I am SO glad I went to Berners Tavern. Not just because it is an incredible restaurant but also because I finally got the chance to write another review. Yes, it’s been months people. I am a terrible blogger. In my defence – I just kept going to restaurants that weren’t quite up to scratch. There was the tapas bar on Broadway Market – delicious seafood risotto, everything else tasted like it had been drowned in salt. And I LOVE salt. I had to leave the patatas bravas it was so salty. I was VERY upset.
Then there was Hoi Polloi in Shoreditch – again, high hopes that were met with disappointment. I had a perfectly good sole but it was so ugly I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture much less review it. My friends had the burger which arguably looked delicious and was lovely and pink – so do have that if you go.
So imagine my delight when the boy’s and my five year anniversary rolled around – the PERFECT excuse to go out and spoil ourselves rotten. I suggested Berners Tavern because, well, LOOK AT IT…
It’s like Dorian Gray meets Disney in there, in the best possible way. The walls are lined with framed paintings from floor to ceiling – which drips with chandeliers and ornate carvings. A huge bar reaches to the ceiling too (no one drinks that liqueur right on the top shelf I’m guessing) and bathes the room in a comforting, retro orange glow.
We had the corner table which was the perfect seat to lace fingers and watch the world go by. There is a bank of curved booths in the middle which are supposedly VIP, something carried over from the hotel apparently – but it didn’t feel exclusive or alienating in any way. In fact the entire restaurant feels open, relaxed and inviting despite the grand setting and the expensive price tag. We were chatting away to an American couple beside us and I had a good natter with the waitress while the boy snuck in a fag between courses – the building used to be a private residence apparently up until 2000. The mind boggles.
So, what with it being a special occasion and all, we decided to order EVERYTHING (as usual). First off we got the Ironbark pumpkin risotto, crispy quail egg, smoked ham hock and kale crisps. This was a substitute for the much famed ‘peas and ham’ starter that feature in every review of the restaurant, ever. I can’t speak for that but this one was bloody delicious – although it looks far from appetising…
The sweet, creamy risotto was perfectly balanced by the salty, chewy hock – the whole thing topped with a delicate little egg, crispy and fried, the runny yolk turning the whole dish deep and rich. I’ve heard Berners criticised for its small portions – not so with this dish, or any of the others. Perhaps they just wanted more.
I agonised for a stupidly long time between the macaroni and cheese, braised ox cheek with brioche and bone marrow crumble (I had this in my sights months in advance) and the roasted monkfish tail, squid ink risotto, crispy squid and bok choi. Risotto was clearly to be a theme of the night as it won out – the mac and cheese delegated to a lowly side dish. The boy ordered a lamb dish with a white bean ragout that I can’t quite remember but will quiz him on later. I know it was a delicacy compared to the hefty hit of cream in all of MY choices. Ah well.
The monkfish was huge – actually too much fish, in big meaty chunks of perfect snowy white flesh. The crispy squid was a little on the miserly side by comparison – little knobbly Nik-Naks that didn’t taste of squid at all. Ditto for the bok-choi. The black ink squid was voluminous, creamy but somehow a little bland – I am ashamed to say I poured on the salt (see, I DO love salt). Despite these niggles, I would have been perfectly happy with the dish – unless, unless I had tasted that heaven on earth – the mac and cheese!
Fate was smiling down on us that night as the kitchen cocked up and cooked us a large portion. RESULT. It came, bubbling in a delicious cheesy cauldron of gooiness, and I drooled. Huge tubes of pasta squirted out molten lava-like sauce. The seasoning was just right – I’d go as far as to say it was umami. A delectable brioche crumb added a layer of texture – I just say brioche because I couldn’t particularly taste the bone marrow. I doubt it survived the nuclear reactor heat levels and even if it did, I’m not a huge fan anyway so I didn’t care.
The boy actually couldn’t finish his half (he gorged on warm bread to start, rookie mistake). So I did the honours, greedily wiping the black squid ink stain from my lips, the monkfish forgotten (but not uneaten). God, it was so good. I want it again. And again and again and again. Last night, I dreamt about it. True story.
We declared ourselves too full for dessert, ordered cocktails as digestifs (there were many, many cocktails), asked for the dessert menu anyway and then ordered something to share. Because we’re big time like that. We got the strawberry trifle (his fave) with the basil ice cream (my fave).
The trifle was a surprise hit – tart and sweet (enough about me) accompanied by luxuriously velvet whipped cream and a crumbly biscuit base. I’m sure the biscuit wasn’t the traditional lady fingers – but I was too greedy and tipsy to analyse, to be honest. Straight in my gob. The ice cream was the star of the dish – tasting the two together was like gargling rainbow water. That’s a good thing. I drained it on its own which the boy found a little shocking. Just how I do.
The waitress also brought over a chocolate cake because it was our anniversary and we’re SPECIAL. But I don’t like chocolate desserts so I only had a taste – what a Debbie Downer. The ganache was mirror smooth with a creamy chocolate mousse inside and bright sprinkles on top. Delicious if that’s your thing but I could have done with something tart to relieve all that richness.
The bill came to a rather reasonable £200 (considering £70 of that was cocktails. I told you we drank a lot). Either I’m getting old or extravagant but I’d go as far as to say it was a goddamn bargain – drool-worthy dishes, an amazing atmosphere and a hot date – what more could a girl want from an anniversary? (Roses. I would definitely have liked some roses).