After a Thames cruise to Greenwich, Emma Newlands enjoys a dinner to remember
A steady stream of people meander around mere feet away in the shadows of the cavernous 02, while there’s a muffled hum of live music from some hard-to- pinpoint location nearby in the hustle and bustle of London.
But as we sit among the greenery next to Craft London’s smoke house on Greenwich peninsula, learning the refreshing simplicity of age-old preservation techniques, it’s so tranquil that civilisation starts to feel pleasantly far away indeed.
Our teacher is the affable Chris Box, who goes by the excellent title of ‘master smoker’. He talks us through the basics of a smokery, as we learn and taste how the technique adds a new depth of flavour to scallops, ox cheek and salmon, while keeping the tenderness of the meat intact.
It’s all part of the ethos of the Craft project, a collaboration between chef, author, food writer and TV presenter Stevie Parle and designer Tom Dixon.
There’s a preference for the hand-made, created in-house or by people the team knows well, and in addition to smoking all its meat and fish, it roasts its own coffee, keeps its own bees, grows its own herbs and ferments its own vegetables.
We then head over to the restaurant, which is on the middle of the three Craft London floors, with a cafe/roastery and shop downstairs and a rooftop bar above.
The restaurant is kitted out in complementing electric blues and charcoal greys, while wall-to-ceiling windows give highly relaxing views as the sun sets across the Thames.
While there’s a six-course tasting menu (£55), we opt for the shorter four-course menu (£35), which would also be an option if you were off to a show at the O2.
The tasting menu starts out with my favourite of the courses, a beautifully presented trio of snacks, including its signature autumn brine-pickled vegetables with salted yogurt, created by ‘pickle-mad’ sous chef Elliot Thomas. This is followed by cured sea trout with pea shoots, cucumber, salmon roe and coffee granules, with the latter a seemingly unlikely addition but an effective one, with the bitterness of the coffee cutting through the other flavours.
The next course is a rich smooth ‘custard’ made from Stichelton, a blue cheese made in Nottinghamshire with unpasteurised milk, and Montgomery cheddar, with turnip, girolle and cep mushrooms, and onions. Dessert combines strawberries, elderflower, pumpkin seeds and meringue and at this point I start to envy the option of two desserts on the longer tasting menu.
The restaurant is also renowned for its clay-baked duck to share, available on the tasting menu for larger groups, and I make a mental note to return one day for this as well as its Test Kitchen Tuesdays.
At £28 a head, you can taste up to eight dishes still in development or only available in small amounts, putting the option of a longer tasting menu back in my usual budget.
Our day started a few hours earlier with a trip from the London Eye on the MBNA Thames Clippers, and having been a Londoner for several years I kick myself for never having previously been on what’s an unusually relaxing tour around the capital. We see sights like Tower Bridge from a whole new perspective, although outdoor seats are snapped up quickly.
Stops include handy locations like London Bridge and you can use an Oyster or contactless card to travel. There is also a cafe on board.
We then head to the O2 itself to see the I Am The Greatest: Muhammad Ali exhibition, a highly detailed look at the late heavyweight’s life, with more than 100 artefacts including rare personal memorabilia.
After the meal we then head back on the MBNA Thames Clippers (it’s worth checking the times as the frequency drops later in the evening) and it’s time for me to retire to the effortless elegance of the Conrad London St James hotel, which has Buckingham Palace, St James’s Park, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey on its doorstep. My room is bright but cosy, welcoming me with treats like patisserie and glossy magazines, and has a huge bathroom with giant bathtub and walk-in shower. I’m so taken with it that after checking out I stay for a coffee in the lobby cafe area. n
• The five-hour East meets West experience is available to all Conrad guests, and can be booked through the Conrad Concierge mobile app and at StayInspired.com. The price, based on two guests sharing, is £502, including an overnight stay in a grand deluxe room with breakfast, plus river cruise to Greenwich and tasting menu with paired wine at Craft London for two. For further details call 020 3301 8080.