The Empress has undergone a gradual transformation over the last year since it was bought by Michael Buurman, and its present incarnation as a relaxed, warehouse-style East London eatery is its best.
The kitchen is now helmed by chef Elliott Lidstone (former chef of Michelin-starred LOrtolan restaurant in Berkshire) who has put together a European menu with a fashionable emphasis on British cheap cuts such as ox tongue and pigs ear. With the Ginger Pig butchers opposite, Jonathan Norris fishmongers up the road and E5 Bakehouse in neighbouring London Fields, The Empress has the finest food produce at its fingertips.
For those who think theyre a little too squeamish for pigs ears, think again. Cut into strips, deep fried and salted to perfection, these crunchy yet chewy ribbons (not unlike pork scratching) served in a paper cone and accompanied by a tangy apple sauce, go perfectly with an aperitif and are a must-have dish. Other stand-out dishes on ELLEuk's visit included the mackerel served with tiny rhubarb cubes that are marinated in lemon juice and grenadine. The zingy crunch of the rhubarb cuts through the unctuous mackerel perfectly. Meat eaters shouldnt overlook the punchy pearl barley and cauliflower risotto with hazelnuts it really isnt the wholesome, bland tasting dish it may sound like. Juicy yet crunchy (from the hazelnuts) and satisfyingly flavoursome, it's a dish that transports you to the al fresco dining terraces of Tuscan farmhouses.
With a cheesecake, a fruit tart, and a chocolate option, as well as ice cream and cheese, all pudding tastes are catered for. And if its still on the menu, do not miss the vanilla panna cotta with ginger rhubarb its hard to comprehend that a pudding tasting this light and refreshing can actually be made entirely of cream.
Theres a good mix of reasonably priced wines with an emphasis on old world favourites, including French Beaujolais (which they will serve chilled if preferred), an Alsace Pinot Blanc, and a gutsy Portuguese Obidos which goes well with the pigs ears.
If youre lucky enough to live in Victoria Park Village, The Empress will probably already have a place in your heart and weekly eating out diary. If you dont live nearby, for our money the Michelin star quality food, affordable prices and chilled but buzzy atmosphere is well worth making the trip.
The ELLEuk Score
Style of food: European/British
Good for? First date; romantic; group dinner
Prices and Other Details at The Empress
Address: 130 Lauriston Road, E9 7LH
Opening times: Tues to Sat lunch 12pm 3.30pm; dinner Mon to Sat 6pm 10.15pm; brunch Sat and Sun 10am 12pm; Sunday 12pm 9.30pm
Average price per person for two-course meal without wine: £18
Price of bottle of house wine: £15.50
Price of glass of house wine: £2.90
Price of bottle of house champagne: £41
Price of glass of house champagne: £8
Private dining? It can be arranged
Garden/al fresco dining? Yes. Theres an outdoor area
Who goes? Local residents and Hackney hipsters
Nearest tube: Mile End