High-rises, gangs, prams, Olympics and best-of-the-worst awards come, go and hackney strides on. Victoria Park Village has barely batted an eyelid, nestled safety and uninterrupted in the arms of Britain’s oldest public park. This one and a half stretch of amenities and boutiques stands proud and unmoved like a portly war veteran – who’s puffed out chest is the grand red awning of the Empress of India.
As the menu-prologue is eager to point out, the current incarnation of this elegant British gastropub is the latest in a line of rebirths. At present it features a spick and span layout with grand well-stocked bar presiding over one side. A separately themed dining area to the other half is decorated with a mosaic floor and exotic murals depicting elephants, palaces and turbans
Ambiance here is calm, organised, methodical (not particularly busy on this night). The 15 or so tables are served by two who are obviously experienced and comfortable with the strong menu. A regularly updated handful or so dishes per course are available at around £6/starter and £13/main.
Full flavoured Fois Gras parfait with even fuller port plums joined forces in a rich, delicious combination of my preferred starting staple. The hot smoked salmon, avocado mousse and Bloody Mary sauce was more adventurous, lacking in exhilaration but no less tasty. For mains, I went for the special; Rare short horn lamb on a bed of spinach, potato and delicate goats cheese. Special indeed, more succulent than any lamb I’ve ever tasted. I honestly hummed every mouthful in a one-man throng of euphoria.
From Tom and Ed Martin (including The Gun in Docklands) The Empress isn’t cut from the same cloth as the other gastropubs around town. It is, as the best ones should be, a refined collection of finest quality produce cooked well with culinary genius (in this case, Tim Wilson, former chef at the Ivy). Unlike the others it has less of a traditional hectic feel, more sedate, solid, timeless – like the proud village of Victoria Park surrounding it.