Behind in London Fields: Andy Beynon’s counter dining concept deserves all the hype
For a restaurant that sounds like it’s hiding, Behind has already drawn a lot of attention to itself. Andy Beynon’s seafood-first venture sparked controversy within weeks of opening after being awarded a Michelin star just 20 days into service. Given that many seemingly worthy chefs have strived for this coveted accolade for years to no avail, it’s unsurprising that people have questioned the validity of judging quality without the context of time. Nonetheless, at his London Fields venue, Beynon doesn’t shy away from the pressure but rather puts himself on full display, earning his stripes as a high-ranking member of the Jason Atherton brigade by executing modern, minimalist plates with pin-point precision.
The intimate 18-cover venue seats guests in a somewhat theatrical circular counter from where they can view a separate open kitchen, or potentially judge each other’s table manners – whichever is more interesting at any given moment. The chef designed the place himself from sketches on paper, going for a Brooklyn vibe, underlaid by a fitting 90s breakbeat soundtrack. Exposed piping, exposed bulbs, exposed team: this is a stripped-back space that conceals nothing, putting the food and its creator front and centre. Behind slatted wood partitions, there’s also a sleek bar area that will soon be available for a quiet drink
Today’s six-course tasting menu, we are told, is a “surprise”, though we can see a small armada of plates lined up on the chef’s pass. It’s a streamlined affair that focuses on the produce of the kitchen – no bread and butter padding in sight – but if you have any queries about anything from provenance to cooking techniques, Beynon is happy to take you through the food personally (well, we assume he is smiling behind the facemask).
The first in the fleet of dishes is petite yet picture-perfect, a masterful miniature. New season peas, smoked pike and trout roe sit atop a thin pastry case, creating a delightful mouthful that simultaneously crunches, pops and indulges. Then another tiny treat sails in: the Cornish Mussel Muffin is quick to disappear but lingers on the tongue, salty with seaweed butter.
The oyster course may be an opinion-splitter dousing the delicate shellfish in a creamy horseradish and buttermilk sauce. While some might consider the addition of dairy something of a sacrilege – my fellow diner and editor points out his disapproval – I rather welcome the way it soothes the subtle spice. This is also served with a helping of Sardines on Toast, which concentrates the flavour of this traditional snack into an impressively refined bite.
Crab doesn’t always receive the special treatment it warrants, but here the Cornwall-dwelling crustacean bathes in ajo blanco (there are worse ways to go). The cold almond-based velouté is poured over balls of fresh melon and cucumber, offset nicely by the warmth of a crab soup.
With a surprise menu the more natural choice would be going for the wine pairing too, but in this case we pick our own glasses. Strangely enough, considering the fish focus, there are more options on the list of reds than the whites – only one sparkling by the glass and on the expensive side (£12). We go for Anjou Blanc 2019, a chenin blanc from the Loire (Chateau de Plaisance), as substantial yet easy-going accompaniment to the fresh oyster, and then a richer, more complex chardonnay – a Chablis Vieilles Vignes Pargues 2018 from Burgundy (Moreau-Naudet) – which also has enough acidity to cut through the butteriness of the crab soup.
Our main consists of sumptuous roasted hake accompanied by cockles and a sherry sauce. It sings like a sea shanty (with rather more elegance), but while the crisp-skinned fish hits the high notes, the sturdy bass is provided courtesy of an accompanying bowl of silky smoked mash, and the resonant finishing note by an intense cod croquette.
The first of the sweet offerings is a liquid dessert: a striking pink spiced rhubarb concoction is poured into a tall glass, topped with a sour apple foam. The host informs us it used to be served with a spoon and it’s easy to see why people would prefer to down the drink like a shot (though I restrain myself to sips in present company.) For this reviewer though, Herb Sorbet is unexpectedly the natural leader of our nautical convoy. Sitting atop a set lemon curd custard, the beautifully green cornel is the equivalent of a breath of fresh air – not the kind you find in the city but the type you find out on the ocean with the wind in your hair. And if the first two desserts don’t blow out the cobwebs, the second sorbet, raspberry and calamansi (a type of Filipino lemon), is a sharp finisher.
It’s hard to say if Michelin did Behind a favour or simply stirred animosity. Everyone has asked us the same question: is it worthy of a star? Certainly, if the team keep doing what they do with consistency, they are more than capable of satisfying the cynics – and that’s why this award is not undeserved, just premature. For a place that wants to be a destination restaurant, with a tasting menu experience of this level, it certainly offers a competitive lunch price at £42. Frankly, booking a table at this time is a no-brainer. The venue is a great addition to East London’s lively and more casual fine-dining scene, but while the setting is laid-back, the flavours have the kind of complexity that can take you round the entire British coast inside three hours.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina
To book a table at Behind, 20 Sidworth Street Hackney London E8 3SD, call or visit their website here.