38-42 St John Street
Date of Last Visit: Saturday, June 13th, 2009
The Victims: Rutton, Al
The Damage: About £40ish each?
The Background: If you fiddle with a food blog, never Twitter where you're going for dinner. Because before you know it, you might end up Twitter-friends with the chef's brother or something. And the chef's brother might tell the chef that you're coming and the chef might drop by your table to say hi and then the chef's wife might drop by the table to say hi too and then you might just fall in love with them both because they're both so nice and you want their new place to be just as successful as they are nice.
So be careful, you know?
The Entrance: I am the first, as always. Rutton is on a bus on the other side of London. Like Westbourne Grove. (Tube troubles, he tells me at the time. But when arrives, he elaborates about running into our friends Dev & Connie at Baker Street on the way and how he just had to have a beer with them.) While I'm waiting for Al, I joke with one of the servers about the review of Eastside Inn in that week's Time Out. That's my server there in the picture. Or at least, my first server. Because after placing my drink order and asking for some tap water, someone else asks me if I'd like to order a drink. And then a little while later–while I'm still waiting for that drink–a third person asks if I'd like a drink. I feel very looked after. But it is a little like Groundhog's Day. (The movie.)
With the boys running a bit behind (Al wasn't THAT late–maybe 7 minutes), I order some snacks. And this endears me to the Eastside Inn immediately. Proper little snacks. Some radishes, served with butter and sea salt. Some very good olives, and some goats cheese and toast. We end up combining the radishes with the goats cheese. A nice combination.
The Starters: Chef Bjorn tells us about his specials…there's what I keep calling Kalbskopf in my head but I suppose you'd call veal head? Calf's head? I forget what Bjorn calls it. Served cold in a carpaccio-like way. And then there's a roast chicken for two. Rutton confuses our server completely by ordering the veal to start and then placing two orders for the chicken, one for him and one for Al. I clear it all up. For me, it's squid to start and the calf's head as my main.
I like the flavors in the squid, which are mixed up with peppers and a nice zesty vinaigrette. The squid seems a little chewy but maybe I need to eat more squid to figure out how chewy is too chewy for fresh squid. (I do think I've eaten a lot of squid. See my About page.) The only thing is…it just seems a little messy, there in its bowl. Like it should be more organized, more neatly piled. Hmmm.
The Mains: Next up is my calf's head, which is a heartier dish than I had imagined. (I obviously was not paying attention while Rutton was polishing off his as a starter.) This is a pretty generous portion. I like it. The veal is sturdy but soft, and it's a cooling dish on a warm day. Rutton and Al are digging into the chicken and they polish it off so quickly I don't even get to try it. I can only tell you that they like it. A lot.
The Wine List: The bistro wine menu is very abbreviated. There's a Torrontes on it, which I'm familiar with after passing the Wine & Spirits Education Trust Exam. (I'd suggest some tasting notes for the bistro menu, personally. And while CdR might clearly mean Côtes du Rhône to me, it means nothing to the average punter.) After some discussion, we end up asking for the wine list from next door, and then the very patient sommelier talks us through some options. (Now if only I could remember what we selected!) Later I'm thrilled to discover they actually will sell by the carafe, as we're not really ready to polish off a second bottle. (I swear that during our meal, the unsteady and uncommunicative couple next to us polish off two bottles of wine between the two of them, but maybe I am just imagining things.)
The Atmosphere: If I were to go back, I'd grab a space at the counter, which overlooks the kitchen directly. I'm a sucker for show kitchens. Decor-wise, I don't know…something was missing. Or maybe the lights were too bright. Or maybe we were just sitting too far up front. When I think "bistro," I think cozy. There's a modern-y newness to the bistro side of the the Eastside Inn that could use some warming up.
The Verdict: I thought the bistro side of the Eastside Inn was good. I'd give it another shot, for the warmth and enthusiasm of Bjorn and Justine alone. But I wouldn't tell anyone on Twitter that I was going.