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Dining on site at Studio East [review]

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One week after booking into Studio East, I started to regret my impulse decision to grab a table for two on the 18th. But the nice man from Bistrotheque had already taken my credit card details, (it appears the meal was prepaid…damn) and I imagined it would be difficult to pass on these seats to friends once they found out they’d be sharing their food with strangers on the roof of a construction site in Stratford. Doesn’t exactly have the appeal of Koffman’s glamorous pop-up on Selfridges, does it? Nor did it seem worth the price tag – 75 quid seemed a bit extravagant to “celebrate the best of the English summer”. Riverford had set out to do the same just last week in London, and they successfully served me the seasonal bounty of the English countryside for 1/4 of the price. Despite cocktails, wine and service being included, I still wasn’t convinced. Perhaps it’s because this all-inclusive price tag on the dinner was vague as to the amount of wine and cocktails included. I had a stressful week and at that point, couldn’t imagine much worse for dinner than drinks drying up early, (we’ve all been to parties and weddings where it’s happened) and finishing the evening trying to stretch that glass of wine into dessert.

We opted to take the fast train from St. Pancras direct to the site and arrived promptly at 7pm, per the directions given to diners. The fantastic English summer evening, (correction: rain, wind, gray skies) made us even more anxious to get inside, and after some winding and ascending we made it to the roof of Westfield. The sharp angles of the bright white pop-up designed by Carmody Groarke provided an incredible contrast to our surroundings, its crystal-like structure standing out from the chaos of the unfinished buildings and massive dirt trenches of the Olympic site. Entering through large PVC curtains was the first clue to the industrial decor of the restaurant, with unfinished wood planks serving as the walls and exposed scaffolding serving as the support for the tarp roof. The space was filled with large space-heaters emitting a warming, orange glow into the space, and lighting provided by fantastic chandeliers of construction lights fitted with bulb guards. I greatly admired the design of the space – it was simple without denying guests the usual creature comforts and respected the location – we were atop a construction site after all, not in a proper restaurant.

Two minutes in, and the evening was off to a fantastic start. We were greeted with Patron-based cocktails, (I believe they were sponsoring in some way) and to my great surprise, I wasn’t limited to just one. Nor two. Nor four! And it went on like this all evening, with cocktails being distributed to diners during the meal. The lovely hostess even made two rounds with a bottle of Patron during dessert, passing around shots and topping us all up with more wine. I am most confident that I consumed enough cocktails to make up for the cost of the dinner – the food was a great little extra on top of the drinks. And whilst the food was not terribly exciting or innovative, it was good. Just simple and good. A selection of cold starters and salads of heirloom tomatoes, pickled herring and cured ham with piccalilli were all delicious, with the only criticism being that there was a bit of variance in how the dishes were salted. The meat and fish platters of the main were served cold as well, (presumably due to lack of kitchen space) but we greatly enjoyed the poached chicken with tarragon, as well as the roast beef with a surprisingly subtle horseradish cream. The fish was a bit of a flop and was under-seasoned, but side dishes of cheesy shallot and tomato gratin, crisp asparagus and jersey royals complemented the rest of the food nicely. Dessert was simple, consisting of large platters of juicy strawberries with shortbread, and large bowls filled with scoops of vanilla ice cream, over which our very friendly waiter poured Patron XO, (coffee liqueur made with Tequila). All perfect for the occasion.

After being very politely kicked out at 11pm, (as our entire table was chatting well past dessert) we felt as if we were leaving an old friend’s house having just spent the evening sharing stories, drinks and some genuinely good food.  We met some wonderful people, exchanged restaurant tips and chatted away all evening — probably because we were all a bit tipsy. Staff were also just as friendly, engaging with the very tipsy diners and always ensured our glasses were topped up.

Perhaps it was my initial low expectations that resulted in the evening being so shockingly enjoyable, but upon further reflection, I doubt it. It was the great couple sitting next to us with whom we compared notes on the best BBQ in London, the limitless cocktails and seemingly limitless food, the view of the 2012 site — all of it combined for an all together awesome evening. Our only regret is not bringing friends with whom we could share the evening.

Highly recommended. But bring a scarf or sweater – it was a bit chilly. And arrive right on 7 to take advantage of the cocktails and to grab a space on one of the balconies overlooking the Olympic site.

The 411:

Studio East Dining
Open until 4th of July for lunch/dinner/private dining.
Entrance in Stratford International Station, but connections available from the Tube and Regional stations. See website.

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