Corner Room, Bethnel Green, Review

Town Hall Hotel, Patriot Square, London, E2 9NF

The Corner Room MenuNuno Mendes is not a dessert fan. But for my sweet tooth, it actually turned out to be less of a problem than you’d think.

My friend had a five day interval back in the UK, after four months of being away for work in Dubai, so we arranged to catch up over dinner. Our last meal was a fun (mostly down to the excellent company) but rather disappointing affair at 1 Lombard Street so dinner this time was required to be a step up. I got word via twitter that Nuno Mendes has a new East End venture, The Corner Room, which is not too dissimilar to Viajante. As Viajante has been on my radar for quite some time, although I have yet to try it out, Corner Room seemed like the perfect introduction.

Housed in the same building, but on the other side, as Viajante, it feels like the divide is more than just spatial.

The Corner Room doesn’t get its own fancy website but by way of the blogosphere I have learnt of its existence and its comparable affordability. And also that it doesn’t take reservations.

Around 7.45pm I rocked up to the venue hoping to get a table for 8pm, when I had planned to meet my friend. No such luck – the dining room was full and there was a small group gathered outside hoping to get on the waiting list for tables. “People will be leaving their tables around 8.15pm” we’re told, this seemed like an acceptable wait so I put my name down half expecting my friend to be late anyway. My friend turns up at 8pm on the dot and I am most surprised – people don’t turn up to things on time do they?

We waited in the dreary lobby of the Bethnal Green Town Hall Hotel as it was almost time for us to sit down for dinner. Or so we believed. The bland old-fashioned wooden panelling did little to inspire conversation so it’s good that we had plenty of ideas of our own. But 8.15pm turned into 8.30pm and then rolled into 9pm when we were eventually seated by a rudely distressing waitress who had been informed by a rather nice managerial character of our loitering presence outside.

Inside, the room harmonises somehow with the décor of the exterior but offers a seemingly brighter and more welcoming presence. The back wall is draped with hanging lights of various heights while the two steam punk style pieces hanging over the middle added even more gentle brightness to the light already yielded by the two full length windows on the side wall. At the front, a spiral staircase lead to nowhere next to the reception counter. It feels like a scene in an East End play, a vintage one.

The waiter assumed that we’d be having starter and main although both my friend and I had eyes for dessert. With a Cornish adventure planned for two days time, I decided to shun most of the fish heavy menu and opted instead for a rather safe lamb rump and belly with baby vegetables, as did my friend but for entirely different reasons.

The portions were small but like the baby vegetables, perfectly formed. The medium rare lamb rump was tender and moist, contrasting sharply with the more solid meat of the belly. A glass of Domaine Cosse Maisonneuve “Le Combal” 2007 made a sweetly rich accompaniment as did, surprisingly, the Touraine Sauvignon “Le Petiot” Domaine Ricard 2010. Indeed the wine list of 12, all available by the glass, is quite extensive given the concise 15 dishes on the menu. Compared with Viajante’s set menu, the choice is welcomed.

For dessert, my friend had the blueberries with goats cheese caramel, brioche and shiso while I was enticed by the vanilla parsnip with frozen milk, tapioca and black olives. Both desserts leaned towards the savoury which was interesting but disconcerting. The blueberry concoction didn’t work for either of us though – the flavours pulled in too many directions and ultimately failed to satisfy the sweet tooth that savoured it. The vanilla parsnip however, did work much better. There’s a sweet, almost caramel experience about the dessert but that’s slightly drawn back by the overpowering taste of the parsnip chunks. How much better and more perfect the dessert would be if honeyed roasted parsnip chips were used instead of the poached chunks.

Several hours after we embarked on this gastronomic experience, we left with wallets only slightly lighter and mildly satisfied. Another savoury course was definitely required to render us content. Meanwhile, the Viajante bar down the corridor provided room for much afterthought.

Sessions with my butcher: one whole lamb

A whole lamb carcass on butcher's block

On the last session with my local butcher, Cleavers of Old York Road, Wandsworth, I jointed a chicken and broke down a leg of lamb. This time we’ve stepped up into a whole lamb.

