Shoreditch might not be the first place you’d come for a tranquil evening out, but that’s all about to change with the arrival of Cycene. This new restaurant from chef Theo Clench is doing things differently – gone are the in-your-face aesthetics so heavily relied on these days, replaced instead with simple white clothed tables lit by candlelight. With its constantly evolving ten-course menu and unusually immersive dining experience, here’s why Cycene is our restaurant of the week.
Outside, Redchurch Street is cold and forbidding. Inside, we’re warm, our hands enveloping clay beakers of hot beef broth. This is the first course served at Cycene, the new restaurant within James and Christie Brown’s Blue Mountain School, a retail and cultural space in Shoreditch. With one sip of broth, we leave everything else outside and surrender to the feeling of calm that comes over us.
Cycene, from the old English word for kitchen, is a collaboration between the Browns and chef Theo Clench (previously of Akoko and Portland). It takes over from what was Mãos, which won a Michelin star for Nuno Mendes, though the space has been remodelled into an entirely new, though still immersive – you could say site-specific – restaurant experience. Guests start with drinks, bread and broth at a soothingly minimalist counter in the bar, a liminal space between the outside world and the move upstairs to the dining room.
Another shift. Now we’re in a solid oak-panelled dining room, hung with a single Frank Auerbach charcoal; the white clothed tables illuminated by candlelight. For me, it feels like being in a serene and particularly stylish mountain retreat, a further remove from the graffiti and streetlights of Redchurch Street just visible outside. I shall not mourn the removal of Mãos’s communal dining table (“So, what do you do?” is not my idea of a relaxed evening out). The 16-cover dining room now seats diners at individual tables, cleverly managing lighting and timings so everyone’s experience is theirs alone.
Now come the snacks. A dainty Comté, walnut and onion gougère fashioned in extraordinary, elongated form; a Devon crab and genmaicha tartlet; and a jewel-like cube of chicken liver wrapped and dusted in ruby red pepper. We’re then invited to the kitchen, double the size it was previously, for an oyster (poached for an hour) with caviar and a sip of a cucumber and fermented blackcurrant wood drink.
Clench is an affable presence at the pass; clearly in his element in his dream kitchen, complete with hand-painted tiles, ageing chamber (hung with quite the largest brill I’ve ever seen) and bespoke stove tops (raised a few inches for his brigade’s physical well-being).
The menu is £175 for ten courses, with the option of low-intervention wine or soft drink pairings. We dip in and out and love the sip of rosé that accompanies raw mackerel and black radish; the honeyed cold milk paired with chocolate sabayon tart.
To single out just a few other dishes – the menu is in a constant process of evolution – one can’t not mention turbot with two sauces, one lettuce, one bone caramel. It has a hint of the 1980s nouvelle cuisine aesthetic but tastes very much of the now; also, prized Maison Burgaud duck (as seen chez Alex Dilling) with pickled chicory and smoked beetroot.
Dinner ends with a flurry of desserts and sweet miniatures, including raw pear sorbet and possibly perfect canelés with brown butter custard. Further evidence that the Cycene kitchen is already on song. A riveting and ambitious new addition to London’s restaurant scene.