Recently, eating out in the East End of London has become an exciting adventure of cross-culturalism and design eclecticism.
Next door to plastic flower-adorned curry houses and neon lit greasy spoons, Ã¼ber-modern eateries churn out their take on Thai/Mediterranean/Modern European food, catering to crowds of artists, students and fashionable “Hoxtonians”. But the gastronomic establishment has so far avoided Jack the Ripper’s territory and the area around Liverpool Street Station still falls eerily silent in the evening after the last commuters have left the neighbourhood.
All this is set to change with the opening last week of Aurora, the flagship restaurant of Terence Conran’s £65m Great Eastern Hotel re-development project at Liverpool Street. Aurora is part of the first phase of a joint venture between Conran Holdings and US Hotel operator Wyndham International, which includes the newly opened grill and bar Terminus. Hot on the heels of these two new eateries come a fish restaurant called Fishmarket, and a Japanese restaurant, Miyabi, as well as a pub and a club. All of these new ventures are due to open in the next couple of months.
The Grade II listed Great Eastern Hotel, surprisingly enough, will be the only hotel within the Square Mile of the City of London, and plans to be fully operational, with a complete stock of 267 rooms, by next spring.
While Terminus’ black granite bar, open kitchen and rotisserie service has already captured a buzzing city crowd, it is the Aurora restaurant that puts serious adult, dining chic on the East End map. The restaurant, which was originally opened in 1884, was hailed as “the most popular rendez-vous [point] in the city”. It is an a exquisite example of architecture from the golden age of rail travel, when travellers refreshed themselves from long train journeys, staying at the hotel and socialising in the dining room.
Today, it has been meticulously restored to its former glories, among them a stained glass dome at the centre of the room and frescoes enshrined in the stuccoed walls. The interior design, by Terence Conran with Conran & Partners, subtly complements the rather luxurious setting; clever, off-beat ideas like Jo Whitings’ ceramic chandeliers replace the ubiquitous crystal. The overall effect is fin de siÃ¨cle-meets-millennium modern.
As you enter the restaurant, you are greeted by Kenzo-clad waiters. The tables are spaciously located in pale surround, in contrast to the vivid blue chairs. Partitioned by panelled columns, the 190-seat restaurant is intimate yet grand, and even during the busy launch it never felt crowded, noisy or smoky.
The first night’s cooking was inconsistent, with exceptional starters but sadly lukewarm mains, but it felt good to handle Conran’s Club cutlery, glassware and Casper white china. More than one diner wanted to steal the pretty steel ashtrays.
At the moment, Aurora serves lunch and dinner. From January it will also include breakfast service. When the hotel opens early next year, furnished with period modern classics from Charles and Ray Eames and Jacobsen, one can imagine the restaurant becoming a favourite not only among style-conscious guests and nostalgics of 19th century grandeur but also among those who have the cash and the desire for a refined outing. The East End is finally coming of age.
Aurora, Liverpool Street, London EC2M 7QN. Tel 0171-618 7000. Fax 0171-618 700