The East London Liquor Company not only has an on-site distillery but a new restaurant specialising in all things Italian, from amaro and vermouth, to fresh burrata cheese imported from Italy and hand-made pizza. Jenny Southan reports
Located in Bow Wharf, the East London Liquor Company has employed head chef Will Dennard (formerly at White Rabbit and Rebel Dining Society) to run its new restaurant, which opened in June.
Housed in a former glue factory, for the last two years, the distillery has been producing its very own gin (in three varieties) and vodka made from 100 per cent British wheat. It’s also working on what will be London’s first whisky to be made in the capital for about 150 years. (The London Rye will be ready for 2018.) It also works with distillery in Guyana to make its own-label Demerara rum.
Step into the expansive, high-ceilinged bar, and you can see the impressive polished copper stills at the back – if you are interested in learning more, you can book a tour of the premises, including the cellar where they age the liquor in barrels.
Next door is the East London Liquor Company restaurant, where a small team of chefs work away in a tiny kitchen to create a moreish menu home-made pizzas and sharing plates using only the freshest and finest Italian ingredients.
In the morning the chefs might be making batches of green herb salsa verde, chutney to serve with blue cheese, or charred aubergine to turn into a rich, umami, smoky dip made with soy sauce and honey.
There is butter to be churned and chocolate ganache with rose granita to be prepared.
As the orders come in, dough is rolled out and topped with combinations of juicy tomato, ‘Nduja, Pequilo peppers, burrata and roasted fig; Prosciutto, spinach, garlic, polenta and torn buffalo mozzarella; or goat’s cheese, red onion, broccoli, almond and rosemary honey.
Being a bar and distillery, some people may come with drinking front of mind, but the menu is designed to tempt: you can order in dribs and drabs; some fried chicken with ‘Nduja aioli here, the heritage tomatoes with bottarga salted cured fish roe and pine salt there.
Between courses you can wave for house cocktails (the staff are all a delight and knowledgable about what is being sold). There are innovations such as the Caprese Martini, which sounds like a very posh Bloody Mary, made with tomato spirit, dry sherry and smoked paprika, garnished with a mozzarella ball and basil leaf.
Alternatively, you can create your own with the help of the East London Liquor Company’s “Bespoke cocktail flavour wheel”. As the weeks since opening go by, Will continues to come up with ideas for new dishes, and has the flexibility to experiment – swapping juniper cured salmon and fennel one week, for sardines, caper berries and charred lemon the next. It’s an opportunity to see what’s popular and for diners to come back for more.
In a city that is rippling with new restaurant openings and food trends – be it poke (Hawaii’s answer to ceviche), matcha soft serve or cauliflower kebabs – it takes a clear-headed chef to be able to navigate this ever-fickle dining scene.
Do you jump on the hipster bandwagon and serve up bao buns, play it safe with gourmet burgers or create a foodie mashup that you hope will catch on? (It’s a gamble – just look at bunnychow. Here and gone in the blink of an eye…)
Head chef Will says: “Customers are now way more savvy regarding food trends, therefore, every restaurant kind of has to accommodate an informed diner. For certain restaurants who are willing to relinquish a bit of control, this has made eating out way less elitist and a lot more inclusive.
“Small sharing plates, ferments and house curing, experimental kitchen techniques, small batch distilling and craft brewing are now so readily available and understood that the diner, if they want, can go directly to a place they know does this, however, as all these things are ‘on trend’, I find they can be limiting when it comes to an overall experience.
“My aim was to create food that is recognisably ‘trendy’ in a setting that incorporates great cocktails and distilling, but that primarily is delicious, affordable, playful and enjoyable.
“For a customer to feel relaxed is the most important thing. They are after all, spending time and money being somewhere; it’s for them. Not for the ego of the chef/bartender/owner.
“I would never push exotic and challenging ingredients on people just because a forager gave them to me and that’s cool. Or growing some gnarly heritage herb that tastes like shit and hasn’t been used for centuries just for the column inches. These new fads, in my opinion, are just posh gimmicks, so that other chefs in the industry can pat each other on the back.
“I would rather spend time making my tomato sauce more yummy, or working out how to motivate or educate the staff on my processes so that they can explain to the customers (those who want to know) so they have more of an immersive experience whilst here.
“Ultimately, I feel that in a constantly evolving food scene, more and more people will be going back to wanting to be fed. Meat and two veg, so to speak. To enjoy their evening with their friends and not feel the need to go and eat somewhere Instagram-worthy. Back to basics is where we, as chefs, should head.”
Most Londoners will try a restaurant once, but getting them to go back is another matter – even when the food is good because there is always somewhere else to try. But Globetrender looks forward to returning to the East London Liquor Company as soon as possible, to see what Will has come up with next. Plus, the boys in the kitchen do a damn good margherita pizza.
- Jenny visited on Saturday September 17 at 6pm.
- There is a shop in the restaurant where you can buy bottles of East London Liquor Company gin, vodka and rum, as well as boutique spirits from other makers, all with highly desirable labels.
- The East London Liquor Company is in Bow Wharf, a short Uber ride from Mile End and Bethnal Green Tube stations.
- You may like to start with an aperitif – there is an unusual selection of fernet (a bitter, herbal, Italian spirit), amaro (a syrupy, herbal Italian liqueur) and vermouth (an Italian fortified wine). Globetrender predicts these will appeal to Londoners with an experienced palate looking for something new.
- I drank the house G&T with Fever Tree tonic and lime, and a bottle of the chianti. Wine starts from £25 and cocktails from £8.
- Dishes that I sampled included the smoked aubergine dip with flatbread (£4.50), Burrata with salsa verde (£7.50), pizza with capers and olives (£9), cheese plate (£10) and gin panna cotta with toasted almonds and peaches (£6.50).
- Finish the meal with a measure of house rum.