As the concept of a hidden gem becomes ever rarer, there’s a burst of excitement that comes when you find one that isn’t already taking up column inches in the capital. For, as I’ve written before, nothing is more wearisome than a trip out for dinner with the prospect of a 2-hour queue, a table for 60 minutes, for what often turns out to be an underwhelming plate, or plates, of food. And so, the joy at finding incredible cooking, without the overly populated tables, is something that’s to be treasured (especially when there’s something as cool as 37th-floor vistas to enjoy while you’re making your way through dinner).
You may have already guessed the reason for said excitement is Bokan: a restaurant at the top of the Novotel in the lesser foodie-tread area of Canary Wharf (but how worth the snake through the Manhattan-style skyscrapers of E14 this turns out to be). We take the lift skywards, which reveals a rustic yet edgy, natural-wood filled dining room, zen-inducing leather armchairs, and gentle muted lighting. All this being offset by the catch-your-breath views of London from every table (we visit on a fairly grim-grey evening, and we’re still practically lifting our jaws off the floor. We make a note to return on a clear-sky day).
Rather than resting on its ‘view’ laurels, the kitchen credentials are as sharp as the setting, with things being run by the very charming, Auriele Altemaire. Auriele earned her stripes working under the chef that’s racked up the world’s highest number of Michelin stars, Joel Robuchon, at his Michelin-starred L’Atelier restaurant in Covent Garden. And unsurprisingly, French finesse is weaved through the European-style menu at Bokan.
We kick off with a playful teacup amuse bouche of carrot chips, and carrot jus infused with the thwacky flavours of truffle and gin: a rejuvenatingly springy, piquant intro sliced through with the earthy, pungent truffle. A still-warm brown cob was slathered with pillow-soft butter.
What followed was a work-of-art display of miso mayo, white asparagus, crispy tuile, tomato coulis, and beautifully fresh and meaty crab. The smooth, asparagus panna cotta was almost a blank canvas for the other ingredients.
Next, gorgeously tender cod encased in crisp, crackly filo pastry, a buttery substitute for the usual crispy fish skin.
The hand-crafted, orecchiette pasta is served beautifully al dente, with a mix of crunchy asparagus shavings, asparagus spears and juicy morels, sourced from France. The almost foamy Berkswell sauce is a wonderfully light yet flavour-packed substitute for the usual creamy sauce.
Next is a chunky hockey-puck piece of veal, served rosy pink and tender, with chargrilled chicory that still had a crunch, and a delicately bitter cappuccino foam (made with Climpson’s coffee, no less). Even the foam is made from the good stuff here. This was served with Bokan’s famous, smooth-as-silk mashed potato.
For dessert, trends decide our fate as we’re served the menu’s two most popular desserts: one rich and decadent, the other light and zingy.
Chocolate mousse is see-your-face-in-it glossy, served with pathways of crunchy crumb and a quenelle of caramel ice cream.
A lemon meringue tart comes bursting with texture and citrus flavours: crunchy meringue, smooth curd and the slicing-through flavours of lime, parsley and coriander.
We finish with gorgeous petits fours: fruity jelly, truffles and rich, buttery Viennese biscuits.
Bokan may be bold in terms of its setting, but its food offering is elegant and tasteful and perfectly pitched to become one of London’s far-less-hidden culinary gems. Get ready for dizzying heights, and not just because you’re 37 floors up.
Floor 37-39, 40 Marsh Wall, London, E14 9TP