Edwin’s: Sacre bleu! Incredible French food for peasant prices
Lyonnais food brought to you by a Hongkonger in the heart of hipsterville. Magnifique
Have you ever wondered what you would find perambulating along the alleys behind Curtain Road with a dirty blonde on a dark, cold, stormy night?
Well whatever you were thinking… it probably wasn’t Edwin’s French Wine Bar and Restaurant.
Newly opened this month, the French eatery brings traditional Lyonnais food - and more importantly wine - to an otherwise still little explored part of Shoreditch.
Tucked up on Phipp Street - and made all the harder to find due to the weathered road sign which looks like it says Pimp – the location is a strange one. That is, until you realise that Edwin’s has somehow managed to straddle the infamous divide between the City and its bordering London hipster hangout.
The food is rich, traditional French, cuisine. It is impeccably served and freshly sourced each day. But we all know French food, so why venture to Shoreditch for it?
Disgruntled from the rain and malfunctioning iMap, the Dirty Blonde and I wondered the same thing. Nice, new décor, sure. Nice, polite French staff, sure. (The last part is not a joke, they do exist). Authentic, interesting menu, yes, yes. But why were we here?
Then we got a surprise. Mains cost between £10 and £15, and starters £5 to £7. And we’re talking scallops, duck, rabbit, beef, even foie gras. Local pubs charge that for fish and chips. And the fish to chips ratio even puts pre-Jamie Oliver transformed school dinner ladies to shame.
Not that pub food is bad; it’s just that Edwin’s is just so much better. We were suddenly interested, if a little weary.
Sure, Lyonnais sausage in brioche and rabbit terrine might be seen as “peasant” French food, and some of the dishes do trace their roots to the first or second world wars when supplies were scarce, but this past has long been shed by the French culinary industry. Here in the UK places that play on this tradition tend to be more fancy than affordable.
Yet as dish after dish rolled out; salmon terrine, pate, followed by hot figs, wild mushrooms and hot foie gras, the quality never disappointed. Even the Dirty Blonde was pleased.
That’s the secret. Edwin’s has quality that can pull in the banking crowd that comes for lunch and early dinner, and the trendier crowd that come to nibble later.
The food, however, isn’t the main attraction. Edwin’s is first and foremost a wine bar, and possibly one of the best value-for-money bars in London.
It basically charges as much for real champagne as the off licence - £45. And that’s champagne from Champagne, not cava or prosecco, not that I deviate much from the if-it-sparkles-call-it-bubbly school of thought.
That’s where Edwin’s charismatic owner Edwin Chan comes in. To teach you that you will no longer have to compromise on quality to get your price equation right.
Most wines go for just over £20, which is pretty much what you pay at the local Weatherspoons, for what is basically distilled horse piss. Here, on the other hand you get excellent, but little known wines, for less.
The list seems daunting. It is definitely not the regular names you have become accustomed to. Heard of a Macon or a Gaillac? No, me neither, but my eyes have been opened, although they later became a little blurry and have not quite recovered yet.
Chan’s story is almost as random as his restaurants location, but when looked at as a package it all makes perfect sense. A Hong Kong native, Chan spent most of his career in advertising, flogging Coca-Cola and Levis to customers around Asia.
Be glad he did, because winemakers were among his first clients. They first sparked his lifelong obsession with French wine (he has a personal collection of over 3,000 bottles) and they helped him accumulate a war chest with which to follow his real passion.
This happened in 2007 when Chan opened a wine bar, not too dissimilar from his London adventure, in Lyon. As to how a Hongkonger had the guts to move to France and outdo the French at their own game, I’ll never know. But he did it. Edwin’s is now a Lyon institution.
Through his Lyon bar Chan came to know all the small French wineries the rest of us don’t. The wineries the locals drink and the distributers look over in order to buy recognisable brands they can charge more for.
Edwin cuts out the middleman and goes straight to the source, and passes on the savings.
“I refuse to accept this culture of the more expensive something is, the more it sells,” says Chan. “This is a London thing and especially a French restaurant in London thing and it just doesn’t have to be this way.
“It is easy enough to make things affordable if you want to, if you value your customers and don’t just want to squeeze every penny out of them. It’s not like I’m not making my margins.”
This no nonsense manner is evident in his approach. Chan might know everything there is to know about wine and is more than happy to sit and chat about each and every bottle - who makes it where and how - yet he shrugs off “commercial” ideas like hosting wine tastings.
“They’re so formal,” says Chan. “If you’re interested, come and ask. I’m always very happy to talk. The first glass is on me and that’s how one gets the conversation going.”
And going it will get, as one delicious glass, smoothly descends into another, then another. This might not prove a problem for Chan and his Lyonnais chef who live upstairs, but it might for you as you venture back into the backside of Curtain Road, feeling rich from getting such an amazing deal. Look out for those black taxis, you know you shouldn’t splurge for one, but you will.