Having already had one fantastic birthday dinner this week, I have now been lucky enough to not only have another but to have one in a place with food so amazing that it now ranks as one of the top 3 meals I’ve had since moving to London. It’s hard to compare places against each other – how do you decide whether this portions-as-big-as-your-bathtub American style diner is better than that cosy-with-the-scent-of-garlic-lingering-around-you-for-days-afterwards Italian or if that impeccably-romantic-and-tastefully-muted French bistro tops that super-chilled-dig-in-with-your-fingers sushi place? It’s kind of impossible but actually sometimes a place comes along that simply can’t help knocking all other competitors out of the running, acsending to that gold medal podium and shaking it’s fists in euphoric victory.
Such a place is Boundary, Shoreditch.
J and I have been here before to sample their super cute, bakery style lunches but, unbeknownst to me until today, there is also a restaurant downstairs and it was here that we ventured for this celebration. I should probably just clarify here that J is a total virtuoso at presents and celebrations and all things special. I mean, he makes day-to-day living pretty wonderful too but forgot all the things he’s spent years crafting and labouring over and working on because the top line of his CV should really just say ‘birthdays’.
In my mind, an exceptional dining experience isn’t just about the food, it also considers ambience, service, setting and how it made you feel. From the minute you walk into Boundary, you know you’re in for a special evening. Pre-dining, make sure you visit the bar area.
It. Is. Incredible.
Chic and classic and understated and like something out of a movie. Add in a white tuxedoed barman and some beautiful cocktails and it’s impossible not feel awed by the whole place. It’s absolutely worth getting there early so you can enjoy this and set the mood for the evening.
The dining room sits facing an open plan, aqua tiled kitchen and is laid out with brick columns and snowy cloths. Tables are tucked away in intimate but inviting corners or laid out underneath a spectacular runner draped across the ceiling featuring signs of the zodiac and what feels like tiny pinpricks of starlight. Staff are hushed without being sombre and always respectful and gracious. If I had asked for a candycane striped elephant to be brought to the table with a newspaper tucked under one arm and a fedora perched on top of his head, I have no doubt it would have arrived before I took my first sip of wine.
Questions regarding the menu were carefully explained with each answer making you feel as though it was the first time that particular query had ever been asked and actually, what a marvellous question it was. A dish of tiny, rosebud-esque radishes on crushed ice was placed on the table as we watched waiters and the maître’d glide across the floor, tasting wine before pouring and ensuring that every detail was flawless.
Shared starters arrived – as did all dishes – on what looked like an old fashioned cigarette tray held in the arms of one waiter as they were placed on the table by another. There were so many things we wanted to try on the menu but in the end we opted for Crabe, Caviar et Blinis – white & brown crab meat, Naccarii caviar, smoked salmon and blinis – and OEuf Forestier – a soft hen egg in Panko breadcrumbs served with Bayonne ham and peas. Without ever being ostentatious, there was a real sense of spectacle about the food and it’s delivery; each component of the seafood starter arrived on its own shell, perched on top of ice and sat atop a stand that rose into the air.
It’s a real first world problem asking me which part of the dish I liked best – the white crab meat was soft and flaky and sweetly complemented the pickled cucumber. The salmon was rich and indulgent on top of plump little blinis and my first ever taste of caviar melted delicately and deliciously on the tongue. The brown crab mousse though, wow. That was really something; smooth, silky and an absolute powerhouse of flavour. The hen egg was indulgent, soft and rich with a crunch of breadcrumb, vibrant and fresh peas and meaty pink ribbons of ham balancing it out.
Yeah. The words ‘bar’ and ‘high’ spring to mind and we were only one course in…
As a newfound lover of lobster, it was always going to be my choice here. The quail and pigeon were close contenders as neither are kitchen cupboard staples for me – those would be things like chickpeas, spaghetti hoops and strawberry Nesquik. Don’t talk to me about classy dining…
So I had the lobster thermidor with parmesan and mustard cream sauce and J went for the beef fillet with pancetta and parsley pesto because really, if you’re going to have a steak, you might as well have it somewhere that’s pretty much guaranteed to be amazing. No suspiciously-grey-and-looking-like-a-twenty-year-old-shoe meat here thank-you very much.
