Who: Tom Brown
Where: Hackney Wick
Why: The first restaurant from Tom Brown, Nathan Outlaw protege and former head chef of Outlaw's at The Capital
A short review of Cornerstone is easily achieved: it's brilliant, the food is exceptional, simply go there. Done? Not quite.
Because in some ways, if you want to over-analyse things (usually guilty) and construct a narrative (usually guilty of that too - hey, I'm a blogger), Cornerstone is far more than just a restaurant, it's an explosion of so much of what is happening across Britain's dining scene today. First off, you've got a young and brilliant British chef, Tom Brown. Understandably then, the restaurant has a young vibe to it and you should expect tattoos and piercings galore: tick. Tom is a protege of Nathan Outlaw, the Cornish god of the sea, and Tom was Head Chef at Outlaw's at The Capital where his kitchen earned a Michelin star. Tom carries that same passion to Cornerstone with a fish based menu that throws no crumbs to non fish eaters - there's not even a consolation sirloin steak at the end of the menu for those who are not so keen on things that swim. We can therefore tick too each of: thematically focused, seasonal and ingredient led. British ingredients; tick.
The food is smart-smart but the restaurant is smart-informal. There's a central open kitchen so you can watch Tom at work, no table clothes of course and a good 'buzzy' vibe whatever time of day. But if you're like me, on your first time there, you'll mostly be thinking, wow, this is Hackney Wick; wow. After all, Outlaw's at The Capital is in the heart of Knightsbridge, a bolthole to collapse in when your Harrods shopping bags get too heavy, so take that chef, that menu and transport it to Hackney Wick and... and you end up with a massive success, or so it seems. Rather, you'll likely come to one of two conclusions. Either, break out the bunting, amazing British food cooked by a great British chef and appreciated by 'regular' British people in Hackney Wick, all of which tells you that the British culinary scene really has come of age. Or. Or you will view it as gentrification gone mad. And even though the restaurant has an informal vibe, don't mistake that for cheap, good money appears to have found its way here and Cornerstone is a smart establishment. You decide.
Hey, I'm a food blogger, I think it's brilliant. And, I live in East London and it's one of the few times I've had cause to get on an east bound train ahead of a bloggable lunch (Nuno Mendes at Viajante at Bethnall Green was another). So I am thrilled. I think you'll be thrilled too (since you've got this far in the blog post).
In fact, it didn't take me long before I returned to Cornerstone and on that occasion ordered the whole John Dory in Roast Chicken butter sauce which was exceptional. If it's on the menu on the day of your visit, you simply must.
If this is the quality of output and ideas of the British culinary scene right now, if this is the standard of cooking we can expect from a new generation of chefs opening their very first restaurant and if this is where food in East London is heading, you know what, we really do need to break out the bunting.