On its website, Assemblage aspires to create food that is “a work of art made by grouping together found or unrelated objects”. It also claims the provenance of ingredients, modern British and from the South West where James Knight-Pacheco (chef) and Alicia Whitby (manager) grew up.
On site, a big crowd of fashion students walked past me. This was East London. Brick Lane. Marangoni is just around the corner, and so are many Pakistani eateries. The crowd did not turn into Assemblage yet. Maybe the rather dark-furnitured dining room did not appeal. (Fashion people don’t really eat, you know).
I walked in with expectations. And, in my book, I consider Assemblage too far out to be serving bad food. 15 min without traffic in a taxi means, first and foremost, that the restaurant had better be f**king amazing. It wasn’t.
But, there were many glimmers of brilliance.
It will get there?
The menu, or rather the detailed description of the menu, at Assemblage did not sound exciting. It said too much and gave me the impression of something too comforting instead of inventive eclecticism. That said, there usually seemed one odd ingredient in each dish to stop it from being just comfort food. Say, “toffee popcorn” with Duck & Pheasant Terrine or “Earl Grey grapes” with “Scallops”. While I was musing thoughts, an amuse bouche of Pumpkin Pie landed in front of me. Audaciously deconstructed. A little well of pumpkin veloute with creamy pumpkin puree underneath. The pie crust was this skinny baton of nicely done pastry. Setting the visual aside and the baton, the veloute itself did not make much impact. Small dishes usually need big flavour to counter the portion size. This one was bland.
The starter “Almonds & Egg” (£8.50) was, however, exceptional. The slow cooked duck egg was nearly jelly-fied but with the yolk still luxuriously runny. It mixed well with the velvety parsnip infused with Fosse Way cheese. Sandy and chopped almonds, which themselves tasted like powdered muesli, helped solidify the dish a little. Enough textural contrast to send me on edge. Now I am talking the dish that is worth travelling for.
The main of “Seabass” (£27) did not deliver the same excitement as the starter. Though the fish was beautifully roasted – superbly crispy skin and puffy meat – the garnish was chaotic, as if the chef had been briefed to promote a five-a-day dietary plan. There were butternut squash puree, lemon marmalade, salsify, smoked potatoes and vanilla sauce. No technical error on any part but all did not integrate as a dish.
Luckily, I managed to resume my gastronomic thrill with the dessert of “Chamomile & Honey” (£8.50). On my left there was a little chamomile-scented millefeuille made pretty with icing sugar, chewy honeycomb and crispy honey rocks. Light and balanced. On my right was something far more delicious, a firm pudding-lookalike honey parfait blanketed by a thin sheet of chamomile and vanilla jelly. I particularly loved the syrup-y richness of the ice cream and the distinct honey flavour, as I was munching through with pebble-like biscuit crumbs The chamomile sheet failed to interject the X factor, though. A very good dish, still.
Another thought, another trek?
Yes, there were some occasionally good moments, a fair bit of sparkles. Assemblage, to me, has potential. It might not become THE destination in the East like Viajante but I do feel given a few months Assemblage will metamorphose into something relatively exciting, different but not totally alienating.
Setting that main (and amuse bouche) aside and given a few months, I could do with another trip there.
My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.
60-62 Commercial Street
Tel. 020 7269 7916