I’m conscious that I’m liable to make myself even more unpopular than I already am with this particular review, as Upstairs at The Ten Bells has been proving so popular of late. However, in an effort to provide an unbiased view, I feel I’ve got to be honest.
Before I start, I think it’s worthwhile pointing out that I fear my wholly underwhelmed reaction to this meal/experience, is partially my own fault. I let myself get extremely excited about new, hyped, places. The better the reviews I’ve read, the more unachievable the benchmark I set in my mind. I discovered this pattern emerging recently, when after waiting for months to eat at Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner, I emerged from the restaurant with little more to say than “Well, it was nice, but I don’t really see what makes it the 8th best restaurant in the world”.
There’s the rub I fear, I was so preoccupied with the fact Dinner is the 8th best restaurant in the world, I failed to see it as anything other than something that should live up to my outer-worldly expectatations. Maybe it was the fact we went on a Friday night; maybe it was the fact that the restaurant was packed to the rafters whilst we were there; maybe the staff were having an ‘off night’ – these were all excuses that pinballed around in my head on the way home, but still I kept coming back to the fact that the 8th best restaurant should be an incredible experience, no matter when you visit.
Back to Upstairs at The Ten Bells.
I had been coveting a visit to this place for a while, ever since seeing the photos from Rocket & Squash’s visit a couple of months ago. The dishes in the photos (on Instagram) made me foam at the mouth with gluttonous desire. I couldn’t wait to get over there and sink my teeth into the real life versions.
A couple of weeks ago, I got my chance. A group of friends was visiting from overseas and we’d arranged to meet them for lunch on the Sunday. As they were staying in the City area, I suggested that we all go to Upstairs at The Ten Bells, and proceeded to escalate their expectations to a similar level as mine, by raving about all the reviews and delicious looking photos I’d seen of the place.
On entering the restaurant it’s easy to see how it’s become such a popular place. Based right next door to Spitalfields market, it’s doing a great job in appealing to its target demographic. It’s a collection of comfortable old furniture coupled with some ‘interesting’ (and often hilarious) contemporary art pieces, decorating the rather cosy room.
The 6 of us all ordered our starters and mains. Everyone was excited to try out what was on offer on the menu, with some opting for the ‘snacks’ and some opting for starters. I chose a starter of poached egg, fontina and pickle. My reasoning for this choice went along the lines of this:
“Egg, cheese and pickle? (Must be) Good.”
Unfortunately, I was wrong. I really wasn’t impressed with this dish at all. The egg was undercooked, the strong fontina cheese heavyweight punched its way through every other, weak, flavour and really took over the whole show. The thin slice of pickle failed to deliver the much needed tartness, and the slices/florets of raw cauliflower seemed to offer nothing but mildly enhancing the overall funkiness of flavour. I didn’t find it pleasant at all. So much so I left about half of it.
I still fared better than another in our party however who was forgotten entirely when it came to delivering the starters. He received his dish (and sincere apologies) as everyone else had finished theirs, and therefore felt under pressure to eat in record time as we all sat with our leftover plates in front of us still.
Redemption was on its way with the main dish however, albeit not entirely. The breaded plaice with elderflower sauce was absolutely delicious. The fish was cooked to perfection and the breadcrumbs were light and perfectly golden. The downside to this dish was that although the elderflower was advertised I struggled to taste it the flavour was so subtle. Also, the fish is presented atop a pile of chopped mushrooms, and diced root vegetables, but there just simply wasn’t enough of it. I could have quite happily eaten a portion twice the size.
A couple of people ordered desserts, which looked both exciting and delicious. Having ordered coffee and truffles, I was then left somewhat frustrated when a small handful of matchstick sized (and shaped) truffles arrived for 4 of us to share. I jealously eyed my companions’ desserts.
Overall, I left Upstairs at The Ten Bells feeling somewhat deflated, and in all honesty, still rather hungry. I had had such high expectations of the place, but found it to be a very unbalanced experience overall. The starter was a huge disappointment, but the main was far better than anticipated. The service had been friendly, but fell short on ‘attentive’ as one of our party was forgotten about entirely with their starter.
I’m not entirely sure I’ll head back to give it another go, one thing I am sure of however is that I’ll be trying to keep more of a tight rein on my expectations in future.