london 1720


Hackney, E8

Before opening Whyte’s, chef Whyte Rushen was probably best known to the underground food world for his ridiculously good smash burger, served at pop-ups during lockdown with partner and Whyte’s co-owner Liv Akers (who also runs marketing agency Lame). He quickly grew a cult following on social media and began collaborating with the likes of Chinatown stalwart Tao Tao Ju and Fitzrovia’s Mortimer House, where he presented his classic burger as a fine-dining dish featuring wagyu beef.

The subsequent move to a permanent base – or at least, permanent by Rushen’s standards, which may be just a six-month stint – was not without its challenges. These included orchestrating a GoFundMe campaign and the last-minute collapse of an agreement for the original planned site on Hackney’s Morning Lane. Now, tucked down a tiny side street, dimly-lit, with industrial décor that belies its warm, laid-back vibe, an open kitchen and some of the best playlists around, Whyte’s already has loyal regulars and feels more like a house party than a restaurant.

You’ll be intrigued, surprised, possibly challenged, but you won’t be disappointed

Is it even a Palate review if you don’t start with a martini? This one, with its jewelled drops of vibrant house-made Sichuan pepper oil, served in a chilled glass, is the perfect way to spark an appetite. Wines are on rotation along with the monthly-changing menu but they always seem to have something interesting by the glass, so do ask.

I soon discover that Rushen’s highly imaginative dishes (which he describes as ‘London-centric’) often have recognisably nostalgic roots, resulting in food which is both surprisingly inventive and comfortingly familiar. To illustrate this, oysters with pickled onion Monster Munch – although really, is there any other flavour? – is another signature dish. Gimmicky? Far from it. Approach it with the same curious, inventive mind as the chef who created it and you realise that the snacks bring the same flavour profile as a classic mignonette – just with added texture.

Other examples of culinary alchemy include a perfectly-cooked tempura octopus leg with katsu curry, bulldog sauce and that vibratingly good Sichuan oil; tripe, fried gnocchi and wild mushroom with pesto, and a silky chocolate cremeux with bay leaf oil and sea salt. For those without a sweet tooth there always seems to be an excellent cheese to finish, generously drizzled with honey or with some tart, pickled berries.

What is perhaps most exciting is the sense that Rushen has the chance to really spread his creative wings now he has a permanent home, unfettered by executive chefs or investors. Following the couple’s two-day trip to Paris the restaurant was transformed into ‘Chez Whyte’s’ for the whole of February, complete with bespoke posters, candles in wax-dripped wine bottles and a French-inspired menu including salt and pepper frog’s legs, moules in champagne cream sauce and a steak tartare with quail’s eggs, hot sauce and, um, rice krispies. Guess what? It was delicious.

Whyte’s menus are the result of a chef with a dizzying imagination, instinctive understanding of flavour and a Michelin-starred skill set (Brat, Scully, Kerridge’s) refining the street food, Iceland TV dinners and off-licence snacks of his cash-poor but richly multi-cultural London youth. Rushen is increasingly realising the influence of this early exposure to a wide range of cuisines on his craft and confidence: ‘The way I grew up, I feel like there’s nothing I can’t approach with respect and put my own spin on it, but at the same time make it recognisable.’

And what of the OG smash burger (described on the menu as, and I quote: ‘beef burger, shit cheese, burger sauce’), which was banished from Chez Whyte’s French menu? It’s back as the star of their latest shape-shifting venture, Fat Whyte Slims; a weekend lunchtime takeaway takeover, slinging pre-ordered burgers, fries and a burnt Basque cheesecake shake – including a hard version, spiked with rum – to go.

With the ever-changing menu, this is more of a highlight reel than a guide to don’t-miss dishes; so, grab a counter seat, order whatever martini is on that month and go with the flow. You’ll be intrigued, surprised, possibly challenged, but you won’t be disappointed.

Food & Drink56
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Unit 3
143 Mare Street
E8 3RH

April 2024



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