Crispin restaurant review: A ‘one of everything’ style that works ... most of the time

When Crispin is good, its excellent, Ed Cumming says. With time, the Spitalfields restaurant will be great

Thursday 24 January 2019 14:46 GMT
Crispin offers fresh food and coffee in Spitalfields
Crispin offers fresh food and coffee in Spitalfields (Photography by Charlie McKay)

Crispin is an easy restaurant to like. It wants to please and mainly does. It has the things London restaurants in 2019 are meant to have. Its young, keen proprietors have taken the approved modern route.

Dom Hamdy and Oliver Hiam started with Scotchtails, a scotch egg stall in Borough Market, and graduated to Lundenwic, a coffee shop in Aldwych. Now they have set up just east of Spitalfields market in an odd angular purpose-built space, like the rear end of a steel and glass spaceship that has crashed into the road.

It is more of a summer room than a winter hideout. When we went in, snow was falling on wet pavement outside, the outdoor seats were not in use and there was at least one table too many.

We were seated at the worst table, sandwiched along the back wall. I was more involved than I wanted to be in conversations either side of me; man in the red jumper, I hope you have worked out your Marrakech flights.

Perhaps this awkward cosiness is the price of being within a goal kick of the Natwest head office. In the surrounding area, fast-casual semi-chains like Wahaca, Honest Burger, and Ottolenghi are swamping the few interesting independents, like Gunpowder.

Crispin offers a futuristic feel with summer vibes
Crispin offers a futuristic feel with summer vibes ((Charlie McKay))

In the wrong hands, the effect of the space might have been disastrous but somehow it works fine. By day, it is mainly a coffee shop and wine bar, with a tiny breakfast list, a short lunch menu and more on offer for dinner.

This is seasonal, gentle Italian and changes by the week. It favours local producers: bread from Dusty Knuckle bakery, salmon from the secret smokehouse. It is designed to lead you towards “one of everything”, which amounts to a five pound discount on ordering it individually.

The theory of this is sound. Diners trade choice for quality of ingredients, keeping prices down.

If it’s this simple, though, it has to be immaculate. Not everything was. The porcetta was presented bluntly as two curls of meat, plain on the plate and ever so slightly overdone.

Pesto on a half roasted fennel seemed crude like someone had cobbled together a vegetarian option from the front of Tesco. A cheesecake with preserved kumquat begged for some lubricant.

Yet where it was good, Crispin was excellent. Crisp little arancini came set on a bed of sweet, umami-rich mushroom ketchup. Pappardelle swirled in a sauce of smooth butternut squash, sprinkled with breadcrumbs for bite.

Butter whipped up with paprika was ready to be smeared on the thick slices of fresh bread that it came with. More bread would have been welcome by the end of the nduja and squid broth, the stand-out dish.

Nduja is a bully that makes everything taste like nduja, but squid is a bully of texture. Together they got on fine, leaving a sauce of piquant red liquid that longed for scarpetta.

There was the odd moment when the staff showed their inexperience, such as promising but not delivering a cooler for the wine, but these were more than made up for by their general enthusiasm.

By the time we finished, with drinks and a couple of add-ons, the bill was £65 each, more than I’d paid for a similar amount of food and drink at Westerns Laundry last week.

Crispin feels casual but it is not cheap. Depending on when you go, the menu will likely have changed, but it is already good and will get better. It’s run by young men and women who care about where the food comes from and how it is served. Up with this kind of thing.

Should you go? Yes.

Would I go again? Yes.

Crispin, Spitalfields, Pavilion on The Corner, White’s Row, London, E1 7NF;;

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