Food & Drink
Entrance to the restaurant Lasdun

Review: The Marksman by day, Lasdun by night

The chicken and wild garlic pie haunted me. At 3pm, in the shadow of the day’s orange light, it arrived heavily onto a nearby table in The Marksman, the renowned east-end pub started by two favourite-of-chefs’ chefs, Jon Rotheram and Tom Harris.

Its giant, golden crust was only available for two, and as I sat there alone, the dark flavours of their legendary honey and brown butter tart capping off my four-course lunch, I silently committed myself to ordering it at my second reservation for the day – Lasdun.

Taking the name of Denys Lasdun, the British architect who designed the brutalist National Theatre, Lasdun is a brand-new restaurant inside that very building of rough shapes and eminent performances.

It is also the two-week-old home for Jon Rotheram, Tom Harris and new partner, John Ogier.

They are a trio of St John alumni each independently renowned in the London restaurant scene, together, they are formidably known as the team currently behind The Marksman, the first watering hole in London to win Michelin’s pub of the year.

I had not visited either establishment, and so I settled on the idea of a Saturday spent dining and dawdling from a pub in Hackney to a theatre on the Southbank.

It had seemed a viable way of getting into the minds of three men who had made the same odyssey from wood to cloth, from benches to balconies, from half-time all the way to intermission.

The Marksman at lunch

The interior of a pub in Hackney called the Marksman.
EAST-END BOOZER: Restored and relaunched in 2015, The Marksman kept much of the stylings that have defined the pub since the 1800s. Image courtesy of Anton Rodriguez

In the age of post-gastropub, where the goal seems to be to move as far away from pub as possible, The Marksman was distinctly, and thankfully, a pub.

Chalkboard noted the local ales, there were marks and cuts on the corners of the tables. My pint came in a pint glass, there were families and there were drinkers, outside and in. This was where Jay Rayner once claimed the best lunch in London was to be had – it felt right to order four of them.

The curried lamb bun was first, a chewy doughball cored with gently spiced mince. It would almost have been too subtle, if not for the lime yoghurt cut with hot lime pickle. It went down quickly, chased by a hazy draught beer from Dalston, and I was ready for the next plate.

Cuttlefish braised in a light tomato broth sat on sourdough, topped with a dollop of aioli. This was the dish that lit that first spark of drugged infatuation with The Marksman. To understand why, to understand the food of Jon and Tom, it is best to look at the people enjoying it.

A woman has taken her elderly parents for dinner, quiet and content, sipping from one of the old-world wines available and sharing a Marksman pie, which comes in traditional china, hot and whole.

Closer to the bar you see that demanding genre of young, tattooed, east-London foodies, loudly, but in affinity, succumbing to the earnest pleasure that is the fashionably un-fashionable food on offer.

A plate of food with mutton, onions and anchovy to show the food at Marksman
MUTTON MAIN: A forgotten meat shares a plate with the best parts of spring. Image taken by author.

There are undeniable echoes of St John, but then, there is scarcely anywhere to look where we don’t see at least a tremor of influence from Fergus Henderson. You’re not won over by the thought of shiny tweezers here, but instead by the sensitivity of the craft. It is the work of technically refined chefs choosing reassuringly familiar voices.

My main is paired with a gimlet that has a pickled onion sunk in its martini glass. I compliment it and my server grins and bows. Everyone I speak to whilst I wait for my main gives me the same warmth. Big, old plates clatter around, and I can’t help but eye up another pie as my own main comes around the corner.

Grilled cull yaw, anchovy and spring onions. It is the revitalised English hero creeping its way onto menus at some of the country’s best restaurants. It may be mutton with a fancy name, but it is cooked perfectly at The Marksman, its juices left to puddle and create new inventions as it brushes by the charred onions and pools in the salty anchovy and capers.

I polish off the gimlet and dessert, a perfect tart which needs no more accolades, I thank everyone inside, and dazed I step out into the sun, toward nearby public gardens. I want to go back and sit on the off-green bench of The Marksman with my partner, with my family, with enemies. I also, after four courses and a few drinks, want a nap.

