We’re always keen to welcome a new restaurant to Hackney, especially when it’s one from Le Bun co-founder Andy Taylor, who’s street food was so popular he managed to score a collaboration with Kelis – yes really.
Carte Blanche has taken over the old Rita’s spot on Mare Street, promising to combine ‘indulgent French flavours with American comfort food classics’.
We get off to a great start, with friendly bar staff noticing we’re a little hot under the collar (the overground during the heatwave is not the one), we’re quickly prescribed a cooling glass of Riesling from their all natural wine list. Sat at the pale pink formica bar, we’re told the Nashville oysters are a must order and do as we’re told. If I’m honest, I’ve never really been that into deep-fried oysters, feeling like the ‘fry’ masks the taste of oyster – rendering them a bit pointless. Well, these are GREAT. Really bloody delicious – if not the best we’ve tried. They show up all the pathetic shrivelled up versions we’ve been served in the past and do a little parade over them. Served in the shell on a bed of salty samphire, these plump juicy specimens are covered in a banging barbeque sauce. If this is a sign of things to come, we are in for a treat.
And then we go through to the dining room…
We start by sharing a couple of the small plates. Cauliflower buffalo wings are mouth-smackingly spicy, in a good way, served with sliced pickles on the side. A sunshine-yellow bowl of creamed corn is dotted with tasty cod cheeks and crispy pieces of bacon. Mac n cheese appears next (we didn’t order it), topped with ox cheek – super tasty but maybe better as a side rather than a starter.
Unfortunately main courses left us ambivalent.
Chicken and caviar, sounds pretty fly right? Well, it was……ok.
In the land of fried chicken, you need to make sure you’re doing something pretty special to justify the price tag (£15.50 in this case). There’s a reason why we haven’t seen this combo on a menu before, and that’s because it’s a gimmick. Sides are extra and include, and I quote ‘Boring Salad’. Funnily enough we went for pomme puree instead which was absolutely delicious, smooth as silk, covered in a rich jus.
The skate wing was a beautiful meaty piece of fish, but unfortunately the bland beurre noisette failed to add any flavour and the result was a seriously under seasoned oily dish topped with a couple of mussels and more of that samphire we’d got a taste for. The one vegan option on the menu is a dish called ‘Fucking Vegans’. With no description we ask our waiter what exactly it consisted of and get a vague answer about some seasonal veg. Now, we’re not vegans ourselves, but the whole damn world is trying to lower their meat intake at the mo (nowhere more so than Hackney!), so this all seems a bit silly. Like a really rubbish dad joke that no-one’s laughing at. Either offer a vegan option, and give it your all, or don’t.
We struggled to get the attention of either of the two waitresses floating about in floral dresses. Eventually we flagged someone down about a glass of wine and asked for a couple of tasters before committing to a glass. They were delivered some time later but no one hung around to see what we’d like to order. We gave up.
Tarte tatin was nice enough but perhaps not worth waiting twenty minutes for (which to be fair we were warned about!). Perhaps if we’d had a glass of wine it would have gone a little quicker.
We’d absolutely return for a fried oyster at the bar, with a glass of that refreshing Riesling – and we’re sure if you order from the bun section you can’t go far wrong. But until they iron out the other issues, we’ll be giving the rest a miss.