Bethnal Green used to be my stomping ground. The four years I spent in the E1/E3 postcodes during university (before moving to E8 and then E5, so not exactly far away now) saw more house parties than fine dining but as is always the way with up and coming areas, the good restaurants are quick to spot an opportunity. Which is what the guys behind Clapham's The Dairy & The Manor did last July. Opening in the railway arches on Paradise Row, Paradise Garage is an ideal spot for soaking up the last of the spring and summer sun. I fiiiiinally made it over last Wednesday, the keenest bean to try small plates that are big on textures and flavours.
Welcomed in by the first glow of just-lit candles and the friendliest of hosts and hostesses, we were shown to our table at the side of the restaurant. This was the perfect spot to marvel at the tiled walls, the wines upstairs, the touches of turquoise and, of course, the beautiful open kitchen, framed by greenery. While we were choosing champagne, still warm sourdough arrived at the table along with homemade whisky butter and a taster of pickled beetroot that had the perfect bite and tang.
Choosing what to have was tough but, of course, we stepped up to the plate. They recommend two or three small plates to share and the rabbit 'picnic' which comprises of the whole rabbit used in different ways, or three or four small plates each. We went for the latter (although were sorely tempted by the Tasting Menu at £45) and settled in to negotiate choices.
First up came the pork, black pepper and apple salumi which lasted all of five seconds before we delved into the venison tartare and Jerusalem artichoke. This is where the textures started to come into play with the artichoke as a foam and the meat studded lightly throughout to be mopped up all together with the bread.
Then came the cornish crab with fennel, ginger and borage. A little looser and wetter than we were expecting and the brown crab biscuit split on the plate but the fresh fennel brought it all together, and a world away from the fennel kimchi that accompanied the lamb heart - firm slivers rich in flavour themselves amongst the slick sourness of the pickle.
From the 'Garden' section we ordered the portobello mushrooms with bagna cauda and raw turnip on rye. This was our least favourite dish of the day, overshadowed by what had come before, but by no means a duff order. The stronger flavours of the cod from the 'Sea' section were the more memorable; smoked fish, strong roe, confit salsify and a ketchup.
For dessert, we ordered cheese (can't take a French guy anywhere without having to judge the cheese plate) and the white chocolate parfait which was perfectly balanced by blood orange (a little less so by carrot). And Armagnac. Because French, naturally.
Had it been around during my uni days, I would probably have spent all of my student loan and bar earnings at Paradise Garage. From the attention to the different textures, to the prettiness of the plates (both the food and the crockery) and the warmest welcome, Gill and the team have proven that they're top of their game yet again. Four out of five.
(beautiful photo via - I was too busy eating to snap)