Surrey’s Premier Lifestyle Magazine

My month in food

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Stephanie Brookes, BBC Radio London food expert, offers her pick of an eating establishment for this month, Allegra in Stratford. The arrival of Allegra is one of the most highly anticipated openings of the year. Perched (rather spectacularly) on seventh floor of The Stratford building, it’s already brought about a much-needed culinary boost to east London’s cityscape.

Head chef, Patrick Powell has a pedigree which is second to none with a previous four years at Chiltern Firehouse, working alongside Nuno Mendes – certainly enough to convince the masses to head east. Another reason is the ethos behind the restaurant, with a dedication to locally-sourced produce. In fact, ingredients all come from an organic farm a mere 40 minutes away.

That attention to detail extends to the interior, which is a sleek, minimalist affair courtesy of Space Copenhagen (of Noma fame) with its contemporary Scandinavian-style ethos reflecting the modern European menu. This is a restaurant that positively radiates glamour.
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I would therefore recommend a cocktail before dinner, just to soak in the ambience and for those Instagram-worthy images. After a relaxed drink or two, an offer to be seated was not to be passed up for I’d already spied a little pre-starter in the form of Pistachio choux. At this point, our highly knowledgeable sommelier made the first recommendation of the evening. For those who are not wine connoisseurs, and I certainly fall into this category, I highly recommend the pairing option. I’m a fan of restaurant-led decisions and am happy to be guided. Now, back to the pistachio choux: bite-sized pockets of air-light crispy pastry, filled with an iron-rich liver emulsion combined seamlessly with the salty, sweet pistachio crumb. The final tartness from the kumquat hit all flavour profiles. I could have indulged in a whole platter of these addictive little morsels.

The actual starter was an instant no-brainer as the dish of Smoked eel pithivier has quickly become the ‘must-try’ dish on the menu. A classic looking pie was presented, with the most perfectly cooked puff pastry case – so exquisite in presentation it looked as if it came straight from a food photoshoot. The inner findings revealed a pale creamy mixture that reminded one of a classic homemade pie. I often find that smoked eel can be too overpowering, yet the creamy emulsion, with the most delicate echoes of smoked fish, was so remarkably soothing it should be dished out on a regular basis to stressed-out Londoners. It’s the very definition of refined comfort food. There’s an inspired choice of chilli vinegar which offered some acidity while never distracting from the delicate flavours of the dish. The forest-green parsley sauce added a hit of herby freshness and paired beautifully with the eel. I certainly understand why there has been an instant hero-worship of this dish; it will surely become synonymous with the restaurant in time and wholly deserves to be.
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The following entrée of Whole roast cep-stuffed chicken was a dish for two, and luckily it didn’t take much convincing of my dining companion. I have to say, I practically put my stamp on the dish the moment I saw it on the menu, so I had my back-up plan should there have been any resistance! The dish was another showstopper, not least because the roast bird is brought to the table before carving. The chicken was served finely sliced, revealing a layer of mushroom ceps underneath crisp, buttery skin.

The accompanying black garlic added earthiness and the quite brilliant addition of crunchy toasted hazelnuts gave the most satisfying bite against the butter-soft meat. The slight tang from the vinaigrette cuts through the richness, while the tender leek hearts gave a delightful herbaceous note, bringing alternative texture and freshness to the overall composition. It’s a dish that sublimely lingers.

The final instalment of Whipped coffee, chocolate, milk and plum was a lovely bittersweet invention, with a strong coffee-injection from the creamy quenelle and the delicious tart plum was a palate-tingling last note. A well thought out dessert, even though my mind was still dwelling on the former savoury dishes.

There’s something so reassuring about a restaurant where every detail has been carefully thought through, with nothing left to chance. Certainly a lot is riding on this restaurant, with a location not seen as ideal for many, yet Allegra has created such a powerful culinary start, the trip is most definitely worth it. In fact, I would say Allegra is the perfect location to ring in the end of the year, not only for those views, but for two of the most exceptional dishes of 2019.

essence info
The Stratford, 20 International Way, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London E20 1FD
Telephone: 020 3973 0545