Michelin-starred chef Angela Hartnett works briskly alongside a small team in a compact kitchen in East London. After taking up an advisory role to Smart Catering's new venture at the Whitechapel Gallery, Hartnett, owner of Mayfair's Murano, is here to guide head chef Rod Thompson and the rest of the staff through their first day of service under the new management.
The Gallery's wood-panelled, sun-bright dining room is in the recently converted library wing, and it retains much of the old site’s Art Deco charm. An hour before lunchtime, we’re enjoying a Union coffee with Smart’s Managing Director Robin Bidgood, who trained at the Savoy and was CEO of catering at the Tate Galleries for five years before starting Smart last year. "Our aim is to do simple things well," he says of the seasonal, Italian-inspired menu. “You have to care: meat from local butchers, cheeses from Borough Market, tea from the Rare Tea Company, and we consulted Murano’s sommelier for our wine list.” Hartnett and Bidgood’s ambition is for the dining room to be seen not only as an extension of the gallery, but as a landmark in its own right. “The Whitechapel is part of the vibrant cultural activity of the East End,” he explains, “and since Angela lives around the corner, she's keen for this to be a good local restaurant.”
Today is a bit special since we’re dining with Hartnett at the helm. In future she’ll oversee the menu and consult with Thompson, while her primary cooking duties will remain at Murano. The dishes are unmistakably influenced by Hartnett’s signature bold flavours and striking combinations: whipped goats’ curd with roasted garlic, Swiss chard and ricotta tortelli, braised wild rabbit hot pot, devilled kidneys with butter bean stew. And the pomegranate, pear and blood orange salad with olive shavings we have for dessert is nothing short of a revelation; we recommend you try it as a matter of urgency, they intend to change the menu regularly.
Ananda and Neil visited the Whitechapel Dining Room on Saturday 15 January at 11:00am. Booking for lunch and dinner in the Dining Room is recommend, for more information visit here.
Text by Ananda Pellerin
Ananda Pellerin is a London-based writer and editor of Wheel Me Out. Neil Wissink is a visual artist also based in London.