Saturday, 8 December 2012

Everybody needs good neighbours

A good neighbourhood restaurant is a wonderful thing. That place you can walk to, even in the grimmest weather, enjoy genuinely familiar service, see those people from down the road. To some it might sound awful; a break from the anonymous cover that London affords. Not I.

It's something I've thought a lot about recently - a colleague was recently telling me about neighbourhoods that benefit from good systems or good levels of empathy. Good systems (transport) mean people come and go easily, and so lack empathy. Empathetic neighbourhoods typically have poor systems, but people rub together well - using local facilities. I like to think this is true of much of Hackney - our relative disconnecteness means we spend more time on our doorstep, and benefit from the warmth of familiar contact.

Shane's on Chatsworth in Lower Clapton is a fine example of a neighbourhood restaurant, and not just because I can walk there in two minutes. It's at the centre of the neighbourhood, sandwiched between a fruit and veg shop and an old electrical store, with big windows looking onto the street - it's part of it. It's small, bright and personal, no more than 30 covers, so it always feels intimate and cosy. Shane, the proprietor and chef, pops up to make sure everyone is happy and enjoying the food.

And they are. The food is excellent. Modern British some might say, focusing on well sourced game and seafood from not too far away, some foraged leafs. It isn't pious about it, which is refreshing. We were there on a Saturday in November, and enjoyed the riches of the latest haul of game from Shane's supplier.

Starters were simple and understated: we particularly enjoyed the venison scotch eggs with a semi-soft quail's egg inside. The venison was really simply and effectively seasoned and had really high meat content. It came with lightly pickled autumn veg.

We also enjoyed the mixed game terrine - proper chunks of pheasant, pigeon and venison, brushed with an almost sweet jelly and served with pickled pears. All flavours amazing together - meat and fruit, an ancient combination.

The wild fallow deer came highly recommended and my fellow diners certainly enjoyed it. It was so tender, but still bright pink inside. Served with a celariac puree and red and gold beetroot, and the flavours were perfectly autumnal.

I opted for wood pigeon with a herby parsnip puree and kale with chestnuts. It was unbelievable. The pigeon  was perfectly cooked - seared and charred on the outside, pink and juicy inside, a small amount of luscious jus. The parnsip mash was intense, rich and bursting with woody sweet flavours. Kale and chestnuts is a favourite combination - just couldn't get enough.

I had a sample of a friend's hake and shellfish stew - delicious, subtly and served with warm crusty bread.

The meal was incredibly filling, despite portions being sensible in size. But we had to try desserts - clementine posset, beetroot and chocolate cake with candied fennel, and a bread and butter pudding. All were delicious but the clementine posset was particularly good - so zesty and refreshing after all that rich food. Clementine is underused as an ingredient, and it's just perfect at this time of year.

With two glasses of wine each, starters, mains, desserts and a tip it came to £34 a head. It's definitely a fair price for the quality, though some local people were surprised at the prices when they saw the first menu up in the window earlier in the year. Shane has responded and now there's a range of menus and offers to make it more affordable - there's now a two/three course with wine option for £18/£21, afternoon tapas and wine offers that are very fair priced. I loved it, and am so pleased to have it in the neighbourhood. I'll keep going back to check out the menu as the seasons change.