London’s restaurant scene can sometimes spill over into the realms of the ‘try-hard’. Not so at Nuno Mendes' Corner Room. Technically exquisite food, low prices and no bookings taken – it’s a case of turn up and hope for the best.
Make no mistake, the Corner Room isn’t easy to find. Located within the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green, it’s not the kind of place you will just stumble across. And when you do find it, it’s easy to get confused with the hotel’s (and Mendes') other much-sought-after restaurant Viajante. But persevere and you will find it, even if you may have to stumble through the hotel to do so. When you do eventually come across it, you’ll find quite a small, effortlessly quirky room. Although the walls are white, interspersed with wooden panels matching the wooden tables and wooden floor (yawn, yawn), it’s all lifted by some very funky lamps and light features, a modern fireplace with a huge mirror above it, and an overall cosiness that’s hard to put your finger on. It’s just somehow… cool.
Given it’s plonked in the middle of Bethnal Green, the atmosphere at the Corner Room is comparatively refined; it’s certainly far from the trendy East London haunts that fill the surrounding area. This is a place that, currently at least, is full of foodies who have heard about it on the grapevine and decided to see for themselves what all the fuss is about. And yes, it’s likely you will have to wait a while for a table if you go at a peak time as you'll not be allowed to book in advance. Without a phone number, it’s an impossible ask anyway. So good luck with that.
Chef Nuno Mendes leads the kitchen and he’s already made quite a name for himself with the highly acclaimed Viajante, which he also heads up. The menu is all about simplicity – simple menu, simple flavours. In fact, the menu barely spans one side of A4 for all courses. And the prices are great - £6 for a starter, £10-£12 for the mains and £4-£4.50 for dessert. You even get free homemade bread and stuffed olives thrown in for good measure, so there are no fears of going hungry.
For a starter, the squid, Jersey Royals and fennel is an accomplishment. As pretty as a picture, the squid is perfectly textured and packed full of flavour, complemented by the crisp slithers of potato and aromatic, punchy fennel. It’s all brought together by a touch of samphire with a delightful saltiness. Delicious.
Main courses continue the strong cooking skills showcased with an incredible – and again beautiful – lamb belly (£12). The carrots are small, delicate and light, and allow the flavours of the sweet, tender lamb – cooked perfectly pink – to really shine. However, the stand-out dish is definitely the salmon and beetroot. Beetroot has a strong, earthy flavour and, when pickled, can be overpowering. And in this case it’s served both in vinegar and naturally. However, it’s so cleverly put together that the saltiness of the salmon comes through, and the two ingredients complement each other perfectly. Who knew?
As with the food menu, the wine menu is equally simple, with just eleven wines to choose from on one piece of paper. They're well priced with the cheapest starting under £15, so it won’t start racking up the cost of your meal. They’re not very well described but luckily the staff are so well versed in their products that they will happily set about matching a bottle to your budget and food options.
The Last Word
The Corner Room gets everything so very right. There’s not really much more to say than that.