London restaurant, Restaurant review

BLIXEN Spitalfields – A Gin Palace Out of Africa

Is a good G&T enough to bring me back to a restaurant? A good one perhaps not, but one of Blixen’s is an entirely different story. Laced with homemade grapefruit and coriander cordial with a whopping chunk of fresh neon grapefruit and served over an avalanche of ice, this is a serious drink packed with character and addictive persuasion, I feel that this could have the potential to descend London’s drinking populous into a scene from Hogarth’s Gin Lane. But sadly people go to restaurants for more than just gin these days…

Stylistically there is a lot going at Blixen, and there is something distinctly colonial about it, with wicker chairs, tan wooden panelling and an abundance of ceiling fans, all very British Empire circa 1920. Our table was out in the courtyard, which gladly felt a million miles away from Spitalfields Market, and sported more shrubbery than an African plantation. A penny starts to drop and given the decor I deduce that Blixen could well refer to Karen Blixen and her famous memoir ‘Out of Africa’…

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The staff, who were by and large all rather lovely bore a stark contrast to my first experience of Blixen over 6 months ago when a member of the team sat down at my table to reel of the specials, it certainly put me off my stride and made me question what was in my gin and tonic. Thankfully this over familiarity has been stripped back and Blixen staff 2.0 are much more in keeping with what you would expect. Our Aussie server displayed the right amount of interest in us, but not too much that we became bored of her, she looked about 12 years old but you can hardly hold that against her.

On to the menu, and there were no colonial surprises lurking within the descriptions, however the dishes sounded peculiar and contained a selection of ingredients and flavours that you will recognise but perhaps not necessarily ever together. Beef and anchovies? Frogs legs and jamon? Sea bream and hazelnuts? Lamb and pistachio? It all sounds rather experimental. The starters appealed far more so we opted for a few of these and one main course to share.

Beetroot hummus with crispy lavosh (£3.50) was disappointing and after tasting this i’m confident the ever faithful beetroot was never meant to meet the chickpea in circumstances such as these. The beef carpaccio with anchovy, parmesan and crispy shallots (£8.00) was similarly disappointing, and believe it or not it would have benefitted with the omission of the fishy aftertaste, it was Caesar salad meets carpaccio and contained a bit too much surf with my turf. Our sea bass ceviche hadn’t quite got the right citrus balance however wasn’t unpalatable. The squid and chorizo stew (£8.00) most definitely made up for the shortcomings of it’s forerunners – deliciously tender squid rings with a rich deep paprika infused oil, all soaked up with butter beans and chickpeas – a real trophy dish.

Sea bream with white beans, broccoli and hazelnuts (£13.00) was proficient enough and the fish was fresh and well seasoned. Presentation was way off the mark and looked like it was ‘bring your toddler to work’ day in the kitchen as it was seemingly plated up by a three year old.

Pistachio ice cream with lemon shortbread (£6.00) for dessert was pleasant enough, and reminded me of an Indian kulfi, could this be the nod towards the colonial cooking of yesteryear that I was searching for?

A tray of petit fours and an espresso martini each finished off the evening – though it was staggering to believe that our G&T had been made by the same hands that sent out this under shaken and over sweetened imposter…such a shame.

For the price I think Blixen is a hit, and you’ll be hard pushed to get this quality for the same money in a mile radius. Go for the G&T and the squid…just make sure they don’t put it in the same glass.

Dinner for 2 £92 with two cocktails and service. 65A Brushfield Street, E1 6AA (0207 101 0093 blixen.co.uk) Open Monday to Friday 8am – 11pm, Saturday 9am – 11pm, Sunday 9am – 8pm.

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