Test Driving Townsend - modern British in Whitechapel with a menu to linger over

roomThe room at Townsend (we sat in that corner)

What can you tell us about Townsend?

The restaurant launched early in 2020 at the Whitechapel Gallery, a space that has hosted some impressive talent over the years. The current restaurant is a team-up between Nick Gilkinson (previously at Anglo and the popular Garden Café in Lambeth) and chef Joe Fox (ex-Head Chef of Petersham Nurseries). They've pulled together a regularly changing menu based on seasonal British produce. 

Where is it?

It's at the very front of The Whitechapel Gallery on Whitechapel High Street - closest to Aldgate East tube and about a 10 min stroll from either Shoreditch High St or Whitechapel stations. It's a compact room, but the seats are all well distanced in this current COVID era and hand sanitiser is plentiful. 

roomDevon Blue croquettes with fermented chilli (£5). We'd suggest you order these croquettes as soon as you sit down - so you've got something to eat while trying to narrow down what you can have on the main menu (to be fair, you'll want all of it). 

Where could we meet for a drink first?

To our minds, the best pub in the area is The Culpeper, a short walk up Commercial Street, but Som Saa nearby also have a great bar space out front. 

That said, there's such a convivial air to Townsend, that it's just as worth having a few snacks and a drink here before you get properly stuck into the menu. There are only a few aperitif drinks, including vermouth and a negroni, but they do have an excellent wine list which we'll get to in a moment. 

So what's on the menu?

So many good things. There are two menus - a standard a la carte and a four-course menu for £20 that really does represent very good value for money. 

We write a lot about menus that shift with the produce and seasons, but there have already been quite a few changes in the Townsend menu even in the few days leading up to our meal which bodes well for return visits. There are the odd signatures, but otherwise, it's a menu that reads exceptionally well and we genuinely had a hard time choosing. So much so that we slightly cheated and grabbed a dish that was only available on the set menu, as you'll see below. 

In addition, there's a really strong vegetarian selection on show here, even meat-eaters would be well sated by going all-veggie for the night.

With that in mind, here's what we had:

roomCod's roe and radishes (£4) - always such a great snacking dish and just LOOK at how creamy that cod's roe is. 

roomThe one where we cheated. This was actually on the £20 set menu (as an £8 addition) but we asked to try it. It's curried veal sweetbread, chestnuts and grapes. Very, very good. Any restaurant which can carry off a good sweetbread course deserves much praise. 

roomPotato dumplings, potted brown shrimp and coastal herbs (£9) - because potted brown shrimp is another trigger dish for us. Adding dumplings only improves it. 

roomPork chop, roasted squash, hazelnuts, brown butter and sage (£16) - a lovely, autumnal dish.

roomBerkswell and potato cake, wild mushrooms, egg yolk and black truffle (£16) - chosen as a veggie main, this had a wonderfully crunchy potato hash as the base. 

roomPink fir potatoes, smoked chilli and garlic sauce (£4) - OK, maybe we didn't need another potato dish on top of the potato cake - but these are worth it regardless, with a real kick to that sauce. 

What about dessert?

If you do manage to rein yourselves in and leave room - at least consider sharing a dessert. There's a Neal's Yard cheese selection for £9 (with some good Baron Bigod in there) which would be worth lingering over too.  

roomBaked cheesecake with thyme roasted plums (£6) - perhaps the only slight miss for us. The cheesecake was nice and gooey as it should be, but the thyme rather overwhelmed it. They've had elderflower poached gooseberries with this in the past which sounds like a better pairing. 

roomWarm treacle tart and clotted cream ice cream (£7) - wins a lot of points for the so-very-thin crust. 

What about drink?

The wine list is both interesting and reasonably priced - you don't often see one that's both of those things. And while there was plenty of interesting bottles to roam through, by chance we ended up choosing both our wines from the Can Sumoi organic winery in the Penedès. About half of the European-focused list is £40 or under.

And what if you can't get to the restaurant?

When the lockdown hit, Townsend worked very fast to get their delivery service up and running. It launched on 23 March - aka the day the lockdown was announced - which is impressive work indeed. This delivery service - called "Town Send" naturally - continues on their website, with recipe boxes, meals, roasts, drinks and more that deliver across the UK. We also hear that they're planning something special for Christmas, so keep an eye out for that. 

Overall thoughts? 

Throughout this write-up, we've hopefully made it quite clear - we really enjoyed Townsend. It combines two great ever-changing menus with an excellent wine list and a lovely vibe. All that and they manage to run a really good delivery service too. It all gets a strong recommendation from us.  

Hot Dinners ate as guests of Townsend. Prices are correct at the time of writing. 


More about Townsend

Where is it? 77-82 Whitechapel High St, Shadwell, London E1 7QX

How to book: Book online or call 020 7522 7896.

Find out more: Visit the website and follow them on Instagram @townsend_restaurant


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