Danes Yard Kitchen, Stratford East London… a review

Well I better declare an interest here before I review this new restaurant Danes Yard Kitchen located on the Stratford High Street in East London.

I have been responsible for putting the developer and operator of said establishment together and overall am pleased to say I think it has been a good match.

It has been my fourth visit to said establishment since they opened on Friday August 10th just before the Olympics closing ceremony. I felt not a good idea to judge them on that first visit on their first day so I have since been back a few times once for a lunch once on my way back out of London (a bit of a detour I know) but just for a quick beer.

My last visit was with the owner of Taywell Ice Creams, Alastair Jessel. I am a big fan of Taywell and I know he is keen to get his ices into more London eateries and thought this would be a great venue for his wares. So we duly rendezvoused and were shown to a table in what was basically an empty restaurant. I guess they are suffering the post Olympic blues located just across the road from the Olympic Park and there were certainly not the bodies about as there had been on the previous visits.

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Let me say firstly on each of my visits I have been overall very happy with the food but if I have had one area of criticism it has been with the erratic service and lack of customer interaction I have observed. I know it has been a tough task to open during the Olympics with all the challenges of finding the right people and in fairness one thing they have strived to do is give local residents a chance with employment in a location devoid of many good employment opportunities.

Any way what can you expect if you pay them a visit… well the decor can best described as funky urban, open to view ducting and high ceiling warehouse feel with an open plan finishing kitchen. Big plate glass windows look out onto a piazza that is dominated by a hyperbolic styled tower reminiscent of the Olympic Torch that acts as a beacon to all that surrounds it.

More on the tower later. The tables and chairs are a mix and match of wood & metal design along with leather clad booth seating and a sizeable terrace provides an added area for alfresco drinking and dining.

Well turning to the food there is a limited choice menu that I am sure will evolve as time progresses but it features both some imaginative cooking alongside classic staples like fish & chips and a burger. For me some of the highlights of my visits have been the spiced chick peas and ground cumin as a nibble and the parmesan & black pepper shortbreads with creamed goats cheese. Both are awesome little nibbles to go with a round of drinks or an aperitif.

My most recent visit saw me starting with the crispy Cornish squid that was dredged in semolina flour and deep fried till crispy but still tender and served with a little dish of aioli. I have previously really enjoyed a queen scallop ceviche that had a zingy freshness with lime.

Main courses have ranged from as I have said classic fish and chips with mushy peas and a very good short rib beef burger, juicy, tender and in a good fresh bun. Chips served in their own little frying basket makes presentation all a bit twee. I have also tried the Braised Pork Belly with Granny Smith apple puree, caramelised shallots and red cabbage salad to the version on this last visit it was a slice of stuffed crispy pork belly with braised fennel & pine nuts. Both very tasty but both in desperate need of more liquid to go with them as they needed more jus /gravy. Accomplished cooking but perhaps some attention to the detail required to make it even more memorable.

For dessert the Scottish raspberry bread & butter pudding was good and the Apple crumble tart also well executed but perhaps needed a slightly thinner biscuit base, the salted caramel ice cream missing on one visit was present on another was OK. The bitter chocolate tart with the milk sorbet on another occasion came served with an orange sorbet that was rather average and the tart was very dense.  All in all the food is good and interesting enough to keep even foodies and gourmets happy.

For me though the one area that lets them down at the moment is the lack of interaction with their service staff. They are perhaps too concerned about whether they are doing things by the book than just being themselves and interacting with their customers. One young Italian waiter joked and laughed and was much more the natural self when we told him their pistachio ice cream was a travesty to ice cream (With Mr Taywell present he was bereft) to which as an Italian he agreed totally!

It is the little things like check backs on the table, even just some conversation with customers and attempts to up-sell extra drinks or extras from the menu that would be welcomed. The late night visit just as the kitchen just closed and a request for a simple couple of their nibbles lacked the attempt to flog us some nuts (we had to ask!!!) The place was not rammed or busy on both occasions and it is at times like this service can be lapse and erratic.

I know it is early days but other customers might be less forgiving and the need to get it as  right as possible, as quickly as possible is vital to establish this place in not only it’s local market but to a wider audience.

The site is part of a big plan and the investment going into to it is eye watering and things like the tower rumoured to have cost them nearly a million pounds means this is a serious investment in a community devoid of quality! The tower is such an attraction and they are keen to secure planning permission to enable the public access up to the top to admire the views, the night time light show is fascinating and I am told when there are five people surrounding the tower the pressure plates around it when stepped upon interact with you.

There is also an outdoor table tennis table with bats and balls for public use. It seems like the developers are thinking of everything…

Now surely that must be a reason to book a party of five for dinner and plan some post dinner exercise afterwards. I will be back and hope the local community embrace it wholeheartedly.