Opened in February 2020, just before the first national lockdown, Townsend is a British restaurant and café at the Whitechapel Gallery.
Named after Charles Harrison Townsend, the architect responsible for the impressive grade II listed Whitechapel Gallery building, the restaurant showcases modern seasonal dishes served in a mid-century-style dining room. At lunch, the space is flooded with natural light from the wall-to-wall sash windows, while the room is cosier in the evening with lower lighting. Townsend also has an intimate, wood-panelled private dining room (‘The Library’), hosting up to 14 guests for dinner or up to 20 for standing room-only events.
Earlier this year, Chris Shaw was also appointed as the new head chef, having previously worked in the kitchen at restaurants such as BAO Soho, Petersham Nurseries, Roux at Parliament Square, and Emile. At Townsend, the chef serves a parade of gorgeous seasonally-focussed dishes, available alongside a concise wine list championing old world vineyards and a mix of natural and traditional methods.
During a recent visit, lunch began with a round of Red Leicester croquettes, with the deep orange providing a rich filling, also smattered with finely grated Red Leicester cheese. While the croquettes were practically perfect, the accompanying pickled walnut dressing was the jewel in the dish’s proverbial crown, working in glorious harmony with the cheese while also cutting through some of the richness and oiliness of the croquettes to bring exceptional balance.
Pickled onion petals and a generous grating of fresh horseradish also brought balance to a dish of savoury scones capped with a generous mound of smoked mackerel, complementing but never overwhelming the fish: easily one of the best dishes eaten at Townsend, along with the celeriac salad.
Aesthetically resembling a pasta dish, wide ribbons of thin celeriac were joined by a blizzard of grated Berkswell cheese, black truffle, and a butter and sherry vinegar dressing spiked with a handful of hazelnuts to deliver both textural depth and another flourish of richness to the dish which pushed the boundaries of salad making.
To follow, a dish of potato and squash dumplings was the absolute personification of autumn. With cylindrical dumplings more like large gnocchi, the bold squash flavours were accompanied by rich, milky, feta-esque Graceburn cheese and large fried sage leaves. On the other hand, a dish of chalk stream trout had a lighter touch, harbouring a tranche of deftly-cooked fish with crispy skin, lulling on a bed of shelled mussels, leeks and samphire, plus a substantial drizzle of three cornered garlic sauce.
Having become one of Chris Shaw’s signature dishes at Townsend, dessert comprised un-yeasted beignets, smothered with icing sugar and intended to be dipped in a thick fig leaf custard crowned with poached raspberries. A simple yet well executed dish with good balance and remarkable attention to detail, as seems to be a recurring theme with the Townsend menu. A typical pretentious, overpriced gallery restaurant serving lacklustre food, this most certainly is not.
Townsend can be found at 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX.