Again in London Fields: Andy Beynon’s counter-dining idea deserves all of the hype

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Back in London Fields: Andy Beynon’s counter-dining concept deserves all the hype | Restaurant review

June 1, 2021

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Shot by Filippo L’Astorina

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For a restaurant that sounds like it is hiding, Behind has already drawn a lot of attention. Andy Beynon’s first seafood company sparked controversy within weeks of opening after earning a Michelin star just 20 days after opening. Given that many seemingly worthy chefs have sought this coveted award in vain for years, it is not surprising that people question the validity of judging quality without the context of the time. Nevertheless, Beynon does not shy away from the pressure in his London Fields location, but presents himself fully and earns his reputation as a high-ranking member of the Jason Atherton Brigade by making modern, minimalist plates with pinpoint precision.

The intimate, 18-seat venue seats guests in a somewhat theatrical round counter, from which they can see a separate open kitchen or possibly assess each other’s table manners – whichever is more interesting. The chef designed the restaurant himself from sketches on paper and strived for a Brooklyn vibe, backed by a matching 90s breakbeat soundtrack. Exposed plumbing, exposed lightbulbs, exposed team: this is a pared-back space that hides nothing and puts the food and its creator at the center. There is also a chic bar area hidden behind wooden slatted walls, which will soon be available for a quiet drink

Today’s six-course tasting menu is a “surprise”, they say, even though we can see a small armada of plates lined up on the cooking card. It’s a sleek proposition that focuses on the kitchen’s produce – no bread and butter filling in sight – but if you have questions about anything from provenance to cooking techniques, Beynon is happy to personally guide you through the food (well, we assume he is smiling behind the face mask).

The first in the crockery fleet is delicate and yet beautiful, a masterful miniature. New season peas, smoked pike and trout roe sit on a thin batter and make a delicious bite that crunches, pops and pampers you at the same time. Then there’s another little treat: The Cornish Mussel Muffin disappears quickly, but stays on the tongue, salty with seaweed butter.

The oyster course can be an opinion-splitter, pouring a creamy horseradish buttermilk sauce over the tender shellfish. While some might view the addition of dairy products as sacrilege – my diner colleague and editor points out his disapproval – I rather applaud the way it soothes the subtle seasoning. There is also a serving of sardines on toast, which concentrates the taste of this traditional snack into an impressively refined bite.

Crabs don’t always get the special treatment they warrant, but this is where the Cornish crustacean bathes in Ajo Blanco (there are worse ways). The cold almond-based velouté is poured over balls of fresh melon and cucumber, nicely rounded off by the warmth of a crab soup.

In the case of a surprise menu, the accompanying wine would also be a more natural choice, but in this case we choose our glasses ourselves. Oddly enough, given the fish focus, there are more options on the reds list than the whites – just one sparkling in the glass and on the expensive side (£ 12). We decide on Anjou Blanc 2019, a Chenin Blanc from the Loire (Chateau de Plaisance), as a rich but casual accompaniment to the fresh oyster, and then a richer, more complex Chardonnay – a Chablis Vieilles Vignes Pargues 2018 from Burgundy (Moreau-Naudet ) – which also has enough acidity to break through the butteriness of the crab soup.

Our main course consists of luscious fried hake, accompanied by cockles and a sherry sauce. It sings like a sailor’s song (with a little more elegance) but while the crispy skin fish hits the high notes, the powerful bass is provided by an accompanying bowl of silky smoked porridge and the resonant final note of an intense cod croquette.

The first of the sweet offerings is a liquid dessert: a strikingly pink-flavored rhubarb brew is poured into a tall glass, which is topped with a sour apple foam. The host informs us that it used to be served with a spoon and it’s easy to see why people would rather drink the drink like a shot (although I limit myself to a sip in the company of company) for this reviewer However, Herb Sorbet is unexpectedly the natural guide of our nautical convoy. Sitting on a covered lemon curd pudding, the beautifully green Cornel is the equivalent of a breath of fresh air – not the kind you find in the city, but the kind you find on the sea with the wind in your hair. And if the first two desserts don’t break the cobwebs, the second sorbet, raspberry and calamansi (a type of Filipino lemon), is a spicy finish.

It’s hard to tell if Michelin did a favor or just aroused hostility. Everyone asked us the same question: is it worth a star? Certainly, if the team continues consistently, it can more than satisfy the cynics – and therefore this award is not undeserved, but only premature. For a place that wants to be a destination restaurant, with a tasting menu of this level, it certainly offers a competitive lunch price of £ 42. In all fairness, booking a table at this point is a breeze. The venue is a great addition to East London’s lively and casual gourmet scene, but while the surroundings are relaxed, the flavors have a kind of complexity that can take you around the entire British coast in three hours.

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Rosamund Kelby
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina

To reserve a table at Behind, 20 Sidworth Street Hackney London E8 3SD, call or visit the website here.