When it’s hung up in the freezer, you always think “that looks quite small”. And considering the amount of wool and skin that’s been removed, it is. But it’s still a hefty bit of meat that’s too heavy for me to carry.

We started by taking off the top section that’s the shoulder of lamb by cutting along the 5th rib from the neck. The knife runs surprisingly easy down the side once you break through the fatty edge at the top on the first cut. Then you have to saw through the spine leaving the top section with the shoulder and the bottom section with the rack, belly and leg of lamb. Before you can remove the shoulder of lamb from the ribs, you also need to saw off the scrag, that is, the neck stump.

This video is a pretty good overview of the shoulder prepping and rolling process.

Once you have your top section of the lamb, place the cut on the board with the spine at the bottom. Using the tip of a boning knife, you need to cut as close to the rib as possible, scraping the meat away from the rib. Gravity will help to pull the meat away from the rib too. Towards the base of the rib, the bone curves round so you will need to follow the line, otherwise you will end up cutting into the neck fillet like I did. Doing this on both sides of the ribcage will give you two shoulders of lamb.

To prepare the shoulder for rolling, the first thing you need to do is joint the shank. To do this just pull the leg down, opening what’s effectively the elbow joint, and cut through the meat, then prise open the joint.

Once you’ve removed the shank, there are two remaining bones that need to be removed. The leg bone is pretty easy to spot and it’s just a matter of tunneling in from both ends, scraping the meat off the bone, to remove it. The shoulder-blade is a lot harder as you need to carve it out from the shoulder. It should be somewhere in the middle of the shoulder, fairly close to the surface of the meat rather than the skin, and you will need to carve the meat away from all sides.

My rolled shoulder of lamb

After you’ve removed all the bones, you will also need to trim the excess fat, tendons and glands. These are all pretty easy to spot being white rather than the pink flesh. There’s also a paddywack on one of the sides that you will need to remove. Finally all you need to do is roll the lamb shoulder by folding in the meat from both sides and tying butchers’ knots around the joint, starting from the middle and then moving your way in from both sides.

The next two sections are comparatively easier to do. First cut out the rack of lamb by basically cutting off the entire section with ribs. The next section is the belly of lamb, which joins on to the leg of lamb.

My rack of lamb displayed

The rack of lamb is what creates the crowns and shanks that you see displayed. To separate them from the spine, you will need to saw through the ribs from the inside without cutting through the flesh. Then you will need to carve around the spine at the base to remove the shank.

To create that classic exposed bones look, put the rack of lamb on the board skin side up. Cut, using the bit where the flesh begins to plump up as a guide, lengthways along the rack and then scrape the meat off the bone. You need to remove the flesh on the side that has less meat of course, in other words, where it was further from the spine. Then it’s on to the time-consuming job of removing all the flesh from the exposed bone, including the areas between the bones.

The belly of lamb doesn’t require much work except to remove it from the spine by carving around the bone. And of course the leg of lamb is the same as before. And that makes up a whole lamb.

Sessions with my butcher: chicken and leg of lamb

It’s National Butchers’ Week and nothing says it better than heading down to my local butchers, Cleavers, and getting some butchery lessons.


We started with the chicken – the very basics. Regular readers will know that I’ve attempted to joint a chicken before, but it seems that the way you joint a chicken in the butchers is very different from when you do it at home or even on a butchery course.

You start with taking the feet and ankles off, if your chicken still has them. The next thing to do is to break the chicken into the legs and the crown. To do this, cut along the line between the thigh and the body of the chicken without cutting off the legs. It’s easier to do this when the legs are held away from the body. Once both legs have been cut away from the body, simply break the bottom half away to give the leg section (which has the leg and a section of the backbone) and the crown (which is the breast and wings).

To separate out the legs, cut off the legs at the thigh joint on both sides leaving just the backbone. At Cleavers, the legs are generally presented as thigh and drumstick unless otherwise requested in which case it’s just a matter of cutting along the joint again.

