Wil­liam vis­its E&O Chelsea on King’s Road

Wil­liam Sitwell says ‘oh’ at the re­opened E&O

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents -

I shan’t for­get the first time I en­coun­tered res­tau­ra­teur Will Ricker’s duck, wa­ter­melon and cashew salad. It was 2001 and he had just opened E&O on Not­ting Hill’s Blen­heim Cres­cent. It was a cute area of Lon­don; a clus­ter of roads off Por­to­bello Mar­ket, a sweet spot that housed the great deli Mr Chris­tian’s, the newsagent Ro­coco with its mag­nif­i­cent col­lec­tion of mag­a­zines, the fab­u­lous Ital­ian Os­te­ria Basil­ico, the Nu-line Aladdin’s cave of a hard­ware store and the fash­ion­able res­tau­rant 192, gasp­ing its last breaths.

Into the mix came the pan-asian E&O, quickly hoist­ing any re­main­ing celebs from 192, which closed a few months later.

E&O’S bar spilled on to the street and be­hind a large screen was a room whose ban­quettes and ta­bles cos­seted glam­our. The menu burst with gor­geous share­able nuggets, rock­shrimp tem­pura, black cod and that salad. Per­haps it was stolen – as the best food ideas are – from some­where a long plane-ride away, but it per­son­i­fied the words of 18th-cen­tury epi­cure Jean An­thelme Bril­lat-savarin: ‘The dis­cov­ery of a new dish does more for the hap­pi­ness of the hu­man race than the dis­cov­ery of a star.’

It was a gen­er­ous bowl of sweet chunks of wa­ter­melon, with crisp bites of duck and the crunch of whole cashews, mar­ried with a sweet sauce but tem­pered with bit­ter leaves. Eaten with chop­sticks, it made E&O an ex­otic plea­sure­dome.

Eigh­teen years later and I was or­der­ing an­other plate of it. This time at the re­opened sis­ter res­tau­rant E&O in Chelsea, gut­ted by a fire but now, dé­cor-wise, back to its for­mer self with a great bar, large screen and the din of a fash­ion­able crowd. This is now one of three E&OS, the third be­ing in Athens. I know this place be­cause as the Man in the Moon pub, it once had a small the­atre and I trod the boards in a play as Dodgy Kevin who had some­thing to do with a dead body hid­den be­neath a sofa.

We sat and or­dered a smat­ter­ing of dishes and some wine. The wine was slow to ar­rive, but not four of the dishes, which seemed to crash out of the kitchen and on to our ta­ble within sec­onds. If the chef claims they were cooked to or­der, I hereby chal­lenge him to a duel.

The prawn and chive dumplings were lovely. But the chilli salt squid came as flat­tened, teeth-break­ing tem­pura, dried out so one needed more a chisel than chop­sticks to hand. There were sev­eral pieces that were just dull bits of bat­ter – call it tem­pura of con­crete. And there was an avo­cado chopped salad, as well as my beloved wa­ter­melon and duck salad. The lat­ter was a messy dol­lop on a plate: four bits of wa­ter­melon, tiny pieces of cashew and dried duck, all mixed with a sug­ary sauce so cloy­ing and sweet as to ruin any sem­blance of flavour and sub­tlety. This was a fast-food calamity of a once great dish. And then the white wine ar­rived, in­fu­ri­at­ingly late – but not as bonkers tardy as the plate of ap­pe­tiser edamame beans, which ar­rived after that first as­sault of dishes.

Then we waited. And waited. Was it 25 years? We had cer­tainly aged. Nails grew, beards sprouted, tum­ble­weed floated across the ta­ble.

A good hour later, and with a flurry of apolo­gies and prom­ises of dishes be­ing re­moved from the bill, came an­other old favourite, the shrimp tem­pura. The 2019 ver­sion comes with truf­fle aioli, a match as in­ap­pro­pri­ate as wear­ing a mank­ini in church on Christ­mas day. It was a point­lessly trendy wreck­ing ball of a sauce. No shrimp should die for this. There was also a piece of over­cooked sea bream drenched in a thick and gloopy Szechuan sauce, which we ate hold­ing our noses with a com­pe­tent bowl of egg-fried rice.

What tragedy there is when a once glow­ing star crashes to earth, leav­ing noth­ing more than soot, dust and for­got­ten dreams.

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