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Cornerstone in Hackney Wick, London

Rating: 90.
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Hackney has become so hip by now, that it's hard to imagine that only a decade ago it was difficult to find a cabbie who would take you from central London to anywhere near Clapton Road aka "Murder Mile". A friend of mine was living on Ickburgh Road at the time, and when we would ask to be taken there, more often than not the cabbie would look at us with a combination of suspicion and compassion and then say "I can take you as far as ......., but not Clapton". It will come as no surprise that the number of good restaurants in that part of Hackney was extremely limited at the time, but much has changed since then. The number of entries in the Michelin guide for Hackney has doubled since 2008 with Shoreditch and Hoxton paving the way in the southern parts of Hackney, think The Clove Club and Lyle's, and Ellory and Pidgin representing the central part, although Ellory recently closed.

So far Hackney Wick has remained pretty much uncharted territory for serious restaurants. Enter Cornerstone, the first solo-restaurant of chef Tom Brown, previously head chef at Nathan Outlaw's Michelin-starred restaurant "Outlaw's" at the Capital Hotel in London. Tom Brown (b.1987) started his career as a chef with a stage at Bryn William's Odette's in London, later on working at Rick Stein's seafood bar in Falmouth. In 2012 he moved to Nathan Outlaw's eponymous restaurant at the St. Enodoc Hotel in Rock, Cornwall (now relocated to Port Isaac). Last year Tom Brown participated in BBC2's Great British Menu (series 12), winning the South West heat. 

Cornerstone is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday and the restaurant offers a fish and seafood focused à la carte menu with with small plates priced between £5 and £15. I had lunch with my husband and a friend at Cornerstone on 19 May 2018 and we ordered a broad selection of dishes (almost the entire menu, to be honest).

First to be served were excellent raw Orkney scallops well-paired with a pungent and vinegary salsa verde (green sauce) and some chopped, toasted hazelnuts for crunch. A delicious combination with clean flavours and the salsa verde had a lovely notes of mint. Arriving around the same time was a wonderfully smooth mackerel paté (served with some rye bread), covered with a thin layer of elderflower vinegar jelly, and garnished with some slices of pickled mackerel, little cubes of cucumber, and a sprinkling of dried Cornish seaweed. The mackerel paté had a lovely creaminess to it and the jelly added a nice touch of sweet and sour.

Next up were some deliciously snappy Wye Valley asparagus, served with a smoked cod's roe emulsion, the latter having a robust depth of flavour and its saltiness/smokiness married well with the asparagus. This was followed by a moked salmon scotch egg, garnished with some lime zest, and served with a lightly curried mayonnaise. Well-made scotch egg with a perfectly thin and crisp casing, however the salmon lacked some moistness.

On to the next dish, sliced cured monkfish, topped with little dots of punchy lime pickle puree, coconut yoghurt crème, some grated lime zest, coriander, and a little slices of deep-fried garlic. A fantastic dish with vibrant flavours and aromas, the lime pickle packing a delightful punch, its sourness and saltiness soothed nicely by the coconut yoghurt. Loved the contrasting flavour profiles in this dish.

Even better was a lightly toasted crumpet with potted brown shrimps, and some pickled gherkin and kohlrabi perched on top. The toasting had given the crumpet wonderfully satisfying crunchy edges, and the butter of the potted shrimps had melted beautifully into the crumpet, offering extra moistness and flavour, with little hints of mace coming through with each bite. An utterly delicious combination that had a pleasing richness to it.

We continued with two more fish dishes. First up was a skilfully cooked piece of plaice, served on top of a rich mixture of sliced baby leek and little pieces of lobster coated with a saffron sauce. A successful and harmonious flavour pairing, the saffron adding complexity but also creating a lovely colour contrast with the white plaice. It was followed by tender cuttlefish braised in cider, served with lentils and a light topping of diced apple and sliced spring onions. Wonderful, full-flavoured cuttlefish working well with the lentils, offering a hearty and intense flavour experience, and the apple lending freshness and balance. 

Desserts were a delight too. There was a gorgeous sweet and tangy apricot crumble with clotted cream, and an elegant raspberry dessert comprised of an intensely flavoured raspberry puree/jam, some fresh raspberries, a light vanilla cream, and a pistachio financier. Today's selection of cheese was: a soft goat's cheese (Tymsboro from Somerset), a hard ewe's milk cheese (Spenwood from Berkshire), a hard cow's milk cheese (Old Winchester from the New Forest), a Stinking Bishop (from Gloucestershire), and a blue blend of cow, sheep, and goat (from Asturias, Spain). An original selection of perfectly matured cheeses.

With the opening of Cornerstone, chef Tom Brown has hit a home run out of the (Victoria) park. I was immediately impressed with his cooking from the first bite on - and to think that this restaurant has only been open for a month. Tom Brown is a gifted chef who has an excellent knowledge and understanding of ingredients and flavours, resulting in simple and pure dishes with uncomplicated but sophisticated flavours. Wonderfully modern, ego-less food, without distracting, trendy ingredients or techniques.

Today's dishes really sang to me, and I'm positive that the potted shrimp crumpet, a thing of beauty, will quickly become a signature dish on the menu. The only drawback today was the all "natural wine" wine list, which provided little or no alternatives for someone like me, who prefers more traditionally made wines (read: with added sulphite!). Fish and seafood of this quality screams for the clear and precise flavours of classically made riesling or chardonnay. However this may be, Tom Brown seems to be relaxed and perfectly at home at Cornerstone, and I have high hopes for this restaurant.

3 Prince Edward Rd, Hackney Wick,

Posted 22-05-2018


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