Small plates in the City at James Cochran EC3

The estimable Fay Maschler named James Cochran’s second City restaurant as one of her top new openings last year, and since we’d moved off the doorstep of the first one in Angel, we went to Liverpool Street before Christmas for an evening of that vaguest of cuisines, British tapas. (Which, in this case, translates to ‘Whatever I damn well want, but might have a bit of Caribbean in it, and might be a bit Scottish’.)

Although the tasting menu is good value for the City (£60 for six courses, £50 for the vegetarian option), the ‘Bar Snacks’ are perhaps the most beguiling dishes. Immediately we ordered the Jamaican Jerk buttermilk chicken (£6.00), because I was not passing up the opportunity to eat fried chicken from a former two-Michelin star chef, and it was absolutely bloody brilliant. Possibly – dare I say it – on a par with Chicks ‘n Sours, whose whole deep-fried Sunday Roast chicken should be put in some sort of museum.

I will admit that I was a tad concerned about the level of lube as one had to look quite hard to spot the advertised scotch bonnet jam (thank God though, it turned out to be v. spicy), because there is NOTHING WORSE than too-dry fried chicken. Nothing worse. I needn’t have worried though – the meat was lusciously succulent, more juicy goosey than Bargain Bucket.

We also tried the Hackney ‘Nduja Scotch egg (£6.50), because I am also a connoisseur of eggs wrapped in meat. I have a fantastic recipe for them at home but every time I think to make a batch I am horrified anew by the fat content and make something healthier instead, like a quadruple chocolate brownie or an entire roasted Camembert. So, when I go to restaurants, which do not like to ruin food with unnecessary information about its nutritional value, they are a must-order. This one had a gorgeous  yolk with a soft, squidgy sausagemeat mantle, seductively gooey and wickedly spicy.

And then we were off on our tasting menu. The only dud was a dish of Jerusalem artichokes slathered in smoky crème fraiche, which made the whole thing taste inexplicably fishy.

But apart from that, we were treated to an odyssey of flavour. Our first dish was a pair of fat chicken liver parfait cigars laced judiciously with brandy. Pow! Right in the kisser! The Cochran kitchen clearly does not fuck around. We were only into our first course and I already felt fat, happy and drunk. Next came a chestnut veloute which actually would have done better before the cigars as its flavours were much subtler. But it was a textural masterpiece, the veloute like silky underwear around the meat of the mushrooms, and finished with a crunchy brioche crumb.

Boozy food seemed to be a speciality – Cornish mussels and leeks were fortified with whisky, and a luscious treacle-cured smoked salmon was served with a quivering cube of gin and apple jelly.

The penultimate dish was a play on a Christmas dinner that had been assembled in the manner of some abstract ‘balancing stone’-type sculpture in an anonymous municipal park. Why, I wanted to ask, was a salsify beignet balanced on top of the pressed potato? Why had the solitary Brussels sprout shed some of its leaves across the plate? And what was the artistic blob of green stuff?

I never found out the answers, but I did love the beef rib with smoked bone marrow, which felt festive but with the winning virtue of not being sodding turkey.

Pudding, charmingly, was clementine ice cream, neatly mirroring the clementine bellini that came at the start of the meal, earthy walnut crumble and an adorable little mincemeat doughnut, which was like a mince pie, but not, you know. Shit.

The most puzzling thing though was that despite all this excellent, well-priced food (ignore the weirdly fishy artichokes for a moment), the restaurant was empty. So empty that at one point some cheerful soul in the L-shaped bar quite forgot we were there and started belting out the chorus to Guns ‘N Roses’ Sweet Child Of Mine, which brightened the atmosphere somewhat. This was a Thursday night, two weeks before Christmas, in a part of town where unapologetically rubbish bars and restaurants spilleth over with punters. Mystified, I made a mental note to check whether the site is haunted or if James Cochran ever did anything to upset the local hedge fund community. (It isn’t and he hasn’t. I’m still cruising the waters of Bafflement Bay here.)

So, in conclusion, you must not invite your quiet, retiring mates to James Cochran EC3. The food is better quality and better value than most other long-standing City establishments, including Sushisamba and Jason Atherton’s City Social, but you’re going to need your loudest pals on a Friday night to get the best of it. And if they know all the words to Guns ‘N Roses? So much the better.

James Cochran EC3, 19 Bevis Marks, London EC3A 7JA

Header image: Jessica Jill via James Cochran EC3. 

Author: Emily Gibson

Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.