Wednesday, 17 August 2011

One Of London’s Trendiest Restaurants? It's Better Than That

By Claire Roberts

I don’t like the word ‘trendy’. I really don’t like the word ‘trendy’. I have this involuntarily reaction to it which involves a slightly curled lip and a feeling of minor dread. Public Enemy said ‘Don’t Believe the Hype’ and I’ve stuck with that ever since. Yes I know it betrays my age, but I don’t care.

See, for me, trendy suggests disposable. A passing fad, something that’s not very good, something which lasts for the bit (because everyone believes the hype) and then disappears (because it’s not worth keeping). Not for me I’m afraid, I’m into timeless quality. If something’s great, it’s gonna stick around and if it’s not, it’s gonna disappear. Simple.

The Great Eastern Dining Room describes itself on its website as ‘one of London’s trendiest restaurants’. Yes, I do have the momentary physical reaction as described above.

Now I do realise that my firmly entrenched thoughts on this subject mean that sometimes I miss out on a real treat, but please don’t give me a root vegetable cocktail with shavings of bark from the Amazonian rainforest containing life lengthening quantities of vitamin C.

But I don’t get that. What I do get is a large glass of home-made lemonade with elderflower cordial and loads of ice. Perfect; it’s very hot and humid outside. The restaurant is comfortable and airy and it’s busy. I’m tempted to go and sit on one of the very appealing sofas in the bar area by the entrance but I stay put; food first, I’m starving.

With the elderflower lemonade, comes edamame beans. Salty, tender and perfect to take the edge off my appetite. The first course: cucumber and red pepper uramaki, chilli salt squid, beef san choi bau and duck, watermelon and cashew nut salad. The uramaki is as good as veggie sushi can be; snippets of the chilli salt squid are crispy and light with a subtle chilli dipping sauce; the gently spiced beef dish is fun finger food (you have to wrap the beef up in lettuce leaves); and the duck salad, this is some of the best duck I’ve ever had and I love cashew nuts, a gorgeous combo with the watermelon and fresh coriander.

Main courses are (and I’m nearly full): prawn pad Thai (humongous prawns amid egg fried rice noodles); butternut squash & aubergine green curry (wow that is a seriously clever coconut sauce); blackened salmon and sweet miso (fish as tender and moist as fish can be); and chicken, coconut & peanut sambal (tender, fragrant and juicy).

OK, I’m seriously full now. There is some food left, however, and it seems a sin to leave it but really, enough is enough. That is until, of course, after a short break, the chocolate fondue appears. Now for some reason, I thought it was going to be one of those spongy chocolate puddings with a liquid middle but it turns out to be liquefied chocolate in a Swiss-style fondue dish with large chunks of strawberries, pineapple, banana and marshmallows to dip in. Sorry tum, you’re going to have to expand on this one, I am not leaving this.

Good smooth coffee next. Those sofas next door are definitely calling out for my lower end but we go downstairs to sneak a peak at the bar in the basement instead. I say bar in the basement rather than basement bar because this is no dingy basement bar. I like this bar in a basement; stylish, great contemporary design, great seating, great cocktails (so I hear), late closing and DJs. And a ceiling of many colours when it gets going in the evening.

I say my farewells and reluctantly go out into the humidity. My thoughts afterwards? Sorry Great Eastern Dining Room, but I don’t agree with you. The Great Eastern Dining Room is not ‘one of London’s trendiest restaurants’.

What it is is a stylish, well designed and well thought out restaurant that makes seriously good, conscientiously done pan-Asian food served by warm and obliging staff. This isn’t a trendy restaurant; this is simply a great restaurant. And I guess that’s the reason why it hasn’t fallen from fashion. See, I’m just not into ‘trendy’ but trend or no trend, this is one of my locals now. No question. Shame I didn’t believe the hype.

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