It wasn’t too long ago when David Mitchell, in one of his angry rants, described the molecular gastronomy-led movement as something out of touch and irrelevant to the average person. But I have witnessed a change. Gone are the days where this country’s nascent food scene could be easily distinguished into Michelin-starred haute cuisine and street food from the likes of Kerb market. A whole slew of restaurants, such as Gordon Ramsay’s Maze and Jason Atherton’s Social, offer casual dining out for the middle classes – something which has suddenly become appealing as well as effortless. By “casual dining” I do not mean a restaurant where a jacket and tie is optional. The brasserie is about good ingredients cooked simply; food that you actually want to eat. So when chef and UCL microbiology graduate Phil Howard announced he was leaving The Square, his restaurant which held two Michelin stars for 17 years, and opening a new casual restaurant in Chelsea, I had no choice but to make a reservation.
Elystan Street, named after the road on which it is situated, has three different menus. A £42, three course lunch is perhaps designed to woo the wealthy folk of Chelsea in for a boozy afternoon. The dinner menu is slightly more expensive although a step up in terms of ingredients and effort involved, and there is also a three course Sunday lunch menu, which includes the lemon tart inspired by the legendary dessert from Marco Pierre White’s Harvey’s. Being particularly dissatisfied with my morning activities I impulsively walked in for lunch where thankfully, a table was available. The dining room was awash with natural light, helped by the beige and white wallpaper and light-brown fir tables. The kitchen was discreetly tucked away in the corner behind the dispense-bar, which was well stocked with both aperitifs and a curated whisky selection. We were sat down in the centre of the room and offered filtered tap water with our canapes. Interestingly, Elystan Street does not serve bottled water, again acknowledging its casual nature.
The service was unintrusive yet helpful and Phil himself was in the dining room greeting everyone after pudding
The meal started with pear and artichoke soup, served with a scotch egg. This dish was unabashedly British in nature, and the soup was courageously sweet for an entrée, making a statement that this is no run of the mill restaurant. There were many options for the main course although I went for a chicken Caesar salad, partially as a joke. After all, who wouldn’t like to have Phil Howard’s Caesar salad? It turned out to be a masterpiece – the chicken was cold, perfectly cooked and shaped into symmetrical circular rolls, the dressing had the right balance of sour and savoury notes and the occasional piece of anchovy exploded into concentrated bursts of flavour. Also spectacular was an iberico pork dish where both loin and jowl were served with mashed potatoes and shallots. This showcased the difference between two high quality cuts of meat; the former was chewy and the latter gelatinous from the high-fat marbling. I had a single malt to go with my main course for reasonable prices considering the postcode.
I expected a restaurant that provided a serviceable lunch for hedge fund managers and Chelsea housewives, but Elystan Street is so much more than that. The service was acceptable; unintrusive yet helpful and Phil himself was in the dining room greeting everyone after pudding. All in all, London’s fine dining scene may have lost a key player in Phil Howard, but the city’s brasserie culture has taken a big step forward with Elystan Street.
43 Elystan Street
by J Khou