Table talk

Our critic is happy to find there’s more to mod­ern Amer­i­can food than chlo­rine-washed chicken

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Content - Wil­liam Sitwell Two Lights 28-30 Kings­land Road Lon­don E2 8AA 020-3976 0076 two­lights.res­tau­rant Star rat­ing  Din­ner for two £87 ex­clud­ing drinks and ser­vice

Wil­liam Sitwell at Two Lights in east Lon­don

TWO LIGHTS IN Lon­don’s Shored­itch is, in its own words, a res­tau­rant that serves ‘food in­spired by mod­ern Amer­i­can cui­sine’. It begs the ques­tion, of course, of what that is. Is it the food and phi­los­o­phy of the likes of Alice Wa­ters? She is the in­flu­en­tial chef who, through her work with schools and via the menu of her Cal­i­for­nia res­tau­rant, Chez Panisse, seeks to per­suade peo­ple of the virtues of lo­cal and sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture. Her menu has artichokes and lo­cal ri­cotta, wild-net­tle soup and duck breast from Sonoma County. Or is mod­ern Amer­i­can food the food that most mod­ern Amer­i­cans ac­tu­ally eat? I’m talk­ing burg­ers and fries, dough­nuts, deep-dish piz­zas and Texan BBQ – the food that the US Pres­i­dent favours. And isn’t that mod­ern Amer­i­can food rep­re­sented by the prod­ucts that US am­bas­sador Woody John­son IV would like the UK to im­port? His chlo­rinewashed chicken, for ex­am­ple. The chef of Two Lights, Chase Lovecky, would beg to dif­fer.

So I reckon the bat­tle lines are drawn. It’s Woody ver­sus Two Lights. Let me run through their strate­gies and then you can choose which of them should be the true voice of mod­ern Amer­i­can food.

The Two Lights man­i­festo is loud and clear and all over the menu. And don’t think that these guys have leapt out of their trenches wav­ing car­rots and tubs of broad-bean hum­mus. The food oozes with the scent of an­i­mal fat, of skin, of bones, of of­fal. And it ar­rives plainly and

without frills. The menu it­self is clear. No one needs to come over and ex­plain the con­cept. There are three sec­tions: small plates, large plates and dessert. So that’s lit­tle por­tions, big por­tions and then pud­ding. Got that?

If Am­bas­sador Woody had min­ions spy­ing on the op­po­si­tion they might tell him he had it in the bag. There’s the lo­ca­tion of Two Lights for starters: on an unin­spir­ing Vic­to­rian ter­race of mis­matched houses, ad­ja­cent to a heav­ily for­ti­fied rail­way bridge. The food is or­di­nary by de­sign. Take the pig’s head, for ex­am­ple. It looks like some­thing painful a school might in­flict on you. On a dull pink plate, on a piece of grease­proof pa­per, comes a squared, white­bread sand­wich with some­thing crispy in it and some yel­low sauce. Back at his pala­tial Regent’s Park res­i­dence, Woody might be rub­bing his hands. But not so fast. Bite through that dull façade and you get a mag­nif­i­cent crunch of porky bliss. The gribiche – a punchy mayo – makes for a very in­trigu­ing mouth­ful. This is a great ad­vert for a pig’s brain and I want more of it.

And what of the ‘crab and el­der­flower on beef fat chip’ – a les­son in straight-talk­ing menu de­scrip­tion. Two fat chips, crispy skin, waxy potato, hold­ing sweet dol­lops of creamy crab. Beau­ti­ful. We also had mus­sels that came on flat­breads, cov­ered in melt­ing lardo (fat from a pig’s back), with slices of onion for acidic bal­ance. Sim­ple but ef­fec­tive, this was a dish of fab­u­lous imag­i­na­tion.

Then came a pile of broc­coli. It had a white an­chovy sauce splat­tered over it, along with chicken skin and wal­nuts. This was a step too far for me. I’m not scared of broc­coli and pre­fer to taste it, but this was oblit­er­ated by a wreck­ing ball of salty cream and crunch. If there’s a fine line be­tween un­pre­ten­tious flair and mess, Chase has just crossed it.

There was also a dish of ‘roasted half of St Brides chicken’ which may be a fowl raised on a patch of ground in east Lon­don, but was a very small bird and quite ex­pen­sive at £36. Qual­ity is­sues aside, I ex­pect Am­bas­sador Woody could get you seven chick­ens for Two Lights’ half of one. It came with a side or­der of de­cent gravy and some­thing la­belled ‘bis­cuits’. In the States, bis­cuits are in fact scones, in the same way that chips are crisps and cook­ies are bis­cuits, and one can only as­sume that Chase gets some kick out of the con­fu­sion. In fact, hav­ing scones with roast chicken is a sort of cul­tural slap in the face for a Brit. ‘We’ll take your scones with jam and cream and send them back at you with a wrong name and some chicken.’ All very Amer­i­can, you might think.

Which takes us back to my chal­lenge. Whose food fu­ture do you want? Chase’s or Woody’s? I met some of the US am­bas­sador’s press team last year and asked them about his in­ter­est in food. ‘He doesn’t eat. He only drinks cof­fee,’ one told me. So if you don’t mind, I’m plump­ing for the warm­hearted, spir­ited, lo­cally sourced guts and glory of Two Lights for my idea of tasty mod­ern Amer­ica. I sus­pect Alice Wa­ters will be with us too.

Bite through that dull façade and you get a mag­nif­i­cent crunch of porky bliss Wil­liam weighs in: old haunts I was sad to hear that Not­ting Hill’s Kensington Place closed last week. It opened 32 years ago and chef Row­ley Leigh made his name there with dishes like chicken and goat’s cheese mousse. Maître d’ Tim Brice was once un­able to give Michael Win­ner his favourite table. ‘Do you know who I am?’ stormed Win­ner. Brice then an­nounced over the tan­noy, ‘There’s a gen­tle­man here who doesn’t know who he is. If any­one can help will they please come to the front desk.’

Above Crab and el­der­flower on beef fat chips. Be­low Broc­coli, walnut, an­chovy and chicken skin

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