Lyle’s * | London (UK)

We came to Lyle’s with high expectations, but were utterly disappointed.
This must have been the worst meal we have had all year!

The point of minimalism in restaurants is to dial back almost everything so that the focus rests firmly on the food. By the read of it, Lyle’s is supposed to have it all and a Michelin star on top!

Lyle’s opened in April 2014, a casual, airy dining room on the Shoreditch High Road in London (UK), Set in an old smokehouse in The Tea Building, it features clear-cut white walls accentuated by stripped down concrete floor, metal lamps and ample windows. Tables are plain wood: no tablecloths. There’s a no nonsense sort of canteen elegance to it. 

Head Chef is James Lowe, who cooked at St John Bread & Wine in London, has trained in the kitchens of Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck*** in Bray and Michelin-starred La Trompette in Chiswick. James is also known as co-founder of The Young Turks collective, which admirably celebrated indigenous ingredients and small producers. Other members being Ben Greene and Isaac McHale, who is now Head Chef at The Clove Club in London.
Interesting to know that both Lyle’s (place 33) and The Clove Club (place 27) are the only UK restaurants on The World 50 Best Restaurants list by San Pellegrino. Coincidence?

Lyle’s is open 6 days a week for lunch and dinner and is closed on Sunday. No starters or mains on the menu here, just a list of 12 savoury dishes (at £4-£26), 4 sweet dishes (at £7-£9) and a cheese dish (at £12). You choose as many as you want (they recommend 2-3 per person) and the dishes are meant for sharing.

Bread and Butter
Bread and Butter

Sourdough bread with cultured butter. Okay, but pretty standard. When we finished the butter and still had some bread left, they didn’t give us more butter, but just took away the butter dish leaving the bread, which was a bit weird.

Courgette, Curd & Nasturtium
Courgette, Curd & Nasturtium (£12)

Cold courgette soup with refreshing flavours. Nice texture with the bits of courgette and the courgette flower. The curd added bit of complexity, together with the slightly sweet, mustard like, nasturtium oil. Nice dish, but at £12 for just a coffee cup, it sets the price tone and leaves me unsatisfied.

Beans, White Peach & Cured Tamworth
Beans, White Peach & Cured Tamworth (£15)

Fresh crunchy runner beans, ripe sweet white peach and delicious cured bacon of the Tamworth pig. Nice vinaigrette, but not sure what the onion does on the plate. The peach and cured Tamworth are lovely together, but have nothing to do with the beans. This is not a dish to me.

Grilled Trout Head
Grilled Trout Head (£9)

Trout head with pickled cucumber and gherkins. The tiny trout cheek and bit of the fish left on the bones was nice. The pickles thrown on there to balance the oily fish. didn’t really work. I like the idea of using produce we tend to discard. But again, is this a restaurant worthy dish, or is it a dish at all for that matter? I don’t think so.

Bloodcake, Peas & Mustard
Bloodcake, Peas & Mustard (£15)

I was looking forward to this when I saw it on the menu, expecting an interesting take on black pudding. The bloodcake did have the dark flavour of black pudding, but that that was the only positive. It was very oily, which was enhanced by the oily/buttery sauce. It was not pleasant at all. And unfortunately, the green peas and mustard couldn’t win the greasy battle. This was very disappointing.

Smoked Eel, Sea Purslane & Spinach
Smoked Eel, Sea Purslane & Spinach (£18)

Smoked eel is quite oily of course. Normally not a problem, but just after the greasy mess of the bloodcake it hit a bit harder perhaps. But more important, the eel was too salty and totally overpowering the greens on the plate. You couldn’t make out the sea purslane or the spinach, but just tasted eel. And actually, it repeated on me all day, so still tasted eel that evening….

Dexter Flank, Mustard Leaf & Anchovy
Dexter Flank, Mustard Leaf & Anchovy (£25)

This lunch was going from bad to worse and I was hoping the Dexter flank would save the day. But unfortunately the steak was underdone and way too salty. The anchovy vinaigrette just added to the saltiness.
This was uneatable and we left this dish after one or two bites. We asked the staff to take it away and explained why. The waiter said that everything is highly seasoned at Lyle’s. That is not an excuse for adding too much salt and making it uneatable! Mind you, they didn’t apologise. Actually they didn’t come back with anything after taking the plate back, no further explanation, not offering something else and charging full price for this dish. Totally unacceptable.

Unfortunately, this stripped-back minimalistic approach of the food also extends to the service. While almost always efficient, it’s also lacking in charm and warmth. In a way it’s almost admirable that a workplace has managed to instil such a widespread and consistent sense of perfunctory brusqueness into almost its entire front of house staff.

We skipped dessert as we had enough of this nonsense. Paid the bill, after asking to take the 12.5% added service charge off. And left Lyle’s completely disillusioned and confused.

Disillusioned by the whole experience, but mostly by the food. This must have been the worst meal we have had all year! But also disillusioned and confused by the rating systems out there. We came to Lyle’s with high expectations, because of the Michelin Star and because of Lyle’s being one of the only two restaurants in the UK on the The World’s Top 50 list, but we were utterly disappointed.

This place shouldn’t have a Michelin star. It’s an insult to other restaurants who have that accolade, or should have one. And as for that World’s 50 Best Restaurants list? I already had a lot of doubts about the quality and fairness of that list, because of some names on the list and others not being on there, and this just confirms it.