January 30, 2020

It was the 1st of January, and instead of revelling in the turn of the decade with an unwelcome visitor that is a champagne-induced hangover, there I was, at 8 a.m. in the morning, glued to my laptop screen. An affirmative first step to accomplishing that yearly resolution of drinking less! A contentious scribble across a jotter book page reminds me of the importance of the date and a fervid alarm prepares me to wage the fastest fingers first war.

No, I wasn’t bidding for the hottest elective on campus or scrambling for U2 concert tickets. I was making reservations at Tayēr + Elementary, a 5-course, 4-seat only experience that opens its slots honourably on the first of each month. It’s a mad dash. One of the main perks of not being entirely wasted on New Year’s Day is that you’ll get your dream seat. Naturally, I celebrated my triumph with a spot of leftover bubbly that I found in the fridge.

Tayēr + Elementary (or T+E) is the brainchild of drinks industry titans Monica Berg (Altos Bartender’s Bartender Award winner in 2019) and Alex Kratena (former head bartender of Artesian). Its layout is split into Elementary, a bright all-day bar with mostly cocktails on tap in the front, and pass a concrete partition, Tayēr, a proper mixologist’s playground with a drinks offering that is in constant evolution.

I’m sure the cocktails are amazing, but I wasn’t pounding them down because I had a 5:30 p.m. reservation for dinner and I was tending to quite possibly the worse jet lag in all 33 years of my existence. Dinner, it seemed, was my sole focus for the evening. That, and getting back to my humble abode in East London without getting pick-pocketed. I know, I can be quite the cynic.

The food at T+E is the result of a very successful double date, with couple Ana Gonçalves and Zijun Meng of Tá Tá Eatery taking permanent residency in the kitchen. You might have spied on their superlative sando on Instagram, bricks of greens, marbled Iberian pork and toast vibing in adjacency. A few things to know: They are the OGs of London’s katsu sando obsession and you can still enjoy their famous sando as a bar snack at Elementary.

Back to the bar kitchen experience. I was led into a very progressive looking space with a semi-island bar counter as the main focal point of the room, only to be halted in a garish space in between. A wooden table top with 4 seats acts almost like a banister to the kitchen action, the narrow heart of the restaurant furnished with induction burners pushed to one side and a stainless steel plating table where the magic unravels. I sipped on my Palo Santo gimlet gingerly as Alex talks me into giving the alcoholic pairing a shot (£60 extra), a decision I came to regret a little later as I blimped out on a successive, fast and furious 5-drink pairing.

Pistachio Soup, a cocoon of delicious smells in a bowl, was first to arrive. The shamrock shake interspersed with bits of chopped almonds, mushrooms, house-cured ham and celeriac. It was totally inhalable, the broth sending waves of salt and spice across the palate. Following the umami bomb of a soup, the next dish was a glistening spread of line-caught sea bass cured in-house, with tobiko dressing and shiso leaf over seasoned rice. You plan to approach it with ferocity and a spoon in hand initially, only to realise that the tasty moments of beautifully layered salinity are transient and fast diminishing. So you slow down, but a quick glance at the other three diners and their empty dishes egg you on. I’m never one to yield to social pressures anyway. Thank goodness for the creamy Nama-sake (unpasteurized sake) from local brewery Kanpai, it couldn’t come at a more timely moment.

Partizan Brewing’s IPK, a Kölsch-styled beer, performed a tango with the next dish. Push past poached cabbage leaves to reveal smoked eel and sourdough chunks smothered in garlic sauce. It was simple yet superb. When mixed, the cured egg yolk played a key role in this chaotic goodness.

The kitchen took five to prepare a sando order for some patrons in Elementary before descending upon a hefty, 90-day dry-aged ribeye with a two-prong approach: a sizzling hot pan and a searzall torch overhead, which entailed vortices of smoke and molten lava-esque heat blistering its hide. The end result was kept a surprise, hidden underneath braised turnip tops. Potato matchsticks fried till golden brown and scattered on the side resembled steak frites, a lavish companion to the luscious medium-rare slices of ribeye. Wash that down with a Syrah hailing from the peripherals of Mount Pellier for a wallop of pleasure.

Leave extra room for the desserts, too. The French toast is in the upper echelons of pain perdu. Vacuumed packed thrice to ensure its soaking interests are paramount, it is littered with sea salt and kinako powder, flanked with fresh milk ice cream atop toasted cocoa nibs. On my first bite, I actually gasped at how good it was and started laughing.

Dinner requires some meticulous planning, but any passionate foodie would appreciate the experience at T+E. Flush away the plans for an alcoholic pairing unless you’re parched or have a sizeable bladder, and plonk yourself at Tayēr afterwards for a couple of cocktails. I would have preferred to end my meal earlier.