Just when I thought new openings were getting a bit derivative over in Clapton, I got a very pleasant surprise. The public toilets on Brooksby's Walk, previously home to the social enterprise Nana, got taken on by a crew of bright young things who really know their onions, so to speak.
The art deco public toilets were converted two years ago to provide a bar/café in the original men's loos (urinals in tact), opening the original women's side as unisex public toilets for all the hours the premises is open. It benefits from a stunning roof terrace which catches the sun pretty much all day long. And for the summer - and hopefully beyond (subject to planning permission) - it's open as a restaurant and cocktail bar, with Giorgio Ravelli (ex of Upstairs at the Ten Bells and the Ledbury) in the kitchen, Jarrod Cooke (also ex of Upstairs at the Ten Bells) on front of house, and Jimmy McMahon, an esteemed mixologist, on the cocktails. The whole operation has a pally, family vibe - helped by the fact that the team are all chums, and they're bringing other chums in to help with the odd waiting and cheffing shift.
The food menu is seasonal Northern Italian - Ravelli himself is Swiss Italian - and changes up regularly with a few regular dishes, such as their parmesan pannacotta with broad beans and pea purée. This was an instant highlight - a light, moussey, creamy parmesan custard, which mixes gorgeously with the lush green, the delicate flavours of marjoram and slightly acidic slivers of nectarine.
Nectarine appears again, chargrilled and topped with shavings of princess alicia cheese (a mountain cheese not dissimilar to comté) and a rich balsamic dressing.
Beer battered samphire is generously portioned for its £4.50 price tag, and is almost like a marshy bhaji. We break bits off with our hands and eat it animal style. Every last fleck of sea salt and oil is consumed, fingers out towards the end. It's a theme with the meal.
A unanimous highlight of the meal is the crispy squid. This is among the best squid I've had: fresh, crisp, flavoursome, generous. It's topped with tangy sumac, but it's all about the Kentish tomato salad it sits atop. The tomatoes are lightly macerated so their juice forms a liquor that's fragranced with elderberry capers, lovage, celery, finely diced red onion and a twist of vinegar. It's like the most luxe bloody mary you've had. My friend shamelessly necks the bowl of liquor back once we've done our best.
Pan fried plaice is another highlight. We gush as we cut into the fish with its white, meaty, flesh perfectly intact under a golden crisp crumb. But gushing reaches fever pitch as we spoon up the aubergine caviar that's cut with sweet sultanas and perfectly toasted earthy pine nuts, and served with a Cos-like perfect circle of mustardy-capery agrodolce purée. Again, not a trace remains on the plate.
The thought of veal tartare scares my friends, so we don't order it. But a spare portion from the kitchen winds its way to our table. They savour every mouthful, with its flecks of dried mackerel skin, pickled girolles and parmesan for umami kick.
We literally eat everything on the savoury menu (there's sourdough bread with peppery, fruity olive oil too) and we end with swaledale lamb leg, baby beetroot and sea purslane. Maybe we're overwhelmed by all the flavours of previous courses, but we end up finding this dish a bit underwhelming. The lamb is perfectly pink, with a crisp, almost bacon-like skin (lamb bacon, there's a business idea), but it's a bit tough to cut with our normal knives. The beets are gorgeously earthy, and the sea purslane subtle. It's not a bad dish, but we prefer everything else.
An understated dessert of ricotta beignets, strawberries, marsala reduction and cream hits all the right notes and is a refreshing end to the meal. On a separate trip, I devour plates of brilliant cheese with a chum over wine and cocktails. Taleggio, gouda, a soft unpasturised cheese called Tentation and an ash rolled goats cheese served with complementary jams are utterly delicious.
Oh boy, I haven't even mentioned the drinks. Cocktails are great - very summery. We enjoy their Number One (aperolly aperativo) and Number Two (a cool, almost punch-like infused 'old fashioned' digestivo). The wine list is impressive, well-sourced and well-priced. Over two visits I have all the whites by the (large) glass - the stand outs being a zingy, aromatic Grillo from Puglia and a young, deep straw coloured Monteforche Veneto Cassiara. I need to get a hold of that wine...perfect, just perfect.
So, an epic meal - we are there for 3.5 hours. It's one of the best meals I've had in a long time, and up there with Verden and Shane's as the best restaurants in Greater Clapton. As the bill came I was pleasantly surprised at the cost of our indulgence (£24 inc tip for my non boozing friend, £38 inc tip for those of us who had wine and cocktails), and sad - sad that this brilliant restaurant and bar might only be here for a few more months. A planning application will shortly be going in for this brilliant, less weather-dependent design. I will certainly be registering my support for it - this venture is too good to lose.
Reservations recommended, and it's best to call their mobile: 07555 229870.