I am impressed with the skill and imagination of Chef Aurelie Altemaire at Bōkan.
It’s in London’s vibrant Docklands – or more accurately high above that sought-after neighbourhood. It’s up a depth at a considerable 37 floors! Bōkan is an elevated restaurant in every sense of the word.
Bōkan is part of the new Novotel which is said to be the tallest Novotel in the world. Its address is Marsh Wall on the Isle of Dogs, which was originally marshland before its drainage in the 13th century. A devastating flood in 1488 returned it to its natural soggy condition, which continued until Dutch engineers re-drained it in the 17th century; a number of windmills were built along the top of the flood defence.
The western side of the island became known as Marsh Wall, and it was also a spot where pirates were hung! The Isle of Dogs was a thriving dock area until containerisation ended the need for such industry so near the centre of London, although there is still plenty of evidence of its shipping history.
These days the River Thames bustles, but with small pleasure craft rather than cargo boats, and it’s been a long while since rogues of the high seas swung from gibbets. This area glistens with glass and polished metal and exudes an air of sophistication. It’s the heart of the world of finance, but also of leisure.
Bōkan has stunning views over London – both established and new. One can follow the river upstream as it flows under Tower Bridge. The London Eye winks in the distance and those City skyscrapers overshadow older and arguably more beautiful buildings which have been long-loved by locals and tourists alike.
Bōkan, as all of us who are fluent in Anglo-Saxon will know, means lighthouse or beacon. The décor, however, is contemporary with metalwork, exposed wooden floors, leather chairs and weighty menu clipboards in copper. The overall ambiance is smartly casual, friendly and inclusive.
Yes, those unbeatable views will entice many a visitor but the food is the element which will assure a return, and there will likely be many of those. Chef Aurelie Altemaire, former head chef at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, is responsible for this restaurant and she deserves to be proud. She has crafted a Sunday brunch menu which is short but marvellously formed, and unlimited bubbles will encourage even the most brunch-hardened to give the dishes a chance – and those plates don’t disappoint.
The food at Bōkan encompasses English with a hint of French, with presentations that are beautiful and thoughtful. Chef Altemaire has flair but that never stoops to unnecessary culinary bling. Every showy garnish is there for a reason and is adding to the core ingredient. There is plenty of innovation but this is, in some regards, solid old-fashioned cooking, albeit refined. It’s all about good taste.
The Bottomless Prosecco Sunday Brunch and must surely be one of the best in London. Yes, as I have mentioned, the menu isn’t long but it offers something for every preference and inclination. I started with Tiger Prawn Tempura with avocado, little gem lettuce in wedges, lime dressing with a soupçon of Espelette chilli. That spice is rather unique and from the Basque region of France. It’s a mild chilli with flavour and one of which this chef is evidently fond.
Steamed Hen’s Egg, confit red peppers, with smoked duck and oatmeal tuile was my guest’s first course and it was beautifully smoked meat bathed with a sunny yellow yolk. The homemade bread and salted butter here was a perfect dipping side with this one.
I continued with the eggy brunch theme for my main course. Crispy Egg Royale was a poached egg atop a crouton and surrounded by an ample portion of hot smoked salmon from Maldon in Essex. This was served with a garnish of a bright and light wasabi hollandaise – another winner.
My companion has a manly meaty appetite and the Free-range T-bone Pork Chop appealed to him. This dish will delight anyone who loves flavourful pork, cooked to tender perfection and glistening with umami-rich jus. Jersey Royal potatoes and padron peppers completed this substantial plateful.
This chap who had just professed himself to be stuffed to the gills still managed a dessert and it was a classic of French patisserie. Paris-Brest was a creation of pastry chef Louis Durand back in 1910. The request for a special dessert came from the organizer of the popular Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race. The original version was in the shape of a ring to represent the wheel of a bike but here the choux pastry is formed into buns filled with a light and sweet praline mousse.
Mango and Yoghurt Jar was my noble finale. This was a small carafe with layers of fresh chopped fruit over creamy and thick yoghurt, with mango sorbet on the side. Granted, the mangoes are not local, although they soon might be given the prospect of global warming!
Bōkan has been the highlight of a very good reviewing year so far. I am impressed with the skill and imagination of Chef Aurelie Altemaire. She is definitely on her way to more accolades and a starry future.
12 noon to 2pm (Sat-Sun-Bank holidays)
40 Marsh Wall
London E14 9TP
Phone: 020 3530 0550
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018