What makes a secret restaurant a secret? It might be off the standard grid. It might be simply unsung, or empty at particular mealtimes. There’s got to be something, however contrived, that allows it to achieve status as a secret. And whatever it is, there’s got to be something of high quality on offer to merit eligibility as a “secret” in the first place. Secrets have to be good. If they’re not good, they’re just irrelevant shards of information.
Corner Room in London‘s Bethnal Green neighborhood is a secret along this equation: very sophisticated food + lack of customers at lunchtime = lunch secret. It’s not as if the people behind Corner Room are afraid of operating a semi-secretive operation, either. The restaurant has no telephone number or website and doesn’t take reservations.
And to make things even more appealing, Corner Room, located in fact in a corner room at Town Hall Hotel, may very well be the best place in London for grabbing a top-notch lunch without running into debt. The set lunch menu is £15 ($23.50), which in London is a steal for two courses at this level of sophistication. You can expect to pay around £22 ($34.50) for a starter, a main, and a dessert.
Corner Room is helmed by Nuno Mendes, who runs the Michelin-starred and very pricey Viajante downstairs at Town Hall Hotel. Corner Room is Viajante’s little sidekick. Big kid Viajante’s menu, with its hodgepodge of Asian and Iberian influences is full of surprises, including wild foraged herbs and grasses. Corner Room repeats some of Viajante’s motifs at a much lower price point and with less variety. The Corner Room menu is short, sweet, and to the point.
Each meal starts with an anchovy-stuffed olive, dense and exciting. The courses that follow are all delicious and surprising. A beetroot and salmon main is probably the best thing I’ve eaten there, though there’s never been something that didn’t delight: fresh granitas; the shock of shiso against goat’s cheese; and unbelievably tender meats, to name three.
At dinnertime I’ve watched Corner Room fill up rapidly and a conversational din gather like vapor over tables, but I’ve never had trouble getting a table at Corner Room for lunch. On my last visit, I had the most delightful long lunch with a friend, three lovely hours.
There are two downsides to a lunch at Corner Room. The kitchen can get overwhelmed with orders, rendering service slow. And portions are on the small side. Otherwise, this is a treat. Just remember that no reservations are taken. You’ll just need to show up and hope that this blog post and other snippets of media attention will not have ruined your ability to have a nice, long, leisurely lunch over a trio of extraordinary courses.
Corner Room is located upstairs off the lobby at Town Hall Hotel, at Patriot Square near the Bethnal Green Tube station.
[Image: Maxine Sheppard]