21 Piazza Walk, London E1 8QH www.thisisamber.co.uk
Mike hunts out the Middle East in Aldgate East.
I would’ve walked straight past Piazza Walk if Jayne hadn’t spotted it. It’s what developers call a’brand new mixed-use urban quarter’ i.e. it’s towers of luxury flats with a bunch of retail at the bottom, therefore almost invisible amongst all the others here on the fringes of the City of London.
But will new outlet Amber offer more than businesslike dÃƒÂ©cor and corporate food?
They’ve stuck some public art in the piazza of course so we negotiate huge bronze horses and deafening fountains searching for restaurant signage.
Again, my eagle-eyed wife spots a clue I’d have blundered past; a dinky street seller’s barrow painted white, with the word Amber stencilled on the side.’It looks a bit small for a restaurant’, a quip Jayne quite rightly ignores.
Still no sign of the actual place, but we carry on encouraged by the barrow clue that we must be close. A few more steps reveal a warm glow from behind a large glass faÃƒÂ§ade and we’ve finally found it. A hanging sign outside might help I think, perhaps I’ll suggest it.
We are warmly greeted and seated by Pierre, who hands us Prosecco, home made rosemary syrup and fig liqueur cocktails. He shares the venture with two Turkish chefs Murat and Halil, so it’s not some corporate chain after all.
The idea came when they previously worked together and the name Amber refers to the Amber Road, an ancient trade route which ran from the North and Baltic coasts to the Mediterranean Sea, so the food has a mix of influences.
We sip our novel and refreshing cocktail concoctions as we take in the surroundings. The large, high ceilinged concrete retail space has been tamed by bamboo and copper, hanging plants and timber furniture, a contemporary canvas with eastern details like ornate metal water jugs giving twists of history.
The interior was designed by their friend Solly from Germany who’s just starting out as a designer, Pierre waves over to her as she’s here for dinner; it’s starting to feel like a family restaurant.
Hummus arrives (naturally) and it’s eagerly scooped up with small, fat, herby pittas warm from the huge copper pizza oven they shipped over from Napoli(at lunch, they serve Pide flatbreads, boat-shaped pizza hybrids).
Then thick and creamy Basil Labneh yoghurt with pistachio and Chilli Maple Labneh with grilled Aubergine and Cimi Churi prompts more pitta tearing and shovelling of fresh garlic, parsley flavours mixed with sweetness.
It’s clear the dishes are just going to keep coming at a measured rate as does the fruity/spicy 2016 Chateau Clement-Termes, Petits Clement Merlot-Duras to wash them down.
Lentil Kofte stuffed into gem lettuce brings fantastic spices cut through by pomegranate gremolata and is closely followed by Salmon Tartare with Turkish Chilli and glistening Seabass with kale, samphire and caramelized shallot.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Amber is everyone’s first adventureÃ¢â‚¬Â says Pierre, telling me about their award-winning dining chairs by new designer Charles Dedman, another friend.
They’ve all put their personal savings into this and the aim is for Amber to become a great neighbourhood restaurant and judging by the hugs and smiles I later spot him greeting new guests with, they’re already making friends with locals who are returning diners.
It will be a much nicer place by summer and apparently the Landlord will allow that hanging sign soon Ã¢â‚¬â€œ but by then word of mouth alone should ensure this place is busy every day.