Stratford’s not somewhere I’d think to head to for a midweek dinner with friends. In fact when I drag myself east onto the Central Line it’s normally with despair at the thought of being run over by pushchairs in the sweaty confined walkways of Westfield Shopping Centre.
With that said, when my eyes landed on the Mediterranean menu of East Village’s Darkhorse, I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist. At least the temperatures fit the cuisine.
Opened by former Soho House and OXO Tower’s Lee Glen and Ian Goodman, the European restaurant and bar lies within the former athlete’s village, which now feels like a grown up campus of undiscovered wine bars, gelato shops and eateries surrounded by modern apartment buildings.
Darkhorse is just one of these, and it sure lives up to its name. Recently winning Time Out’s Love London award for its home town, it sure is an underdog in the city’s restaurant scene. I’m certain that it won’t be long before it races to the top, watch out fellow restaurateurs. Type Darkhorse into Google and you’re immediately greeted with 5* reviews from hundreds of locals who populate the modern space throughout the week, some bringing their kids or just popping in to pick up their favourite bottle of red.
The interiors are influenced by the trend taking over the restaurant industry; wooden panelling, bright colourful cushions and giant bulb lighting… but what Darkhorse adds to the mix is a library of wine covering the back wall, complete with a rolling ladder that you could just imagine Belle swinging from whilst she picks out a vintage shiraz to accompany her favourite romance.
Instead of choosing from the collection, I sipped on a glass of prosecco whilst Reena and I studied the menu, tucking into crusty seeded bread.
The menu is one of those whereby you could stare at it for days and still not settle on one dish. Perhaps that’s why the first half is a selection of small dishes, each so tempting that we almost ordered the entire list.
We began with a trio of tapas, also available as starters for those who wish to go the traditional 3 course route.
Each was faultless. First a bowl of mini chorizo, lightly spiced and not tough to bite. Next three balls of squid ink arancini that burst with a soft black filling from a crisp shell, served with a lemon herb mayonnaise.
And finally the burrata… maybe I should let the photos do the talking?
Alongside thinly sliced peach, basil and chilli, it oozed a creamy flavour and consistency that was so seductively delicious that Reena laughed “Just eat the rest!”
Because one cheese is never enough, we scoured the charcuterie and cheese menu, eyes bulging at the sound of manchego served with a fig and almond wheel. The slice of sticky figs was almost too good, a handful of whole almonds piercing the middle.
After picking at chorizo, cheese and arancini until there was little left than a few forgotten crackers, we realised that we hadn’t even considered the mains. The list of larger dishes takes more of a British influence; charred rare steak, confit pork belly, a whole grilled plaice. Already feeling slightly full from our tapas feast, we decided it would be best to avoid ordering a heavy main and instead picked two more starters that had been resisted on our first order.
The goats cheese crostini was an immediate hit, with three scoops of beetroot, butternut squash and creamy cheese topping a pumpkin seed slice of crisp bread.
Then there was the charcoal lamb and merguez, two skewers over a generous helping of piquillo pepper humous. The meat was pink and soft, bursting with aromatic spices.
We were royally filled to the brim… well the savoury part of our stomachs anyway. If you don’t have room for dessert are you even a foodie?
For once in my life there was only one clear choice for me on the menu, and that’s not a bad thing. Hot chocolate bread and butter pudding, an old school favourite of mine. Thirsty for another round, we both decided to order the accompanying cocktail for each dessert.
My soft chocolate pudding was as comforting as it was huge, served with a Mulata Daiquiri; Cuban aged rum, cacao liqueur, lime and maraschino, with a bitter chocolate dust rim.
Similarly to me, Reena couldn’t resist one of her beloved sweets; a treacle tart with crème Chantilly. Between bites she sipped a Ginger Sidebar; VS Cognac and ginger liqueur shaken with lemon ginger syrup and bitters.
If I said this was probably the best meal I’ve had this year would you believe me? No? Good. I don’t want it becoming too popular. I need to know that the next time I convince myself that a shopping spree in Westfield is a good idea, there will be a table waiting for me, a place to recuperate from the crowds amongst charcuterie and melting burrata.
Don’t you dare disturb me.
Our meal at Darkhorse was complimentary, but I would never give a 5* review unless it was 100% perfection, and what would you know, it was.