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Lena Review

Casey Gillespie uncovers a hidden culinary hero

Written by . Published on July 4th 2011.


Lena Review

LIKE any city, London has its share of celebrity chefs, and yes, we love them. We book tables weeks in advance, and sometimes at ridiculous hours, to eat their latest creations. You expect it to be great and it usually is. What is more satisfying however, is finding an unsung culinary hero and giving him or her the recognition they deserve. This is one such story.

Everyday on my way to and from the office I walk past this gorgeous storefront that does its best to lure me in. It reminds me a lot of my own décor, which is why I’m attracted to it, of course. It’s white in the rustic, shabby chic way, with a collage of framed black and white photos in the window. They advertise live jazz in the downstairs bar on Friday and Saturday nights and the menu is filled with tempting but not overly fussy dishes. One day I walked past just before lunch time and noticed they offer 50 per cent off for lunch – I swallowed it hook, line and sinker, and the very next day we were comfortably seated at a table for two waiting to see what Lena had to offer.

Grilled Tomino goats cheeseGrilled Tomino goats cheese

While we were deciding on what to eat, our lovely, ever-attentive-but-not-in-that-annoying-way waitress brought us a generous plate of homemade bread. We were off to a good start. After pursuing the menu, my date and I decided on the grilled Tomino goats cheese (£9.50), a salad with red and golden beetroot, walnuts and a pastry-wrapped round of mouth-watering grilled goats cheese, and the burrata cheese with carasau bread, grilled cherry tomatoes drizzled with a basil dressing (£9.50). The sweetness of the beetroot paired perfectly with the tartness of the balsamic dressing and slight smoky flavour of the melty cheese. I was very happy with this choice as it was done perfectly, but not utterly delighted the way I was with the burrata. My date had never tried this type of cheese before and so I insisted she try it with the knowledge she would love it. I was right. The cheese was creamy and rich, and delicious on it’s own or smeared on a piece of the crisp bread with a tomato on top. We practically licked the plate clean.

Truffle TaglioniTruffle Taglioni

Normally, I do not care for pasta, however, I was oddly tempted into ordering the homemade tagliolini (£16.90). This is for two reasons: I was testing the homemade bit and it promised white truffle oil and black truffle shavings. Indulgent, I know, but sometimes you have to live a little. My date opted for the less calorie-rific choice, the aubergine stack (£9.90). Though I must say, it was a worthy second option. We decided to share. When the plates were delivered we were awed by the presentations. The aubergine stack was piled high and layered with chargrilled aubergines, rocket, tomatoes, roasted peppers, walnut pesto and parmesan. It was a shame destroying the artistic creation, but one mouthful and we knew it was the right choice. It was fresh and light, and we revelled in the satisfaction of squeezing a little more cheese into one meal. As for the pasta, it was a bright yellow colour – a tell-tale sign of good, free range eggs – and was doused with the most generous portion of truffle oil I have ever smelled/tasted. Usually you see truffle on the menu and hope it will be this truffley, but it never is. This dish was all I had hoped for and more. It was by far the best pasta I have ever put in my mouth. More cheese, but not overly done. Simple, as well as a feast for the senses. I savoured every mouthful.

Chocolate cheesecake with homemade orange sorbetChocolate cheesecake with homemade orange sorbet

This is a good time to mention the portion sizes. Generous, but not gluttonous. And after such an amazing first and second course (and might I add, we could find no flaws – as far as we were concerned it was all perfection on a plate), we had to see what the desert menu held. A creamy chocolate cheesecake with homemade orange sorbet (£5.50) would do the trick. What really sold me on this dessert was the fact that it tasted homemade. It’s the dessert we all dream of whipping up for a dinner party to wow guests. The cake was thick and rich, almost fudge-like while the sorbet was refreshing and not at all too tart. And again, the presentation was photo-worthy. A couple of bites later and we were afraid we’d have to take the rest of the afternoon off, it was just too blissful to go back and face a computer with a hundred angry emails. No matter, I had burrata, truffles and chocolate – I could take anything, and with a smile.

After such a phenomenal meal I was ready to pay full price. There had to be a special 50 per cent off lunch menu that we didn’t see; there was no way a meal of this calibre was being offered at half price. I was utterly convinced until I was handed the bill – it was 50 per cent off. Tempted to run off to the kitchen and bear hug the chef, I happily paid the waitress and we were seen to the door by a gentleman who may have been the manager inviting us back and tempting me further with the live jazz on the weekends.

I’m probably not the first to say it, but head chef Anacleto Baldi Fiorello is a genius. I want to invite him to my house and become friends so he’ll tell me all of his chef secrets. I don’t recommend you eat at this restaurant, I demand it.

 

Ratings:          19/20

Breakdown:     9.5/10 food

                      5/5 service

                      4.5/5 ambiance

 

Lena
66 Great Eastern Street
London EC2A 3JT


Follow @caseygillespie on Twitter

 

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: We get carried away.

 

 

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Jill TJuly 5th 2011.

If you haven't tried out the jazz on the weekends it's definitely worth a visit. Not your typical Shoreditch haunt. Love this place!

RamboJuly 5th 2011.

I concur. Had a blurdy lovely lunch here and it is delightful inside. Fabulous food and not at all scrimped on even with the 50% offer.

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