Lasdun at Dinner

A dimly lit restaurant, Lasdun
BRUTALIST FARE: Lasdun carves out a space from its concrete surrounds. Image courtesy of Maureen Evans.

“Lunch, a matinee, come for an early dinner, see a show, pop in for some wine. You could’ve added in a few steps.”

John Ogier, managing director of Lasdun smiles to me in his blue suit, sitting sideways in the chair opposite. I pour myself a glass of water and wipe my forehead.

Before John sat with me, I had arrived slightly perplexed to the monolithic abstraction that is the National Theatre. In the swell of reviews that have now begun to pour out, there has been an amusing trend amongst those who opted for a booking at Lasdun past 7:30.

We have entered into the cool wake of a storm – think a cartoon gust of wind hanging in the air, left by every guest with a booking for the National Theatre’s routine 7:30 theatre showing. It’s exactly as planned, of course, it’s the pre-theatre menu.

“It’s a restaurateur’s dream. The bits that everyone doesn’t know how to fill, between five and six thirty, I fill without trying. What’s we have to do is build enough of a reputation that we get people in for all the other times as well.”

Vermouth and soda in front of me, lights dimmed, I take in the space. From the thick slab of metal for a fork, to the beautifully slatted touches in the walls, the Lasdun’s décor etches brutalism into the world of fine dining. The ceiling, which John lets me know wasn’t their call, is exposed concrete, lending a remarkable contrast to the white tablecloths.

I can do no less than four plates again. The server comes, and I am immediately smitten by the prospect of eel and Cornish monkfish. I order both, and a beef bun to compare with the lamb bun from earlier.

The waiter turns, smiley and conversational, and I recognise an echo of The Marksman. As with his immensely successful restaurant venture, Lyle’s with James Lowe, John has helped to create a space of measured care. You may top up your own wine, but it is unlikely to ever run out.

The beef bun, served with horseradish cream instead of yoghurt, and my eel, which is aged and sat atop a pressed potato, arrive at the same time. The dough of the bun bites better than at The Marksman, simultaneously lighter and fattier, but the horseradish cream lacks in horseradish. I worry the spirits have been tamed, and then I try the eel.

“We want people to come to dinner here not just because it’s in the theatre, but because it’s a really lovely restaurant,” John reminds me.

It is one of those select dishes that has you reframe every incidence of trying something before. Eel, for me, is now eel at Lasdun. Meaty like lobster, perfumed with complexity, and sat atop a giant chip. Perfect.

It becomes clear how the team can play this remarkable space. The excitement behind their cooking is in its familiarity and understanding, not in its stunt or shock. A quietly bold design which can satisfy the existing National Theatre clientele as much as it can attract the curious diner.

My main course is lightly browned Cornish monkfish with giant, meaty mussels in a gentle broth with coco (a type of haricot) beans. There is not one place to hide in the dish, every component demands to be remarkably itself – and each is.

John’s vision of Lasdun, as I understand it, is as a place of finesse, winks and nudges – The Marksman, but with its scratches buffed out. No one will be raising an eyebrow to how many drinks you’ve had, buns you’ve eaten or soft serve you’ve scoffed. It’s luxury and character, a rare match.

LUXURY AND CHARACTER: Lasdun currently operates a select pre-theatre menu and à la carte dining options. John tells me a bar menu isn’t off the cards either. Image courtesy of Maureen Evans.

“Doing anything at the moment, with staffing and financial pressures, it’s tough – it’s nuts. Lots of people, just ask you why. But you can’t wait for these things, in this game there’s never a perfect time, you have to make it the right time, and if you manage it, well, that’s when it’s good.”

I tuck into my ice cream and Kentish strawberries, some coated with a crisp sugar glaze. I am content, if not a bit full. Guests have lined in, the place is full itself now, and as I put on my jacket it careens onto the table of two next to me. Smug, delicious, brown and crispy. Next time, I tell it, next time It’ll be just me and you. 

Lasdun is open for dinner from Monday to Saturday between 5pm – 11pm. It also opens for lunch on Wednesday and Saturday between 12pm – 3pm.

Featured image courtesy of Maureen Evans.

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