Lyle’s might not be anything ‘hygge’, despite its minimalist decor, no nonsense approach to food, and serene feeling. And it doesn’t have to be really.
Like many other social media addicts out there, I have found myself wondering what exactly is the meaning of that over-hyped, massively-instagrammed ‘hygge’? What should one do – or not do, for that matter – to get it? Apparently it is a Nordic import, something to do with minimalism, no nonsense, good food and coziness. In reality nobody – apart from natives – can really explain it. You have to feel it: it’s a state of mind – they say. There are books about it, tweets about it, and even songs about it. But none seemed to help me so far.
By the read of it, Lyle’s sounded like it might just have it all. And a Michelin star on top. So here I am, dragging my dinner companion in the middle of Shoreditch, trustfully stepping in to Lyle’s in an ambitious pursuit of the elusive ‘hygge’.
As we enter, we are greeted with this genuine conviviality blended with just the right amount of reverence. It is early, and a few other guests are just settling in. We get a ‘table with a view’, as we are sat just in front of the large open kitchen. I always enjoyed watching other chefs in action. Is like sitting in the front row at a live theatre: you get to sense the rhythm, hear the music (pots dinging, pans clattering, oui chef! mains away chef!) and almost feel like you’re a part of the performance. And in a way, you actually are.
The place appears oddly familiar. Set in an old smokehouse, 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 elegance that makes us feel comfortable. The bar seems rather austere, too. But don’t let yourself be fooled by the look of it. Plenty of gems are hidden there: from a quite exciting collection of aperitifs to a thoughtfully curated selection of wines.
Here comes the bread: fresh sourdough, accompanied by high quality salted butter. We feel good already. Could this be it? Could this be ‘hygge’? One aperitif and two amuse-bouche later, we gently sail into dinner. The food comes timely, in a relaxed pace, brought to us with a smile by one of the chefs.
Unlike the ‘A la carte’ lunch offer, dinner at Lyle’s is only a set menu: four courses (£49 per person), with an optional Neal’s Yard cheese selection (extra £9). It reads seasonal, albeit blunt and minimalist. Almost unexciting – one could argue. Pumpkin, sprouting kale & hazelnuts – it says, for starters. I’m not sold at first, I must admit. My dinner companion is equally skeptic. But as we dig into the dish, it starts to pan out. The pumpkin is beautifully cooked: silky and moist, with a delicate earthy flavour, pleasingly enhanced by the roasted hazelnuts. Sprouting kale is nice and tender, and there’s a mild jus that rounds up the entire dish. We like it. No, strike that – we love it! It’s all things cozy and wintery and fun, gathered on a plate of awesomeness. There must be some serious skills involved in putting together such a delightful dish using only a handful of unpretentious ingredients.
The second dish – pollock with cauliflower and brown butter – is good, but far from memorable. The fish is perfectly cooked: tender, moist and flaky, as it should be. But there’s only so far one can go with cauliflower three ways. And that far is just not exciting enough.
The star of the evening is a majestic fillet of Welsh black lamb: pink and tender and bursting with flavour. It comes plain on the plate, unassumingly surrounded by a couple of fresh radicchio leaves. But there’s a catch: a side dish to share, presented to us as ‘the garnish’. Now, as far as garnishes go, this is momentous: melt-in-the-mouth, sticky and glossy slow cooked lamb meat, bathed in a magical brew of lamb jus and anchovy. There’s also a refreshing mint coulis in there and only a handful of baby carrots. Lamb lovers’ paradise – we have found it! We ask the sommelier for a glass of red to pair with the dish. She recommends the 1368 Barranco Oscuro, confessing that they have just opened the bottle. You’re going to have fun – she said. And we sure had. Lots of it! The wine was the perfect accompaniment for the lamb, and we would have happily ordered seconds. And thirds – with plenty of ‘garnish’, please.
As service draws to an end, the dessert (chocolate mousse & buckwheat) splits us. I find it unlovely and not sweet enough. The chocolate is far too dark for my liking, and the mousse has a funny texture. Buckwheat ice cream is exciting enough, but screams out loud for just a bit of extra sweetness. My dinner companion seems to enjoy it. But then again, he’s a self confessed chocolate addict.
Overall, dinner at Lyle’s was a delightful experience. James Lowe’s no nonsense approach to fresh, seasonal and high quality food is impressive – to say the least. He clearly understands flavour and artfully manages to create clever dishes using humble ingredients. The plating is minimalist too, with a strong focus on the main elements. No flowers, no micro-herbs, no fuss. None needed – just pure, wholesome oomph and food that speaks volumes. There were a couple of flaws: an unpolished plate here, some lamb silver skin there. But nothing to worry about – it’s probably just me being too perfectionist for my own good.
Lyle’s might not be anything ‘hygge’, despite its minimalist decor, no nonsense approach to food, and serene feeling. And it doesn’t have to be really. Think of it as your local Michelin starred eatery: a comfortably elegant place, where the food is good and the vibe is cool. And frankly, who needs ‘hygge’, when you can have all of this – and a good wine to match.
56 Shoreditch High Street
+44 203 011 5911