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Allegra review: I’d eat this London Irish chef’s crab toast for starter, main course and dessert

Corinna Hardgrave: In Stratford, the Mayo man Patrick Powell is cooking precise, delicious food that could be his best yet

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Address: The Stratford, 20 International Way, London E20 1FD, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 20 3973 0545
Cuisine: Modern International
Cost: €€€€

Booking lunch rather than dinner has long been my way of eating affordably in London’s finest restaurants. Le Gavroche and the Ledbury were the legendary bargains (sadly, those lunch menus are no more), and Galvin at Windows was where we treated our two daughters to their first Michelin-star meal before they’d even reached double digits. (Not quite the magnanimous act you may think; at the time, there was a £10 children’s menu on Sundays.)

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Checking out the London Murphia – especially Richard Corrigan, Robin Gill and Anna Haugh – has always been of interest, too; a name from that list that is less familiar but very highly regarded is Patrick Powell, the Mayo native who worked as head chef at Chiltern Firehouse alongside Nuno Mendes, the much-lauded Portuguese executive chef. Back in the day, it was an A-lister restaurant with carefully guarded gates. Not the sort of place that does an affordable lunch for civilians; so I never had the opportunity to taste Powell’s cooking.

Which is why, on my first trip back to London since the whole hoo-ha, I’ve headed out to have lunch in Stratford, where Powell is the main man in what is being mooted as east London’s next hot spot. It’s a bit of a trek, I have to say. And the area is most certainly emerging. The Stratford Hotel is set across the first seven floors of the 42-floor Manhattan Loft Gardens, which looms against a background of what looks like Stalin-era brutalist architecture.

But the Allegra restaurant is all international luxury; João Gilberto lounge music, muted tones, and seating areas with enough distance for discreet conversation; although for some unfathomable reason, the banquettes are a shade too high to allow for comfortable leg crossing. If you’ve got the Goldilocks gene, go for the chair.


Our very first bite, choux buns (£3.50 each) carpeted in bright green pistachio shrapnel, is quite spectacular. A delicious crunch yields to a rich yet light chicken liver parfait with the slightest hint of sweetness, piqued with a singular dot of black garlic and a sliver of candied clementine.

The same meticulous care and magical way with flavours is put into the three mini Waldorf tarts (£7). Impossibly fragile cases cosset precisely cut cubes of pressed Colston Bassett apple that has the most delicious kick of acidity, dusted with an ethereal cloud of blue cheese. The Domaine Wachau Gruner Veltliner (£44), from a list that might make you feel a bit jittery, pairs nicely.

Although it is not spelled out, all of the produce used here is top drawer. For the beef tartare (£15), it is dairy cow, hand chopped, and tiled with red and yellow smoked, pickled carrots, and nasturtium leaves. Crab on toast with shellfish sauce (£16) sounds reasonably straightforward, but this is a dish that I would return to eat for starters, main course and dessert. The quality of the handpicked Devon crab is outstanding – well-defined individual pieces of sweetness on brioche toast – and the shellfish sauce is exquisite, dotted with peridot-coloured spheres of oil. There are notes of chervil and just a whisper of something floral, which I discover, on checking the menu later, is elderflower.

Our shared main course – we’ve opted for plaice (£42) from seven very good roast options – has a much more rustic approach than the previous dishes. A Skeppshult cast iron pan is brought to the table, with a large tranche of plaice on the bone. It is surrounded by mussels and beads of fregola and trout roe in a buttery sauce, punched up with pickled fennel. There is so much eating in the dish that we could have skipped our side order of roast carrots with harissa and crispy flaked almonds (£7).

There is, of course, room for dessert, and we finish with a very good mille feuille (£11), three golden pieces of compressed buttery pastry, filled with squiggles of custard cream and served with a quenelle of Epping honey ice-cream. It’s central casting Michelin – precise and delicious.

Stratford is unlikely to be top of my destination list in London, and the Westfield Mall beside it ticks each concentric circle of hell. But there’s a lot of talk among the Murphia about Powell, how he’s cooking his finest food yet, and this would definitely seem to be the case. Lunch is not cheap, but a new £38 set menu has just been introduced which would certainly be worth checking out.

Lunch for two with snacks, a bottle of wine and 12.5 per cent service charge was £168.63 (€193.59)

THE VERDICT: Precise, delicious cooking

Music: João Gilberto, Celso Fonseca, and chilled vibes

Food: Provenance Txuleta beef, Welsh lamb, Bethnal Green fish, Primeur, and Shrub for vegetables

Vegetarian options: Salt-baked celeriac with Vadouvan spices, roasted cep crêpe with baked swede, vegan and vegetarian tasting menu available

Wheelchair access: Accessible, with accessible toilet

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly restaurant column