Wright Brothers, restaurant review: The odds were stacked against this 'seafood mecca' but it's hard to fault
Amol Rajan was appointed editor of The Independent in June 2013. He was previously Editor of Independent Voices, a comment, campaigns and community platform across print and digital. He was earlier Deputy Comment Editor, Sports News Correspondent and News Reporter. He writes a restaurant column for The Independent on Sunday, and has a column in the Evening Standard (Thursdays). He presents ‘Power Lunch’ on London Live TV (Thursdays), a one-to-one interview with the most influential people in the capital. Previously, Amol worked on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff, and at the Foreign Office. He is currently a trustee of Prospex, a charity for young people in Islington. He has also written a book called ‘Twirlymen: the Unlikely History of Cricket’s Greatest Spin Bowlers’.
Sunday 02 February 2014
The odds are stacked against the Wright Brothers. First of all, their latest restaurant is in Spitalfields Market, which nobody aged 30 or over should ever be seen near. Second, this is a seafood place, and I've just come back from Italy and Cornwall, where I had so much fish that the thought of another crustacean makes me ill. Third, this restaurant is out and proud about its crustacea – which means you have the dubious pleasure of seeing them fighting in huge tanks barely two metres from the seating area. Fourth, this opening is part of a chain (the third of its kind in the capital, following openings in Soho and Borough market), and your correspondent demands higher standards from chains. Fifth, I am in an extremely foul mood, had you not twigged, having just had my latest in a series of contretemps with a fellow journalist.
And after all that… this place is magnificent. I mean, really bloody good. Not because it does anything fancy or unusual, or because it charges £300 for half a sautéed whelk. It is magnificent because it cooks a big range of seafood exceedingly well and sells it at a reasonable price. With 1,400 shellfish visible in those tanks, and another 9,000 live creatures visible in the basement when you visit the loo, for once the PR blurb about a "seafood mecca" is forgivable hyperbole.
There are four selections on the Fish of the Day board, platters that come petit (£24), grand (£54) and deluxe (£128), 10 different types of oyster, lots of shellfish and then a selection of mains from the kitchen, before puddings and cheese.
Five of us have gathered, so the grand platter of shellfish seems like a smart starter – and for the most part, it is. The Channel Island oysters are chewy and sloppy rather than full of gristle; the brown shrimp are small and fresh and can be swallowed whole; the prawns come with a rich mayonnaise; the little whelks look disgusting and worm-like when fetched out of their shells, but taste delicious; and there's a whole heap of crab that, though messy, yields succulent and sweet brown meat from deep within its claws. The only miss are the clams, which have soured slightly and taste plain wrong.
The rest of the mains constitute a large but manageable selection of seafood classics. The greasy option is a plate of fried baby squid, sand eels, brown shrimp and prawns (£11). There's nothing much wrong with this, though if I were to have one small quibble, it's that the batter is so greasy that it dominates whatever it coats, so that just as too much Bisto on your Sunday lunch makes the whole thing taste of gravy, so this plate tastes too much of batter.
Actually, the dish's main shortcoming is that it comes off rather poorly when compared with the other mains. For instance, the monkfish rice with saffron and aioli (£14) is excellent, a warm bed of gloopy yellow rice infused with pungent saffron and cooked to perfection, next to two chops of muscular monkfish and a dollop of creamy, garlic goodness. Well worth the money. As are the palourde clams with white beans, pig cheek and coriander (£11), and the mussels, which come here with garlic, parsley and chilli (£11). You can also get a Canadian lobster, grilled or boiled and served cold: half for £20.50, whole for £41.
The desserts are various and very toothsome. That they can be helped down by a very decent Muscat (£5.70) or something from a good cocktail list helps. The savarin (a kind of rum baba) with Grand Marnier (£9) is a lovely winter warmer, all sweet, saucy and alcoholic; and the bulging prune and Armagnac soufflé (£6.50) and small but sufficient chocolate-and-caramel pot (£6) are hard to fault.
As is the entire place, actually. Even the prices aren't bad, considering what you have to pay for a peanut in London today. I must warn you, though, that throughout your meal you will see huge animals clambering on top of each other, and sometimes engaged in open warfare. The other thing to watch out for is the skinny-jeans brigade who, thinking they're too smart for Hoxton a mile up the road, now monopolise Spitalfields. But that's enough of the hate I turned up full of tonight. For I leave full of joy, and fish. A wondrous turnaround.
Wright Brothers, 8/9 Lamb Street, Old Spitalfields Market, London E1, tel: 020 7377 8706. £90 for two, with wine
Four more things I've been eating this week
Antoine de Clevecy
Most oenophiles say supermarket champagne is junk. But this stuff, which Sainsbury's recently did at half price, I liked. Very much.
After a few months off, I've come back to this classic biscuit as the premier dunk for a cup of sweet, milky chai.
Winter is the only season during which I eat breakfast. Naturally it needs to be full of fibre – and chocolate. This stuff is ideal.
A total obsession at the moment, especially with honey and mustard. Dickinson & Morris of Melton Mowbray does a corker.
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