Following on from his successful pop-up Dining Experience with Porter’s Gin, Andrew Sutton has opened his first restaurant on Curtain Road in Shoreditch. We head on down to No Idea for the opening night to see the venue and man in action.
It’s early evening on a weekday in Shoreditch. You’re in Shoreditch because it is the new Soho. And it is the “new Soho” because, well, a London area cannot simply be of its own accord, it can only be in relation to the mood and aesthetic of areas that came before. Eating in this part of the city can feel like riding a stripped-back, concrete clad carousel of forgettable small plates and cliché-riddled new openings that draw cultish crowds. No Idea is a kind of antidote to this, and is part of a handful of places doing “very Shoreditch” in their very own way.
The restaurant opened in early May on Curtain Road – its 10 covers hidden behind an inconspicuous storefront door – next to an old-school pub from which after-work drinkers spill. Chef and owner Andrew Sutton promises to remove the typical haughtiness from fine dining and bring to the scene a bit of much-needed cool, with courses that combine jarring sweet and savoury ingredients in ways that are, in his own words, dreamed up at random.
Inside, poured concrete and marble countertops have no place. It’s all moody navies, a bar clad in reclaimed oak to match the tiny two-seater tables, and frosted glass windows that feel more nan’s kitchen than haute cuisine. It’s still photogenic, just not desperately so. Choice is kept to a minimum, for this is a dining experience that demands you hand over trust, control, and £30 or £60 a head for the privilege of Sutton’s culinary musings. There are two tasting menus: three-course or six-course. There is a choice of two drink flights: wine or cocktail. Each of the courses is named simply after its two key ingredients: one sweet, one savoury.
We go for the six-course option with both drink flights, and are surprised to learn that tonight – the restaurant’s opening night – Sutton is running the full show solo. This is how it will be, he explains, and it’s the reason for his considered menu of pre-batched cocktails. We start with a glass of Theodora, a biodynamic vegan wine from family-run Austrian vineyard Gut Oggau, an extraordinarily accompaniment to the evening’s first plate of pear and chestnut.
Individually these ingredients are not life-changing, but that’s sort of the point. Pear is perhaps the humblest of fruits. Alone, it doesn’t particularly deliver an oomph of flavour, but when it’s slicked in honeycomb, torched and served atop a dash of chestnut and celeriac puree, the separate subtleties sing each others’ praises and remove the remnants of lunch’s Pret baguette.
Up next is a conceptual artist’s take on brunch food with what appear to be tiny, rounded egg yolks, but are actually sweet cape gooseberries that ooze, when prodded gently with a knife, onto cubes of rye, the whole thing dusted in velvety frozen feta. It’s paired with a stone-cold and eternally drinkable non-alcoholic blend of peppery Ethiopian Koseret tea from Rare Tea Company, served in hand-thrown ceramic bowls. Part of the appeal of this place lies in its homeliness. Casting aside the obvious strains of the job, the fact that Sutton single-handedly manages, prepares and serves the food each night is testament to both his execution as chef and charisma in front-of-house. He wanders between tables, chats and explains the ingredients – a touch that seems genuinely well-received.
We’re intrigued by what from afar look like meaty sashimi slices but are, in fact, equally meaty segments of pink grapefruit piled high in a pool of rich umami broth, the saltiness of which separates the grapefruit’s sweetness from its bitter tang. Umami, a human’s ‘fifth sense’ for moreish savoury taste, is mirrored in the pairing cocktail spirit of umami-infused vodka by Audemus. It’s mixed and bottled in advance with rhum agricole – a style of rum originally distilled from sugar cane juice as opposed to molasses in the French colonised Caribbean islands – and pandan cordial, from a plant native to South and South-East Asia, making for a head-clearing drink that can only really be sipped.
Then enter Carrot and Coffee: to us the stand-out dish by far, likely down to its allegiance to the traditional Sunday roast with delicate slivers of carrot, seasoned and roasted in their own leaves. A pool of coffee bean and tomato broth reflects the carrot’s gentle earthy notes, lashings of passionfruit curd tease out its sweetness, and coffee notes linger long after you set down the fork. The only gripe here is that we could’ve eaten piles of the stuff, but that would be missing the point.
Next is Rhubarb Compote, with its tartness countered by the salty acidity of umeboshi, hidden beneath a cloud of delicate mascarpone custard, dotted with cacao nibs for crunch and bitter edge. We eat between baby sips of another wince-inducing cocktail, made using two types of calvados, a brandy from the eponymous Normandy region, with rose vermouth and walnut bitters. The drink’s headyness is welcome. We have to remind ourselves that this is about off-piste flavours and ingredients sourced for their quality and difference, not for their sling-it-back drinkability.
The tables are filled by the time we’re sliding our spoons through a silken mass of Roasted Parsnip Ice-Cream – an unexpected favourite served with pepper caramel and toasted sourdough. It slicks and coats the roof of the mouth, and, once again, we could easily have made our way through an excess of it.
No Idea is a fine dining destination without airs and graces, presented in a way that’s accessible to the palate and pocket of a few more people than the scene’s traditional counterparts. Does that mean it’s acceptable to rip up the dainty menu and help yourself to tub after tub of infused ice cream? Probably not, so we’re slow and steady and savour its earthy-sweet goodness.
No Idea, 26 Curtain Rd, Shoreditch, London EC2A 3NY
Words by Jade Hammond