Wednesday 22 May 2024

The Buxton, Brick Lane

Continuing a recent theme, here comes along another example of excellent restaurant pedigree producing a fantastic place to eat. The Buxton is a smart and buzzy spot halfway down Brick Lane, within trotting distance of sister restaurant the Culpeper which is also a lovely (if often wildly oversubscribed) modern British bistro with rooftop kitchen garden. The same guys also run the Green in Clerkenwell and the Duke of Cambridge in Angel, neither of which I've been to in many years but are probably still worth a look.

So, they've got the pedigree. And with that comes the ability to write an absolutely beautiful menu full of seasonal British-French delights, at prices that are scarcely believable (in a good way) in 2024. If this was a brand new restaurant in its honeymoon period, I'd have to caveat that with the possibility that after a handful of reviews came in they'd quietly bump up the prices - it happens a lot. But no, the Buxton has been open since May 2019 and has somehow survived all the way through lockdowns and facemasks and disrupted supply routes with (as a quick Instagram history check reveals) the same attitude to value.

Choosing from the chalkboard menu at the Buxton is largely an exercise in deciding which handful of dishes you can just about live without, then ordering everything else. We decided cheese croquettes with chive emulsion sounded too good to pass on and indeed they were lovely, all gooey inside and greaseless outside, the chive dressing superbly light.

Whipped cod's roe panise came as cute little square fritters of fried gram flour pastry, topped with neat folds of salty, smooth tarama. As you'll see even from the slightly murky photos (the bartop lights had a very strange orange hue which I didn't notice at the time) presentation of the dishes at Buxton went from charmingly rustic when appropriate, all the way through to exact and geometric when it made sense to do so. There was quite the range of techniques on display.

As if the chalkboard didn't contain enough joy, there were even two off-menu specials we were told about as we took our seats. This was the first of them - homemade bottarga crumbled over chalk stream trout tartare, with pickled radish, wild garlic flowers, herbs and who knows what else, so prettily and colourfully arranged it could have easily come out of a Simon Rogan kitchen. At one point in the evening I overheard one of the front of house mutter "wow, beautiful" under her breath as she picked up a plate of this from the pass. And if you can still impress someone with presentation of a dish she's probably been serving all day long, you're probably doing something right.

Asparagus - great big thick spears, nicely charred from the grill - came on a bed of brown butter sauce, best described I suppose as a kind of toasty, nutty hollandaise. We're right smack bang in the middle of asparagus season at the moment, and so of course they're on the menu everywhere but I'm still impressed with places that are finding some new way of showing them off.

I wouldn't normally have ordered tomatoes with stracciatella - I'm less forgiving of this kind of thing being on the menu absolutely everywhere than I am of asparagus, because I love asparagus - but actually this was very interesting, with a kind of sharp keffir lime dressing to liven it all up. Tomatoes were well seasoned too.

For £15 I was expecting perhaps one langoustine, or maybe two teeny ones - there's more than one restaurant I've been to in the last couple of years serving langos so small I'd questioned whether they ever should have been landed at all - but not here. Two giant beasties, with claws so big they contained more meat you'd find in a tail in some places, perfectly timed with sweet, soft flesh, came drenched in "fermented prawn butter". And if you're thinking that maybe they gave the blogger table bigger specimens than everyone else, I can assure you that our seats overlooked the kitchen and every other plate of langoustine that hit the pass was at least the same size.

Last of the savouries was a mutton chop, tender and full of flavour, with a neat little pile of pickles. It was very good, but once you've tasted the Cull Yaw from such places as Mangal 2 or Kiln, other types of mutton tend to disappoint slightly. Even so, we quite happily polished it off, and had no real complaints.

For dessert, rhubarb Paris Brest (or even "Breast" as they'd put on the menu and someone had tried to gingerly correct) which had an irresistable light, flaky texture and a good strong hit of rhubarb purée, and "croissant ice cream", apparently made by soaking croissant in water, making a kind of croissant stock, and then making ice cream from that. Maybe I've been lucky, but I can't remember being anything less than happy with any homemade ice cream in any restaurant in the last few years. And I'm pretty sure I'm not getting less fussy - places are just getting better at ice cream.

So, yes, the Buxton is good. Very good. Food in central London as well-chosen, intelligently treated and smartly served as this could - perhaps even should - cost easily double what they're charging for it. True, portion sizes are controlled, but it takes just as much skill to assemble two exquisite whipped cod's roe panise as it does four or six, and £15 for two big langoustine is vanishingly rare in the capital. It's a little tricky working out what our bill would have been as a couple of the dishes were off-menu, but if I say the food came to about £50pp, and drinks another £20pp, I don't think I'd be too far off the mark. Very reasonable indeed.

And I very much hope the team behind the Buxton don't stop there. It must have taken a heroic amount of steel and determination to survive through two years of pandemic after having been open barely a few months, but to come out of all that with an operation quite as mature and confident is an achievement indeed. I hope we see a few more tastefully updated East End boozers with a seasonal chalkboard menu and a nice cocktail list over the coming months and years, but even if they stay where they are for the moment, we've still got so much to be thankful for.


I was invited to the Buxton and didn't see a bill.

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