Whitechapel Gallery is one of our favourite galleries in London but its new restaurant, Townsend, is a reason to visit in its own right. Headed by director Nick Gilkinson – formerly of Anglo in Holborn and the Garden Café in Lambeth – and head chef Joe Fox – formerly of Petersham Nurseries – Townsend opened in January. The dining room is small, almost square with soft lighting serving British cooking of the highest level alongside keenly priced wines. From deep fried Wensleydale (below) to an exceptional dish of potato dumplings with brown shrimps and purslane – with an unexpected hint of mace in the seasoning – as starters, this is a thoughtful menu, brilliantly executed.
Townsend’s take on a bouillabaisse as a main course is notably clean and fresh, with delicious chunks of flaky gurnard, squid and scallops. Lamb mince and onions is a more straightforwardly comforting dish, the salty Marmite aspect of the mince matched well with the bland glory of mashed potato – a combination that, dare we say it, might work even better than other versions of the dish which are served with toast.
Puddings by this stage will feel unnecessary but having never tried clotted cream ice cream before, we felt the need to see how it paired with ginger and treacle pudding. Other options may include Neal’s Yard cheeses or poached Yorkshire rhubarb, rosemary shortbread and clotted cream. None of these are essential, of course, but this doesn’t feel like the kind of restaurant where stinting is warranted.