When replacing a successful restaurant the transition can often be bumpy. This is made no easier when the name of the previous establishment is built into the mosaic flooring. Tucked alongside a plethora of charming, finely turned out restaurants in Victoria Park Village, The Empress sets itself apart with local produce; sourcing from an E5 bakehouse, and a fishmonger and butcher both on the same road as the restaurant.
The menus present a slight dilemma. The beer menu seems to take pride of place, understandably perhaps, with some 19 different beers on offer. The food is resigned to the reverse side of the page and is unclear in its presentation. The bar snacks seem to be separated at the top of the page with the starters and mains mixed together. The prices, however, do not differentiate themselves clearly enough. With the food seemingly playing second fiddle to the beer you could be forgiven for sticking to the bar.
This would be a mistake. What the restaurant lacks in menu clarity it certainly make up for in food quality. We started off with Padron peppers, ham croquettes, olives and pig’s ear and apple sauce. The pig’s ear combined with the peppers comes highly recommended as a duo, add a drop of applesauce and the combination really comes to life, three intense flavours that compliment each other perfectly.
Next came what I think would be considered starters. Borlotti bean and wild garlic soup and purple sprouting broccoli, goat’s curd and sesame. The broccoli stole the show here. Served cold, this is just about as good a summer dish as you could hope for. The sesame adds an interesting touch to the traditional flavours with the goat’s cheese at just the right sharpness, not too overpowering, but certainly giving an added punch to the dish.
Just to add to the confusion, most of the main courses are also available as starters. Or is it visa-versa? At this point we had stopped caring. The main course managed to banish any lingering pedantic streak we still harboured. We tried the rainbow trout, jersey royals and braised lettuce. The trout was superb, soft and subtle with the braised lettuce adding an unexpected acidity.
The dessert let the team down somewhat. We tried the baked cheesecake and blood orange, which lacked flavour and any real nuance in the texture. The course was saved; however by two lovely desert wines; the Royal Tokaji and the Paul Clover Noble Riesling, both would serve as a wonderful addition to any desert choice.
It’s with a heavy heart that I hark back to my original point, the menus. Not because the food was disappointing, far from it. The menus, I think are demonstrative of a slight identity crisis, which is becoming more and more common among gastro-pub cum restaurants. Duality is a good thing in an establishment but at The Empress it is slightly unclear where they want their main focus to lie. The beer, wine and food are all strong but perhaps just a little more time is needed to streamline their direction.
130 Lauriston Road
Tel: 020 8533 5123