The lobster was incredible. Chunky and meaty and falling out of the shell, it was blanketed in a sauce that deserved more yummy noises than I felt comfortable making here. It was creamy and cheesy and tangy and I’m seriously afraid I’ve been forever spoilt by trying and loving lobster – I literally think I could eat it every single day if it were done like this or Monday’s spaghetti.
J’s beef was adorned with tremendous chunks of pancetta and a beautiful, emerald pesto. Between me and thee, I don’t know why he was given a knife because a coffeeshop wooden stirrer could have sliced through the meat, it was that thick and soft and melt in the mouth. With fish and vegetarian options on offer plus a stunning roasted rack of herb crusted lamb that was carved at an adjacent table for two fantastically caricaturish old dames – they may as well have been wearing fur and diamonds and maybe even a satin turban they were that awesomely fabulously vintage – when I say there was something on the menu for everyone, I mean it.
I could have been busting out of my dress at this point and dessert was still going to happen. What was really nice – especially for the other diners – was that I wasn’t busting out because, as with all the best places with the best quality food, the portion sizes were realistic and manageable and they left you wanting more rather than needing to surreptitiously unbutton your trousers. They were a size that encouraged you to try the next course and oh, the one after that too. I never understand why some places give you embarrassingly, grossly over-sized portions that mean you can’t fit in any sides or puddings.
Rhubarbe Citron arrived pour moi – rhubarb marmalade, iced lemon mousse, blood orange and champagne jelly – and J was presented with homemade sorbets and ice-cream. Much as you want to try something you love in a great place because you know the experience will be brilliant, I think it’s also the perfect opportunity to try something you’ve never had or enjoyed which for me would be rhubarb. I’ve had it once before. It looked and tasted like bad celery. Since then I’ve always zoned out when people talk about it or chefs praise it on TV. Not for me thought I…
…I was wrong. The scent and the flavour were like old-fashioned-glass-jars-in-the-corner-shop sweety like in their strength and the texture was beautiful. Nothing stringy, tasteless or watery about this. An impeccable globe of iced lemon mousse wearing a jaunty little cap of gold leaf was perched on top of the rhubarb and the vivid blood orange and champagne jelly brought it all together. It was so good I wanted to cry a little bit at the thought that this was probably the best rhubarb I’d ever eat and I was never going to be able to re-create it well enough myself.
I can’t comment on the sorbet because even Michel Roux himself would have a hard time convincing me it’s worthy of the title ‘dessert’ but it looked clean and fresh and the bowl was cleared rather quickly.
A tiny silver dish of sparkling, sugar dusted, raspberry Turkish delight and cocoa dredged, dark chocolate truffles appeared after this along with the offer of a table at the rooftop bar for an after dinner drink, an offer that sadly the British weather prevented us from accepting.
You may snort when I say it’s sometimes hard to articulate how phenomenal something is. Clearly, I’ve managed to find quite a lot of words here that go some way towards that but if you have a special occasion and want to mark it by being made to feel more than special, Boundary will do that for you. I don’t think it’s capable of delivering a second rate experience.
I hope the staff there know how tremendous an experience they deliver and when they finally go home at silly o’clock, because I don’t doubt you could stay there till 3am and not feel anything other than welcome, and hang up their apron, their jacket or their serving tray, I hope they allow themselves the indulgence of feeling just a little self-congratulatory because it’s deserved. It doesn’t take a lot of effort for a restaurant to think that they’re something special but not really care how you feel. It takes an extraordinary lot of effort to think they’re something special because they actually are and they pride themselves on making you feel every inch a very important visitor for the night.
Oh and J? Good luck topping this next year…