I usually try my hardest to avoid Liverpool Street. After all, unless I'm stumbling onto the night tube with a head full of booze, the promise of mediocre food that's had its price inflated by the hordes of pink-shirt, grey-trouser wearing financiers just doesn't appeal to me for some reason. That said, I made my way to Bishopsgate Kitchen with more optimism than usual. As part of the famous Benugo restaurant family, I was hoping to find a little gem that was going to expose the errors of my thinking.
Bishopsgate Kitchen couldn't be placed in a more favourable location, nestling comfortably opposite Liverpool Street station. The first thing you'll notice is the huge glass windows that line the entire front face of the restaurant, offering views of its rustic decor and the mix of different diners inside. The team have done well managing what is really a relatively small space, filling the restaurant with quaint kitchen decorations without making things feel cluttered. The focal point has to be the huge wooden shelves that sit in the middle of the venue, stocked with vintage cooking equipment, Italian cookbooks and fresh ingredients. And of course, courtesy of the rustic theme, there's that oh-so-familiar Edison bulb-unfinished table top combination that every other venue seems to have these days.
But in true Benugo style, the venue's real secret weapon is its tranquil atmosphere. Obviously hoping to appeal to the city's busy workers, it's purposely relaxed in its approach and caters for both groups of friends catching up and working diners just looking to eat something before that all important conference call with 'head office'.
'Fresh and quick' is probably the clearest way to describe the restaurant's mantra. And as such, the menu's split into small plates, burgers, salads and pasta plates, all supported by a list of simple wines and classic cocktails. To get the ball rolling, we split a handful of light - or what we thought were light - starters. Obviously, we had to go for the salt and pepper squid (£6.50) and the mushroom arancini balls (£6). Both were unsurprisingly flavoursome. The squid offered a nice hot pepper sensation and the entire dish came with a potent, slightly salty cheese sauce that exploded with taste as soon as it touched your tongue. But not for the first time, the arancini stole the show. Rich and smooth on the inside with a crunchy, spicy batter coating the outside, I was really pleased with how well the mushroom flavour came through. It's a must-try in my book.
Our main plates quickly followed on the tails of the small plates. As soon as the menu was placed in front of me, I had my eyes firmly fixed on the linguine alle cozze (£10); who can really say no to Scottish mussels and fresh pasta, covered in a rich garlic and chilli tomato sauce? It didn't disappoint. The mussels had been perfectly cooked, falling away from their shell and offering a subtle fish flavour that went well with the fiery sauce. Each forkful lights up your entire mouth, with a potent garlic taste being soothed by the throat tingling chilli flavour at the end. It was fresh and simple; two-thumbs up. My guest tackled a hearty halloumi burger (£10), which came topped with caramelised onions, a grilled portobello mushroom and a sweet red pepper. Each element of the dish delivered a punch. The grilled halloumi remained soft and offered a saltiness that was balanced well by the sweet pepper and dark mushroom. Crucially, it was the toasted brioche bun that reined in all of the vibrant tastes and rounded off the course.
For dessert, we chose to play it safe, opting to share the New York cheesecake and the caramel pannacotta (£5.50 each). Unfortunately, the cheesecake lacked flavour. Despite promising a blueberry compote, it instead came topped with squint-inducing, tart cranberry sauce. After about three bites, the berries just overpowered the entire dish and left a strange taste in our mouths. Thank heavens for the delightful pannacotta; smooth and creamy, it came served in a thin cup and topped with a layer of dark-tasting caramel. Though the cup didn't make things easy, each spoonful offered a coffee-like taste that hit the back of the tongue. This might sound a bit plain, it really stood out when compared to the less-than-amazing cheesecake.
In truth, Bishopsgate Kitchen has softened my 'anti-Liverpool Street' heart. At the very least, it's opened the door a bit. No restaurant better embodies the idea that 'simple and fresh is best' than the Bishopsgate Kitchen. It's refreshing to find a modern venue in London that purposely chooses to only use a handful of fresh ingredients in each dish. It's unimposing, it's a calm space, and best of all, it moulds itself to whatever mood you're looking for. Hold tight Bishopsgate Kitchen, I'll be back soon.