To breakdown the crown, simply cut the chicken in half following the line of the breast bone. For each half, trim away the excess carcass and wings to leave only the breast. For chicken supreme, leave the first section of the wing on.

And that’s pretty much it for the chicken.

Leg of lamb

Next up was the leg of lamb – much more heavy handling. The leg of lamb came as the entire bottom section. The first thing you will need to do is separate the two legs.

Using the lamb’s backbone as leverage, cut forwards through the belly of the lamb so the carcass is opened up. Then you need to tackle the other side where you need to carve around the backbone.

The way that the leg of lamb is cut means that you can see the outline of the backbone so it’s just a matter of following the bone, cutting off as little meat as possible. Doing this on both sides of the backbone will leave two legs and one backbone, which can be discarded or used for making stock (as with all the carcass and unused bones).

To further breakdown the leg, start with the tendons. Towards the feet end of the leg you will find a tendon which you just need to cut away from the leg at its base. Then cut off about an inch on the feet end with a cleaver – it’s essentially bones, tendons and fat.

To separate out the lamb shank, sit the leg vertically. Find a slightly hard nodule about five inches down from the feet end, it should be on the thin side of the leg. This is the joint in the leg. You need to cut just below this nodule while pulling back on the feet end at the top. This will slowly reveal the joint which you will just need to separate and then cut through the meat to give the shank.

Rolled leg of lamb joint

The final part is to remove all the bones. There is the main one running through the leg but also another flatter one along the top which is part of the hip. The whole operation is really a matter of carving the meat away from the bone. Just underneath the leg bone, there is also a small pocket of fat where there is a gland that you need to remove too. If you’re any good at tying knots, you might end up with a joint like this.

Cleavers is at Old York Road, Wandsworth, SW18 1TG

Choicest meats – what to put on the Christmas table

Meat heart

At the weekend my mother posed the question: “what are you cooking for Christmas?”

Normally, as the designated cook for Christmas and Boxing Day, I would have decided on the meat already and would be planning the finer details by now. This year, the meat course is proving to be a difficult choice. And it seems that I’m not alone.

A quick chat with a couple of foodies soon revealed that turkey is firmly off the table for being far too boring – and that’s both in terms of tradition and in terms of flavour.

So what’s the meat of choice? First there’s lamb, my go-to meat for most meals. It’s rich, it’s wholesome, it’s… meaty. And there are so many wintry things you could do with it. The downside is that I’ve probably over-indulged on lamb over the past few months. Besides, we had it last year.

Along the lines of red meat we also have beef, which is so much better as a medium rare steak. A roast joint of beef just doesn’t offer the same satisfaction as lamb. Then there’s the pitfalls from hidden sinews, the meat drying out and resembling saw dust or something that’s altogether impossible to cut through. That said, cold beef does make a mean sandwich with mustard mayonnaise and possibly a little cress.

Of course there’s pork too, which can turn out to be quite Christmassy – a pot roast with cinnamon, allspice, apples and a nice bit of crackling. The trouble is, as soon as the pork goes a tiny bit cold, the taste changes completely. And when you heat it up again, you can never recreate the flavour of the meat. With left-overs being a no-go, we would either have to finish everything cooked and fix up something new for Boxing Day or face some interesting repeat meals.

Goose waddling

Turkey and goose are certainly off the menu when cooking for three – I remember the year when we had chicken and ended up with enough food for a week. That chicken could probably fit into the goose, and then inside the turkey. People always ask me: “why don’t you just get the crown?” I could, but it would be about as festive as getting some chicken breasts and making a burger. Perhaps a smaller bird will do, like duck, pheasant, partridge or just a quail.

I really rather fancy a bit of venison actually. It’s a bit on the skinny side but it’s been a while since it was last on my table. I suggested a nice bit of venison steak with a rich chocolate sauce. We could even spice it up with a dash of orange. Turns out venison is really quite expensive… I should have suggested cheaper game meats like rabbit. I know, I know – I’m just being picky and giving excuses but decisions, decisions. Maybe we should just go all out Aussi-style and have some barbecued crocodile. While we’re there, ostrich is pretty tasty too.