Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Cuisine Is Down to a Fine Art; with the Re-Opening of the Birthplace of British Modernism Visitors Can Feast Their Eyes and Indulge Their Appetites

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Cuisine Is Down to a Fine Art; with the Re-Opening of the Birthplace of British Modernism Visitors Can Feast Their Eyes and Indulge Their Appetites

Article excerpt

Byline: RESTAURANT REVIEW OF THE WEEK FAY MASCHLER

WHITECHAPEL GALLERY DINING ROOM .. .. .. .. ...

77-82 Whitechapel High Street, E1 (020 7522 7888) Open Tues-Sat noon-3pm & 7- 9.30pm. Sunday lunch noon-3pm. Bar menu 5.30-7pm. Set lunch [pounds sterling]15/[pounds sterling]20 for two/three courses. A la carte, a meal for two with wine, about [pounds sterling]88 inc. 12.5 per cent service.

Tap water service: not offered but supplied

IN 1901, Canon Barnett and his wife Henrietta commissioned a gallery in Whitechapel High Street from architect Charles Harrison Townsend. The estimable Canon believed that exposure to fine art in the East End would help -- as writer and "psychogeographer" Iain Sinclair has put it -- "to eradicate the local viruses of poverty and ignorance. Coming off the seething street, into this challenging space, would inculcate a sense of civic responsibility and inspire the adoption of values of the other world." The subtext, Sinclair observes, was move on, move out.

At this time, a quarter of the population of east London was Jewish, emigres from central and Eastern Europe.

A group of painters and writers who emerged from this diaspora came to be known as the Whitechapel Boys. The Passmore Edwards Library next to the art gallery was the meeting place for, among others, David Bomberg, Jacob Epstein, Mark Gertler, John Rodker and Alfred Wolmark. Their discussions and activities led to the movement known as British Modernism.

The Whitechapel Boys is one of the exhibitions that mark the mellifluously wrought expansion of the Whitechapel Gallery unveiled earlier this month. Sitting in the brand new, shiny restaurant, which has retained the old library's herring-bone oak floor and the wooden files for library cards, it was impossible not to think about what Bomberg et al -- and indeed Canon Barnett -- would have made of, not only a dish like Textures of Heritage Carrots, but the loft apartments, office behemoths and two million-pound Georgian houses now punctuating the still mean streets.

The view from the restaurant's window is of a time-scabbed paint-peeling building advertising Aldgate Warehouse, Ladies, Gents and Children's Fashions. Inside all is blonde wood panelling, bevelled mirrors and crisp white linen napkins. Head chef of Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room is Maria Elia, who previously cooked to general satisfaction at Delfina Studio Cafe in Bermondsey, also surrounded by art.

Her menu is short, seasonal and something of a vegetable patch for those who eschew meat. Char-grilled broccoli, soft-boiled egg, dandelion leaves and Berkswell cheese was an attractive, healthy assembly slightly wrecked by extremely salty vinaigrette.

Much better was ham hock and Jersey Royal terrine garnished with soft-boiled quail's egg and deeply flavourful English asparagus spears, as green as grass, from Secrett's Farm. …

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