“Modern British” food is supposed to be the fusion of traditional British ingredients and dishes with new flavours and ways of cooking. Well, maybe. For me, it’s more of an “I know it when I see it” thing.
The “modern American” done by Shoreditch’s Two Lights, allegedly, is harder to place. Pickles, fried chicken, yes – but smoked pigeon or cod and beans? I’m not so sure.
Theming aside, the menu is glorious: pretty much every dish sounds interesting and delicious, and it’s hard to pick just two from each category.
We started with superb negronis, with a lingering, enjoyably medicinal flavour that I can only assume is down to better vermouth than I use at home. The snacks we got with them were small but well-formed. Potato rolls were pillowy and dense, with a chewiness that was a welcome break from the sourdough that is normally ubiquitous at places like this.
Crab was served on a thick, crisp chip with some pickled elderflower on top, and although it wasn’t spectacular (the mayonnaise the crab was dressed in dominated too much) it was a pleasant few bites.
Our first starter was a pile of pickled chanterelle mushrooms and an egg yolk on another well-cooked piece of bread – this time a soft flatbread with some runny Tunworth cheese on top that I didn’t really notice at the time. The bread mopped up the runny yolk and complemented the acidity and umami of the mushrooms perfectly. It was a superb dish.
Mussels, roasted red pepper and lardo on sourdough toast was good too, if a little underflavoured compared to the promise of those ingredients. The mussels were fat and juicy, but the peppers and lardo got a little lost.
Our first main, a grilled Middlewhite pork chop, came topped with kale, grilled green peppers and fried shallots, topped with an anchovy butter. Although it was a little fatty, the fat had the flavour and density that good pork fat does. The meat itself was slightly pink, and carried the punchy green pepper and anchovy flavours beautifully. It was a generous portion too.
The second was even better. The roasted ray wing was the star of the show, and got a special frame on the menu, and deservedly so. It was cooked to perfection: crispy on the outside and around the edges, and soft, moist and near-translucent inside. The mound of pickles, dill and fried potato it came with and the dill-inflected butter sauce it was served in were just the right level of sharpness to balance the fish without overwhelming it.
Alongside these two generous portions were remarkably large sides of crunchy roasted new potatoes and an enormous green salad. The potatoes came swimming in garlicky butter and the salad – something I would never normally notice no matter how good it was – was dressed incredibly well, with a good coating of vinaigrette on every leaf.
To finish, we had peach tarte tatin with ice cream and fig granita. Both were excellent: my companion thought the granita was one of the best desserts she’d ever had.
Coming as a spin-off from the excellent and well-regarded Clove Club, just around the corner, it’s hardly a surprise that Two Lights can pull off these dishes so well. But unlike the somewhat stiff Clove Club, Two Lights feels incredibly casual and relaxed: the dining room, filled with houseplants, could be someone’s sitting room.
The harshest criticism I can make of the food is that some dishes were a little underpowered, but that’s a minor quibble against the innovativeness of most of them, the generous portions, and the feeling of deep satisfaction I felt at the end of the meal. I can’t wait to go back.
Rating: Two medals.
I was invited to Two Lights and didn’t see a bill for my meal, but I’ll happy be paying to come again.