue Vinney and crispy leeks was a livid shade of green, with the cheese parked on a floating wedge of toast. Visually, it was a Howard Hodgkin. Texturally, it was the consistency of mayonnaise, but it tasted fine. I usually dread this kind of car-crash cuisine, in which a vichyssoise meets a Welsh rarebit in a British-French pile-up; but all the flavours were intact and pungent, especially the garlic and the blue cheese.

The chef's veggie credentials were most on show in a signature dish called "textures of heritage carrots", in which the humble carrot is cooked four ways, in soup, pancake, hummus and herb salad, with a dill and feta baklava. (Isn't that a Greek pudding with honey and nuts?) I gave it a miss – who wants one gussied-up carrot dish, let alone four? – in favour of roasted rabbit, caper, rosemary and sage stuffing, with white bean purée and roasted fennel. It was a dark and murkily serious dish, all dirty browns and slightly over-roasted stuffing – like a Goya painting of death and mayhem in wartime. It was nice to be given, for once, a proper tranche of rabbit, rather than the usual selection of white bunny bits, although the capers rather overwhelmed the meat. The fennel had been roasted until the outer leaves were dry as papyrus, but it was fabulously tasty. The "smashed spuds", as the menu calls them, reeked nicely of (unmentioned) tarragon in the crème fraiche. If you weren't a huge fan of tarragon or capers, this dish would have been a trial. Since I like both, I loved it. My date's pan-fried bream with brandade, charred baby leeks and golden beets was perfectly cooked and danced gracefully with the fishy mash below; even the golden beets (which I loathe) worked well with their partners. As with the fennel, enthusiastic charring brought out the best in the leeks. Ms Elia's devotion to capturing flavours, even of humble root vegetables, does her credit.

A closing treacle tart was insufficiently warm or gooey, or indeed, terribly treacly. But the rose-scented macaroon, with roasted rhubarb and white chocolate parfait, was a thing of loveliness: a Raoul Dufy landscape, in which twin piles of poached rhubarb were sailboats circling the ocean liner of white chocolate in its macaroon hull, and traces of rose liqueur rode like a gorgeous oil slick upon the waves.

The Gallery Dining Room is absurdly small, but it's got a big heart for both flavour and invention. I recommend you go quickly, while they're offering a two-course set lunch for only £15. Oh, and there's some art nearby, at which you might like to have a butcher's 'ook.

Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 (020-7522 7888)

Food 4 stars
Ambience 2 stars
Service 4 stars

About £80 for two, with wine

Tipping policy: "Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary. It is distributed among the staff; all tips go to the staff"

Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living