Posted on Tuesday, 3rd February 2009
The month of January is already over. Jeez how time flies… Christmas only felt like yesterday. But January has proved rather memorable. Some events of note took place, probably the most notable being the inauguration of President Obama (yes, Obama’s in the house!), and also the not-too-minor matter of a certain restaurant opening in Shoreditch.
Ok, on a relative scale, the latter, a restaurant opening, does not quite compare to the former, a presidential inauguration, but in the context of the London restaurant scene and my much-nurtured belly, it’s rather big news. See, it’s the new restaurant from Sir Terence Conran; the patriarch of fine design, architect, writer, and restaurateur; the man who in 2005 was named by CatererSearch, the website of the industry magazine, and Caterer and Hotelkeeper as the most influential restaurateur in the UK. The Sir Terence Conran who is much revered as the pioneer of redefining the way in which the British public dine out. Big news indeed for it’s the first restaurant he’s opened since he sold his restaurant group to D&D London in 2006.
The restaurant in question is Boundary, located in the basement of a converted Victorian warehouse on a street called Boundary, and is one part of a multi-dimensional project undertaken in conjunction with his wife, Vicki, and former Conran operations director, Peter Prescott. The Victorian warehouse also houses Conran’s “caf” as Shoreditch types might be inclined to call it; a more casual café eatery known as Albion on the ground floor of the conversion. It serves basic meals for reasonable prices (less than £10) and dishes up scrumptious-looking cakes and patisseries from the adjoining bakery/food store which is also open to the public. But there’s more. Not limited to the restaurant, café and bakery/food store, there is a 17-room hotel (the rooms of which will all be individually designed) in the upper floors of the conversion and a rooftop terrace, both due to open in April 2009.
As already mentioned, Boundary is situated in deepest darkest Shoreditch, and whilst a single girl walking through the myriad of dark streets to get to Boundary might suffer heart palpitations, the design of the restaurant led to heart palpitations of another sort. Stepping out of the lift onto the basement floor to be greeted by the maître d’, I immediately laid eyes on the bar. It was love at first sight and I was completely smitten. It’s classic Conran through and through; stylish, luscious, decadent and seductively sexy, it’s a bar reminiscent of those found in the most grandiose of hotels and decked with lounge seats styled in the manner of retro chic.
The dining room doesn’t disappoint either. For a basement space, it feels incredibly spacious, probably due in part to the high ceilings that Sir Terence loves to advocate. Seats are comfy and velvety, and from these you can ogle at the chefs through the glass windows that are the eyes to the open kitchen. Tables are gorgeous and laid with beautiful white tablecloths, red roses, and cutlery personally designed by Sir Terence himself. Our table was oval-shaped and at a right angle to two walls. With the addition of a slight partition separating us from the table to our left, we were thus ensured maximum privacy. With the soft moody lighting, it’s just perfect for those intimate dates should you happen to be looking for somewhere to take that someone special. Valentine’s Day perhaps?
Also of note is the air filtration system. Where we were sitting, it gently bellowed the lightest of delicate temperature-controlled breezes over our heads, massaging the top of my scalp in a soothing, kind manner. With the high ceilings and the feel of fresh air, it was hard to believe that we were actually sitting in a former warehouse basement.
Whilst I was floored by the design, unfortunately the food did not similarly seduce. The cooking was competent overall, but also proved to be inconsistent. Choosing scallops (£13.50) to start: they were fat, sweet and meaty but the accompanying beurre blanc sauce with leek felt a little heavy against the delicacy of the scallops. A potted shrimp starter (£6.50) was overwhelmed by a heavy-handed use of cayenne pepper and mace, with the latter leaving a slightly caustic aftertaste.
My main of grey-leg partridge (£19) roasted in its own juices with bacon, chestnuts and mushrooms in a French cast-iron casserole dish warmed my soul with its classic presentation and its intensely rich flavours emanating from the juices, hearty, earthy tones of the chestnuts, and the sweet moist flesh from the centre of the bird. But served as a whole partridge, rather than deboned, it was all rather hard work. To get through the partridge, I felt I needed sharper knives of the Japanese sort rather than those of Conran design, as well as a qualification in knife skills. This led me to think that this dish was a design fault. I’m all for using my hands, but only in the comfort and privacy of my own home, so eating the partridge proved a challenge. A beef Wellington (£19) served from a serving trolley turned out a beautifully tender cut of meat, albeit a little overdone and dry.
A dessert of apple tarte tatin (£8) disappointed altogether. Under-caramelised and slightly bitter, the apples were also undercooked such that it didn’t produce a much-wanted soft gooey texture. But a lovely half-bottle of Bandol (£19) recommended by the easy-going sommelier (ex-Cliveden) from the accomplished wine list helped to soothe hard feelings. In fact, such was the easy-going nature of the service; the whole evening was simply comfortable and relaxed.
Despite the mixed bag of food, the restaurant exudes “iconic”, the kind of destination where I would want to entertain overseas friends/visitors for a taste of cool, hip, ultra-chic London. With a Shoreditch location, home to the trendy arty types, Boundary is sure to do well. Hail Sir Terence. He’s surely done it again.
2-4 Boundary Street,
Tel +44 (0)20 7729 1051