David Eyre is frequently referred to as the inventor of the gastropub, on the strength of The Eagle on Farringdon Road. It's hard to believe now that the concept of decent food in a pub was once seen as revolutionary, but it was Mr Eyre who had the vision in 1991 to chuck out the microwave and deep fat fryer and to cook proper fresh food in a simple setting.
Ten years later he and his brother Robert opened Eyre Brothers in Shoreditch, a "grown up" restaurant specialising in Iberian food. Again, this was a visionary move - Shoreditch was far from salubrious at the time, and it certainly wasn't an obvious choice for a serious (and slightly pricey) restaurant. However, they judged the zeitgeist to perfection, the restaurant was a hit and has remained popular for almost a decade. In the early days the Eyres themselves were often to be seen taking orders or chatting at the bar - they are a rarer sight now, although the careful observer can occasionally be rewarded with the sight of an Eyre waiting for a bus on Shoreditch High Street and eating a Ginsters pasty. Well, all that proper food can be a bit much sometimes.
I've been to Eyre Brothers on a number of occasions as it is handy for me for both home and work. The restaurant has a sophisticated urban feel with lots of dark wood, and it works really well for business, an intimate dinner or a classy celebration with friends. There is a full menu with lots of hearty, flavoursome dishes: think acorn-fed Iberico pork with paprika, tiger prawns piri-piri, grilled leg of lamb or a substantial fish or pork and white bean stew. However, we felt like something light this evening and headed to the bar for some tapas.
The tapas menu is based on a quality-not-quantity philosophy, with a small selection of dishes which are posted on a blackboard at one end of the bar. We sampled the olives, bread and olive oil (all excellent) as we took it in turns to walk to the end of the bar, read the tapas menu, walk back to our seats, sit down and forget most of what we had just read. In the end we happened to remember king prawns in a sherry and garlic sauce, sardines with tomatoes and garlic, mini grilled chorizos with garlic (that's enough garlic now thanks), a plate of jamon Iberico, some salt cod croquetas and a white bean stew.
Each dish was excellent - the king prawns and the sweet, intense jamon being particular favourites. However the star of the show was the bowl of white bean stew. An apparently simple dish that might sound less-than-exciting but with its layers of subtle flavour (with slightly less garlic than the rest of the menu) it accompanied the prawns, chorizo and salt cod to perfection.
Eyre Brothers has an interesting and affordable wine list, much of it Spanish or Portuguese as you might expect, plus a full range of sherries. If like me you are no expert on these wines, I would suggest being guided by the staff who are friendly and helpful and seem to know their crianza from their gran riserva. This evening though, a Spanish beer fitted the bill.
The damage was £60 before tipping. That's quite a lot for tapas for two with a couple of lagers. OK, the single plate of jamon was responsible for a full £17 but it was excellent and with jamon you pay for what you get. And in fact that goes for Eyre Brothers generally - it's not cheap, but almost ten years on from its establishment, the quality of the food remains paramount, and for a special meal out in Shoreditch, you can't beat it.
Overall score is 8 for the food, 7 for keeping it real in Shoreditch and 9 for the white bean stew. So that's 8 overall, well done.
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