Eline of East London

Alex Reynolds and Maria Viviani of Eline

A new establishment worth a detour.

A tip-off about a new restaurant called Eline was enough to pique my curiosity. I mentioned it to Jancis (whose response was a slightly doubtful, ‘East London?’) and we set off via the Victoria Line and the Overground to Hoxton.

Hoxton is, not surprisingly, very East London. On the platform as we arrived in utter darkness there was a man in sunglasses and down on Cremer Street the biggest obstacle on the three-minute walk from the station to the restaurant was avoiding those cycling while on their iPhones, and doing both without lights.

Eline, which opened in September 2022, is the first restaurant from Alex Reynolds, a talented chef, and his partner, both in life and in business, Maria Viviani. He is half English and half French while she was born in Argentina with some Italian blood in her. He is 29, she is 25.

They constitute, by my quick calculations, the youngest couple I have ever written about. Life in the world of restaurants definitely favours the young: the hours it demands, the stamina it requires, the numerous and highly diverse challenges posed by running any establishment that aims to serve good food and wine to the general public – all of these militate against many who have some but not quite all of the necessary characteristics, including fitness.

But I would back this couple. Not only based on the quality of the food they serve, the care and attention with which we were looked after, and the surprising nature of their wine list – largely natural, but from which we drank very well. Their printer may need a new toner (the print on our menu and wine list was very faint) but that is a small point.

It helps that, despite their youth, both have spent a great deal of their lives immersed in food and wine. Reynolds speaks tenderly of his late grandmother, after whom the restaurant is named, who lived in France. ‘She got her recipes by writing directly to the chefs, who all responded. I remember one for a broccoli flan that doesn’t sound terribly fancy but was absolutely delicious. I like to think that she would have been happy with what we have created here’, he concluded when I contacted him after our dinner.

Viviani’s passion for wine was inculcated into her as a young girl by her father and she was subsequently introduced into the world of natural wine while working at Restaurant 108 in Copenhagen. She is also a talented baker – they met while working at Pophams bakery nearby in London Fields and Eline’s bread is excellent – although wine is today her main focus. She is very ably assisted by the recently hired Oliver Dibben, who describes himself as a ‘natty wine hustler’, and who looked after us extremely well on our visit.

Having met and fallen in love, Reynolds and Viviani moved to Italy to cook before deciding to return to London and to try and open a place of their own. They would have preferred a building with a bit more history but instead settled on what would become Eline: a very modern, square space with a large window at the front and nothing in between it and kitchen but a few tables that seat only about 22 diners.

Reynolds designed the kitchen so that he and his old friend Will Allies can do everything themselves, including all the washing up, swapping who calls the pass on alternate days. Here the advantage of having cooked in several kitchens – The Princess Victoria, Seven Park Place and Hide inter alia – paid dividends. He is most happy with the open pass, which he says hopefully, ‘allows customers to come up and tell me how much they have enjoyed their meal as they leave’.

The dining room, with a wine shop off it, is sparse but light and airy.

The menu, which changes every month, reflects them and their personalities. There are several snacks followed by just three starters, main courses and desserts which can be successfully prepared and cooked by just two.

hogget at Eline

We began with a duck boudin blanc, cut in half lengthways with beetroot and orange, and a leek, walnut, pear and Stichelton tart that were both very good. The three of us then settled for each of their main courses. Mine (above) was a dish of Peak District hogget (lamb over one year old) with onions, rösti and a surprise of minced lamb hiding inside a cabbage leaf. This was delicious, the meat pink but well cooked, tender and easy to carve. Our guest chose a complicated dish of halibut, squid served as a mousse, with hispi cabbage (of course, we are in East London where all cabbage is hispi!) and a barbecued pumpkin puree. Jancis chose the vegetarian option, probably the least exciting, a dish of Puy lentils, calçots and her favoured romesco sauce. We finished by sharing a dish described as an orange cake that was Reynolds’ reworking of a Jaffa cake, and (pictured below) an impressive warm almond cake with ice cream.

almond cake with ice cream at Eline

Their wine list silenced Jancis for a while. She confessed that a number of the wines on offer were unknown to her before beginning with the choice of a bottle described as Offbeat 369 NV, a blend from Essex, England, at £39. What emerged was a wine with an attractive label that was red, slightly sparkling as well as slightly sweet. It was engaging, fun and a wine whose flavours seemed to develop the more we ate.

wine at Eline

Looking for something more serious, she then chose a red St Joseph 2019 from La Ferme des Sept Lunes that was more powerful but went extremely well with the various flavours on our plates (this was £79, to produce a total bill of £257 for the three of us).

Eline has opened successfully and seems to have navigated its first few, crucial months well. This is in part due to this couple’s professionalism and patience. They are currently open only for dinner Wednesday to Saturday but hope that this will increase from April with the addition of Tuesday dinner and Saturday lunch as well as the addition of eight extra covers. ‘This will allow me to double the kitchen staff from two to four while keeping everybody’s hours to a maximum of 45 or 48 a week, which should be possible’, Reynolds added. On Sunday 19 February they will offer their next Sunday roast lunch.

The arrival of Dibben has freed Viviani to concentrate more on the wine shop, the HR, and her customers, a role she seems to enjoy just as much. ‘We love hospitality’, she enthused. ‘What I most enjoy about my role now is making our customers happy.’ Reynolds seems genuinely happy too and with what was perhaps an unlikely comment for a chef, he admitted that ‘although I write the menus when we test them in the last fortnight of every month, if somebody suggests a different approach to cooking the dish and it tastes better, then I will adapt the recipe’.

They seem extremely happy in their new restaurant so far – almost as happy as the couple who live above the restaurant and come to eat here once a month, leaving their baby asleep upstairs and the baby monitor firmly on the restaurant table.

Eline 1C Rosewood Building, Cremer Street, London E2 8GX; tel: +44 (0)20 4547 2702