Emerging from cavernous providore The Stores in West End is a blocky, whitewashed stone structure. Its signage is easily visible from the road. London Fields. The name conjures up images of an expanse of lush grass, a bit of mist rolling across it as sunlight filters through a stand of trees alongside. Someone in an ascot cap walking a scotty dog.. Just a bit idyllic. It is an actual place in north-east London too. There isn’t much in the way of a green field here, but that pleasant laidback calm carries through.
There are a couple of entrances to London Fields. One through a black roller door at the side, the other, through large wooden doors (from Montague Road). Just a bit of a discrepancy.. The interior is a fairly large space, dominated by the bar area. The walls are roughly painted white concrete walls and pillars. There are high ceilings and exposed wooden rafters, also painted white. There is plenty of light wood around as well, in doorways, tabletops, and the side of the bar. There is an open plan kitchen was well, so you can watch the chefs slaving over your meals..or at least see them moving around, as the counter is just high enough that you can’t actually see what’s happening to your food until it appears on the countertop pass. It is all air conditioned inside, to quite a comfortable temperature. There is also an outdoor area for alfresco dining if preferred. It all feels light and spacious, quite the antithesis of the dingy corner pub.
There were barely audible strains of music, possibly old folk songs. (It was St Patrick’s day. I am always running behind in my posts..) Again, as a change from the typical pub, it wasn’t an auditory assault with loud and questionable music, and it was just that the music was being played softly rather than being drowned out by a cacophony of shouting drunken people. In other words, it was all rather pleasant, the atmosphere was more that of a nice restaurant than a pub.
The setup of the restaurant is such that if you come through the non-Montague Road entrance (so that side roller door, which is how you get in if you drove and parked, or if you have been at The Stores beforehand), you come to one side of the bar service area. There is a computer terminal set up there, so it is where you think the front of house staff would be to greet you. The waitstaff were, however, elsewhere in the restaurant, including all the way on the other side of the bar, and it took a while to catch anyone’s attention. We eventually did, and were shown to seats and brought menus.
The menus were presented as a multi-page booklet of drink options, and a separate single sheet of food options, printed on both sides. There was an extensive list of wines and spirits, as well as cocktails and beers. There was no doubt about it being a drinking establishment. The food options were divided into Starters, Mains, Sides, and Desserts on the other side of the sheet. We picked a little from each.
The waiter recommended the oysters, telling us that they came from Coffin Bay, and had in fact only arrived a couple of hours ago. Oysters are an acquired taste, and I have to confess to not having acquired it yet. Still, we allowed ourselves to be persuaded. The oysters came to the table in a bowl of black stones (room temperature). They came with a wedge of lemon and a little bowl of a clear spicy sauce, of which they needed only a touch. The oysters were very fresh, plump and tasting of the ocean in a good way.
We also had the prawn cocktail. This was served differently from prawn cocktails in the 70s, so not a glass with pink sauce and prawns sticking out of it. Instead, we received a plate with a lettuce leaf on it, with hints of other ingredients just poking out from beneath the leaf. It’s a good cover for what may not present as prettily otherwise, and perhaps creates a sense of mystery. Coarsely ground dried dill scattered around the edge of the plate made it pretty and fragrant. The prawns were poached, and were tender and sweet. They lay on a bed of roughly mashed avocado. The sauce was tangy, and because it was thick, wasn’t sloppy. Pickles added an extra punch, as did the occasional grains of salt. It was a clever re-interpretation of a classic dish.
There was definitely chilli heat to the stew the mussels came in. It was tomatoey, smokey, and mildly savoury. The nduja must have been mixed in and perhaps used as the base when cooking. The mussels were mostly good sized. There were plenty of large parsley leaves for added herb flavour as well. The bread provided to soak up the sauce with seemed a bit dense and stale though. A nice toasted crust would have made a difference.
I hadn’t been completely convinced about cauliflower as a side. It came out browned at the edges, but still moist. Again, there were smokey flavours in that thick sauce of pureed almond, sour cream, and garlic. Relish and raisins added sweetness. It was a delicious dish.
We had deliberated over whether to order the 14 hour lamb shoulder to share or get two other mains instead. We saw the lamb shoulder arrive at another table, and it seemed like a big slab of meat that would potentially be a one-dimensional. In the end we settled on the Parliament rib, and the roast chicken.
The 14-hour slow cooked Parliament rib was cooked to a melt in your mouth texture, gelatinous and juicy. It could probably have been eaten with a spoon. The jus was rich, and had red wine flavours. The butternut squash was nicely cooked as well.
The roast baby chicken (We actually felt bad ordering it.. Couldn’t they have done parts of a grown up chicken instead?) seemed to have been mostly deboned. It had crispy skin, but the meat was slightly over, and just a touch dry. Pumpkin puree added sweetness. There was crunch from crumb scattered over it.
There was, of course, still room for dessert. We were recommended the olive oil cake. We also opted for the earl grey poached peach.
The olive oil cake came plated as a little row of diamonds, sitting in the lemon curd. The cake was moist and dense, with a medium-sized crumb. It reminded me of sugee cake in texture and mild sweetness. The lemon curd was a good balance of sweetness and tartness. The herb leaves across the top tasted lemony as well.
The earl grey poached peach retained a firm texture.The heap of jelly on it had the citrus notes of Earl Grey. A scoop of subtly sweet white chocolate mousse accompanied it (not quite a quinelle). A sail made of a single filo pastry leaf gave the presentation height. Forming a base for these were shredded mint leaves, chocolate bits, and crumbs which were like broken tuille. Eaten together, they were a chocolate mint crunch.
Service was friendly. Apart from the initial glitch when we first came in, the waitstaff were attentive. They were helpful in recommending dishes.
All up, we enjoyed the meal we had at London Fields. They have got the gastronomy part of gastropub. There were some minor flaws with a couple of the dishes, but on the whole, it was pretty good. That, and The Stores, definitely add to the food scene in West End, and Brisbane.
Price point: Starters $12 to $18. Mains $23 to $70 (for the lamb shoulder to share). Sides $8 to $14. Desserts $15.
Value: Starters are a bit pricey for what they are. Mains and desserts were fair value though.
Address: Corner of Raven and Montague Streets, West End
Phone: 07 3846 1593
Website: London Fields