One of the downsides - if you can call it that - to eating out as often as I do is that things that to the occasional diner would be unique and exciting can become ubiquitous and uninspiring. Beetroot and goats' curd, anything in Kilner jars or miniature Staub casseroles, venison tartare; been there, done that, dropped it down every t-shirt.
I've been spoiled, too, when it comes to the food of the Far East, enjoying everything from amazing Vietnamese to terrific Thai and jaw-dropping Japanese without even having to leave London. Better still, I've experienced restaurants that offer a variety of Eastern cuisines under one roof allowing for exploration and experimentation in the course of one meal.
So, if I didn't find East Street, a recently-opened restaurant on Rathbone Place offering the chance to 'travel across East Asia by plate', particularly exciting, it's through absolutely no fault on their part; I'm just rather better 'travelled' perhaps than their usual target customer.
The name East Street confusingly has nothing to do with the restaurant's location, instead being a reference to the menu's emphasis on the street-food of the (Far) East, or perhaps more abstractly to this being a metaphorical culinary 'street' along which one can meander trying a little bit of Malaysian here, some Singaporean there.
The room's a stunner, and drives the theme home without tipping over into tackiness; authentic (or at least apparently authentic) street signs, posters, handbills and ephemera from the countries whose cuisines are represented hang from the ceiling and cover the walls, while furniture is a bright mismatch of folding tables, picnic chairs and benches just as one might find in, say, a Vietnamese market.
A dozen or so street snacks and small plates are offered instead of starters, and so as to experience as many as possible my dinner date Anders and I ordered a Tampopo Platter consisting of small helpings of six of them. Served attractively on a large slate we enjoyed them all - Thai coconut prawns and corn fritters, Vietnamese summer rolls, gyoza from Japan, Korean bulgogi - strips of marinaded beef - and Malaysian chicken satay served with a good, punchy peanut and chilli dip. I also tried some kimchi to see if I found East Street's any less boring than I always have anywhere else's; I did not. Again, no fault of theirs; I guess pickled cabbage is just pickled cabbage.
For main courses, Anders headed for Thailand while I popped over to Vietnam. Anders' Khao Soi, noodles and chicken breast in a sticky rich red curry sauce had a nice earthy nuttiness to it; the hugeness of the portion could be seen as a good or bad thing depending on appetite. My Gao Xa Xao Ot, a fiery stir-fry of chicken, peppers and carrot was superbly fresh but felt a little generic - the sort of dish I could, and do, make at home.
We tried two desserts, a ginger crème brûlée which was nicely creamy if not particularly gingery, and some delightful green tea ice cream which tasted pleasingly strongly of the tea and as such proved astringently palate-cleansing after the chilli heat of our main courses. Anders felt that it wasn't as good as Nobu's, but then I don't imagine Nobu's is only £3.85 for two generous scoops. I also enjoyed a Saigon Negroni which substited lighter-than-Campari Aperol and added a slightly overwhelming slug of lychee liqueur to this classic cocktail.
From the short list of astutely-chosen wines - all fragrant whites and peppery reds to marry with the strong flavours of Eastern cuisine - we ordered a New Zealand Gewürztraminer; its soft, honeyed gardenia florality was perfect with our food. That it was poured without our being invited to taste it was the only glitch in otherwise spot-on service of the here's-your-food-now-we'll-leave-you-alone-to-enjoy-it variety.
East Street has much to offer the armchair traveller; it's good fun, good food and good value - our three courses, wine and a few extras would have come to under £70 making it far more affordable than a holiday to any of the countries represented within. I might not be hurrying back myself, but for anyone who's not seen it all before, East Street is definitely a destination worth exploring.
East Street, 3-5 Rathbone Place, London W1T 1HJ Tel: 020 7323 0860 http://www.eaststreetrestaurant.com
I was invited to review East Street