The Young Turks & The Clove Club, of whom I was always a big fan after visiting their various pop-ups, took over the upstairs room of The Ten Bells in Spitalfields to do a short residency. For a few months they fed diners a lengthy set menu of their choosing made up of seasonal ingredients. I visited early into their stint with seven mates and I got so horrendously drunk I don't remember a thing about it. Except it was dark. We drank a lot of wine. I woke up the next day, traumatised with The Drunken Fear, fully dressed on my couch. I had to call all my friends to apologise; they too had no idea what had happened that evening. On the way to work I was sick into a bin.
So I hadn't really planned on showing my face there again. The shame was great and I couldn't bear to even walk past the place without wincing of my past demeanors. But then I saw that they were introducing an a la carte menu and were doing the whole 50% off thing. You know, I love a bargain so I swallowed my shame and strode into the dining room, head held aloft. That's actually a complete lie. I shuffled in looking guilty and miserable before I was safely ensconced into my seat clutching a blackberry fizz.
The menu was concise, with 3 or 4 options per course. They do snacks while you're deliberating over the menu and the smoked cods roe with chipsticks was pretty awesome. Who doesn't love chipsticks? The roe was sprinkled with what looked like seaweed and maybe some cayenne pepper; I only wished for more chipsticks. Once they were dispatched the excellent sourdough was used as a fishy vehicle.
I chose my starter based on the pheasant's egg. I'm a total whore for a well cooked egg, with it's oozy yolk and general silken texture, and even better if it's slow-cooked. This one was buried beneath a cheesy sauce and lightly cooked tiny cauliflower florets. A clever take on cauliflower cheese, the thinly shaved pickle added a tartness (duh) so that the dish didn't sit too richly. My friend verily inhaled his chilled courgette soup, poured tableside over jersey royals and razor clams.
Plaice was served breaded on one side which I thought perhaps masked the delicate flavour of the fish a little. Elderflower sauce was a stroke of genius though; its light flowery notes made the mushrooms more... mushroomy. Good word, that.
I almost cried when I saw my friend's main. Lamb with spinach, anchovy and potatoes sounds pretty standard on paper but when it came out... Look at it! The lamb was blush pink, tender and fatty. The anchovy sauce was in blobs and the spinach puree mellowed it somewhat. The spaghetti-like potato rosti was crisp, though the silvery anchovy abandoned due to being pretty salty / fishy (I would have scoffed it down). I sulked with envy.
I spotted the blueberry mousse instantaneously and that it was paired with tarragon sponge and milk crisp intrigued me even more. The sponge was intensely aniseed flavoured, while the milk crisp brought the flavours of the fruity mousse together.
Strawberry tart, a gift from the kitchen blew the blueberry mousse out of the water. Light discs of filo-like pastry sandwiched together a thick cream. Strawberries fanned into a disc on top was then topped with white chocolate ice cream. This was delicious simplicity.
We rolled out of The Ten Bells clutching our bellies, wandering around gormlessly, eyes glazed. At around £6 for a starter and the most expensive main (at the time) at £16.60, you could easily have a a 3 course meal for about £30 without booze. But then that would be boring, and you need to have those chipsticks.
Upstairs at The Ten Bells
84 Commercial Street