You have to admire - or envy - Edwin Chan. After a long and incredibly successful career in advertising, culminating in his founding his own global agency, Chan handed over the day-to-day running of the business to his partners and decided to pursue his passions of French food and wine. This saw him open an eponymous brasserie and wine bar in Lyon in 2007 and in October of this year, one in London.
The choice of Shoreditch as a location is an interesting one; although not quite as painfully trendy as in its Nathan Barley hey-day, the still-hip axis of Great Eastern Street and Curtain Road wouldn't seem ideally suited to somewhere priding itself on its traditionalism, as Edwin's does. But not everyone in EC2 wants to eat Peruvian-Japanese fusion atop a skyscraper, or vertically-roasted chicken under a giant Damien Hirst vitrine, so actually Chan could well be on to something.
Chef Jeremy Huguet's menu is a simple affair; nothing on it will be unfamiliar to even the most conservative diner. A three-course prix-fixe is offered at both lunch and dinner for an eminently reasonable £20, although with prices of only £6-£9 for starters, all mains around £15 and desserts no more than £6, three courses won't come to much more than that a la carte.
My fashion buyer pal James started with a plate of charcuterie (the rabbit terrine he'd initially wanted being unavailable) which was fine, as you'd expect a plate of Bayonne ham and salami to be. My escalope of foie gras with figs and raspberry coulis was excellent, seared to a crust on the outside and trembling within.
For our main course we both chose onglet, or hanger steak, presented sliced and with rather too many sauté potatoes. It tasted lovely but in both effort and presentation fell firmly into the 'I could (and do) make this at home' camp, which I think is taking simplicity just a step too far. A plate of cheeses, including a delightfully pongy Coulommiers and a sweet, nutty Tomme, rounded things off perfectly.
Chan personally curates and imports the wine list, which changes frequently. None of it is cheap, starting at £20 a bottle, but can be relied on to be good (and good value); our Haute Cote de Beaune was light but warming. Service, from an all-French staff, was entirely faultless.
Any restaurant, anywhere, serving good if unexceptional food at fair prices complemented by a strong and interesting wine list should do well; one with someone as passionate as Edwin Chan behind it, moreso. But Edwin's will, I think, struggle to achieve true popularity unless more is done to make it somewhere you really want to eat, rather than just being somewhere there's no really good reason not to eat.
The room, for example, is basic almost to the point of harshness, with aggressive fluorescent lighting; a restaurant - unless famed for its ascetic aesthetic, such as St. John - with no candles, no ornamentation, borders on the unwelcoming. From outside, too, Edwin's lacks warmth, retaining the unappealing doors and canopy of the backstreet trattoria it previously was. It's one thing to be a labour of love, quite another to actually feel like it to the customer.
Edwin, from a conversation I had with him after our dinner, appears confident that the restaurant and wine bar he's put his name to will do just fine without such finessing. I might not share his confidence, but I hope nonetheless that that proves to be the case.
Edwin's French Wine Bar & Restaurant, 18 Phipp Street, London EC2A 4NU Tel: 020 7739 4443 www.edwinsfrenchwinebar.co.uk
I was invited to review Edwin's
Posted by +Hugh Wright