Having been a resident of East Dulwich for over a year now, I've been completely slack at exploring the restaurants in my 'hood. I've often been to Peckham, Camberwell and Brixton for dinner, but East Dulwich has been neglected - maybe because the majority of restaurants on Lordship Lane seem to be Indian restaurants and kebab shops (Hisar is my favourite). I love a good curry, but I'm put off by the generic menus and buffet options.
Toast stands out with a white frontage and orange lettering, a shining beacon next to Cafe Nero. It used to be Green and Blue, which was a lovely wine shop. They've carried the wine theme, with the name derived from a drinks toast, rather than everything being served on toast. The wine menu lists shop prices and eating in prices; a diverse thing, spanning an interesting list with some natural and orange wines on there. You can purchase a container from them and stop in to refill from their vats of wine when you need to. This is a pretty appealing concept for me and my wino-like ways. The room was lined with bottles of wine, and the waiting staff were all incredibly knowledgable about it.
I was having dinner with a regular of Toast, and we boldly declared 'one of everything!' for the four of us. We were rewarded with an impressively inventive meal.
The menu reads in terse, ingredient-led format. A dish of fluffy, creamy labneh-like cheese was adorned with onions, dill and a crispy breadcrumb. We smeared it on bread, and then took to eating it with just spoons. The fresh cheese had a mousse-like consistency, making it light rather than rich. 'Leek, potato and cheddar' was like the poshest cheesy leeks you'll come across; perfectly steamed new potatoes with a little bite, with silky leeks in a creamy, rich sauce. I found this dish hard to share.
One of my favourite dishes of the night was the 'raw mackerel, ginger, white soy'. Beautifully presented, the fish was firm and fresh, the savoury-sweet soy binding the dish together. The chef there obviously likes a Japanese influence; an off-menu gift he sent us of seared monkfish liver and monkfish bone marrow came with a Japanese chilli-spiked dipping sauce. Having never tried monkfish liver, I was hugely impressed by it; smooth, rich and mildly flavoured. The bone marrow was like a tiny jelly, slurped out of a bone cup.
Crab, broccoli and sorrel was a pretty plate, but pretty much a sum of its parts; it was exactly as it said it was. I wondered if some sort of dressing might have been beneficial. Girolles, figs and parsley was the only dish we didn't really enjoy; there was a lot of wet and soft elements, relieved only by the crunch of fresh almonds.
We were back on track with 'broad beans, grains, onion'. This dish reminded me a lot of a dish I had at The Grain Store; it was just as good. Crunchy quinoa was scattered over a creamy grain - pearl barley perhaps? Or spelt. I'm not up on my grains. Slivers of pickled, charred onion broke through the creaminess and elevated it for a more interesting flavour range.
A dish new to the kitchen was 60-day aged beef tartare, and it was the dish that impressed me the most. The meat was flavoursome, made more so by cubes of bone marrow. The iron-rich kale was essential in bringing out the flavours of the meat, and it was all brought together with a little salinity by a sauce made from oysters. This was really very stunning.
We had a little breather, and then the larger dishes (priced around the £13 - £15 mark) came out. Tender slices of rose-pink lamb rested atop pureed aubergine, with a little curd and some sweet roasted tomatoes. A bit of a mish-mash of ingredients, nevertheless they worked really well. Monkfish with raw turnip was quite similar to haddock with fennel and anchovy; by this point I was fit to burst and wasn't paying much attention, though they look pretty and I remember the fish being cooked very well. I'm now kicking myself for not ordering dessert.
So, all in all, an incredibly impressive meal. Sure, it's not cheap for a neighbourhood restaurant but I resent that places should charge less just because they're not in Central London; food should be charged on the merit of the quality of ingredients, and the skill of the chef.
I live a 10 minute walk away. They do wine tastings, 3 - 5pm on Saturdays. I've turned into an incredibly smug East Dulwichian.
36-38 Lordship Lane,
London, SE22 8HJ
Tel: 020 8693 9021