About the chef: After dining two consecutive nights at St. John and The Fat Duck as a 20-something graduate, James Lowe was so blown away by the different experiences that he became convinced that he too should run a restaurant. Jacking in his dream of becoming a pilot and notching up experience with Heston Blumenthal, St. John and a longer stint at The River Café, Lowe then took the pop-up route with chef friends Ben Greeno and Isaac McHale (see The Clove Club) under the ‘Young Turks’ moniker. Five years ago, he opened up a permanent space with John Ogier in London’s Shoreditch, aiming to identify British food in this day and age.
On the menu: The short and sweet daily menu is micro-seasonal, showcasing what’s best on any given day in London and the UK; the wine list follows suit. Lunch is à la carte while dinner is a set menu. Attention to detail starts at origin and working with producers is key: fish is couriered from Cornwall while every week in summer the Lyle’s team drives to the south coast to pick fruit. Lowe’s philosophy sports common sense, with dishes focusing on a particular moment in a particular season: during the shooting season, gamebird or venison is likely to be the main protein – think wild duck breast cooked at a low temperature in a wood oven, served with preserved wild mulberries and red cabbage. Lowe also enjoys challenging diners with oft-forgotten products such as mutton, cooked over the grill with beechwood charcoal.
The space: Originally built as a factory for Lipton, Lyle’s is housed in trendy Shoreditch’s Blitz-surviving Tea Building. Décor retains a mixture of utilitarianism – think ash and elm tables or reclaimed British oak and walnut given a new lease of life as wine shelves – and brutalist poured concrete floors. Lowe was adamant that bums should sit on the Windsor chair, a design classic; Lyle’s is also well equipped in the natural light department, with sunlight streaming in through enormous Crittal windows.
Other projects: With little time on his hands to travel, James created The Guest Series, inviting six to eight chefs per year from all over the world – friends as well as colleagues who he wanted to know better – to explore the British countryside, then cook together. During the British game season, he might take a small group of chefs (such as Sean Gray from Momofuku Ko or Bertrand Grébaut from Septime) deer stalking in Scotland, following that up with two nights of dinners, with the emphasis on introducing them – and their diners – to something unique about British food.