There’s no such thing as a perfect restaurant. There are good restaurants and bad restaurants – truly exceptional ones, even; but perfection is impossible to grasp with each dining experience being so subjective.
Many meat-enthusiasts believe Hawksmoor is the perfect meat restaurant, for instance. They’re entitled to their opinions, of course, yet my personal idea of perfection doesn’t include eating carelessly-cooked steaks, suffered in an atmosphere beleaguered by toxic masculinity. The menu at Flank – a new addition to Old Spitalfields Market – however, reads like my perception of unconditional excellence, if we must talk in such terms.
Initially launched as a pop-up in Brighton, Tom Griffiths’ Flank has opened in London as part of a new development of kitchens around the market, overseen by Ten Ten – a creative organisation headed up by Nuno Mendes and hospitality consultant Stephen Macintosh. Alongside Flank, outlets of other established London restaurants including Berber & Q, Rök, Breddos Tacos, Happy Endings (stop sniggering) and more. On the square’s south-east corner, Flank’s menu is deeply-rooted in nose-to-tail cooking, offering some of the best beef available in the UK. Here, all beef is sourced from Philip Warren Butchers in Cornwall and Trenchmore Farm in Sussex.
Although a permanent space, the restaurant’s inclusion alongside Spitalfields’ new buffet of trendy London restaurants has a slight temporary feel, with just five stalls around the counter, plus some communal bench seating also dotted around the new development. Flank also closes at 8pm each evening (6pm on Sunday), and is only licensed to serve alcohol until seven o’clock. The food, though, is largely outstanding. The concise menu consists of starters, mains and sides, all available alongside a selection of natural wines by the glass, plus various ciders and beers.
We arrive for an early dinner and grab a seat at the counter, sheltering beneath a standing patio heater. Chef Patron Tom Griffiths is on hand, sporting a warm coat and luxuriant beard, calmly preparing a cornucopia of meat-centric dishes. Although Brighton born, the chef fits into the market setting with the natural charm of a Cockney costermonger, interacting with potential customers scaling the perimeter of the Kitchens. Dinner begins with two strips of bacon that’s cured in-house. The bacon is thick-cut, grilled and slathered with a smooth, fruity sauce (also made here) that packs enough acidity to splice through the bacon fat, yet without overwhelming.
One of two crumpet-based dishes available, this particularly opulent butter-sponge is topped with a stack of slow-cooked, shredded ham hock and grilled leeks (£8). The already decadent dish is then crowned with a soft boiled egg whose yolk weeps into the pork. Greasy spoon egg and bacon this is not; it’s the exact type of food I’d love to eat at home, if only I had some more patience. Slow-cooked ‘Nose-to-Tail Stew’ (£10) has a warm, sating eminence suitable for the change in season. A gratuitously humble dish, the stew is loaded with various tantalising offal cuts, criminally often reserved for the bin or the Butcher’s dog. Cooked overnight, the stew is rife with delectable flavour, with the lengthy cooking process unleashing all ingredients’ full unctuous potential. A topping of beef fat dumpling lends even more bovine decadence, though it’s the bed of silky mashed potato that is the stew’s most comforting companion.
A reminder that the nose-to-tail ethos is taken literally at Flank, respecting the whole animal rather than just the prime cuts, rib-eye steak (£14 compared to Smith & Wollensky’s £39, Hawksmoor’s £31.50 and Barbecoa’s £40) is charred over a Big Green Egg barbecue and sliced. Arguably the cow’s most flavoursome prime cut, the steak’s fat has a rich, eggy character, having been aged on-site, and is cooked to an impeccable degree of medium-rare. Alongside the steak, fried bone marrow gnocchi has become a dish synonymous with Tom Griffiths, and quite rightly so. Morsels of insalubrious bone marrow complement the potato, steak and its pool of indulgent cooking liquor. On the side, a wedge of charred gem lettuce delivers further smokiness, as does smoked heart, grated over the dish like a blizzard of Sardinian Bottarga. Some will be perturbed by the lack of desserts, though they’re unnecessary, allowing the chefs’ specific talent areas to prevail entirely.
Granted, the middle of Old Spitalfields Market isn’t the most comfortable setting for a restaurant, but Flank’s simply sensational, refreshingly affordable food demands to be tasted. This is British food at its absolute best; the exact sort I’d ecstatically devour until the cows come home.
Flank can be found at Old Spitalfields Market, 16 Horner Square, London, E1 6EW.