Cycene restaurant review: though fine-dining is not the flavour of the moment, London is all the better for this opening

Even with upper-echelon tasting menus currently standing on skewered ground, the beat at this Shoreditch restaurant goes on

If you’ve ever wanted to understand why the restaurant-obsessed have had a certain weakness for Redchurch Street in recent years, you might want to tussle with the bowl of chewy-thick wheat-flour noodles at Bao Noodle Shop; section out blistered turbot at Brat; or set fire to your mouth with the howls of painfully addictive Thai flavours at Smoking Goat. The bread at bakery Jolene has the beautiful, free-flowing network of gluten that you’d likely associate with your favourite country loaf, and the broth at Cycene is a pretty splendid statement of intent, a steaming, beef-heavy liquid with an appearance darker than eternity; a rich, cocooning smack that may remind you of the gyukotsu ramen you slurped when you first visited Tokyo as a student; and a layer of semi-viscous fat that’ll leave a glossy sheen on your lips, the way in which any good moisturiser would. 

The downstairs bar at Cycene. All photos by Rebecca Dickson.

Cycene, the current project of chef Theo Clench, has been the stuff of local talk lately, a restaurant incorporated into Blue Mountain School – the type of multi-purpose venue in which Salomon-wearing scenesters can spend a brief afternoon eyeing up the small-scale-made textiles and limited-run fashion – where the footprint of Nuno Mendes’s Mãos once was. The thick layers of earthy, terracotta-hued textured walls and the Shaker-style seating arrangements have been blasted out, with any lingering roughness smoothed by a quasi-modernist seriousness: hand-made oak panels; coarse fabric; a deep wine list that leans towards the low intervention; and important artwork that anchors the space, including a moody portrait that might strike the casual viewer as a dead ringer for a Freud. For a neighbourhood where your Ercol chairs better be vintage or there’ll be six other small-plates, fermentation-driven restaurants waiting to sweep you in, it’s a pretty lofty statement. 

Of late, it seems that the flavour of the moment is the destruction of the high-dining restaurant. Early last week, Noma, which many consider the most important restaurant in the world, announced the shuttering of its doors in 2025, with an intention to pivot towards research and product development, citing the demands of its high-tech, high-level kitchen as unsustainable. The media outlets that raised its profile and caused thousands of its facsimiles across the world are now celebrating its closure. Director Mark Mylod’s satirical black-comedy The Menu is hellbent on skewering the tasting-menu’s soft pleasures – and, I think, the Death Star presence of the Big Mamma Group has once again fired its kitschy laser-beam straight at London. 

Clench, who commands the pass at Cycene, though may not the most famed toque in the scene, has become lionised in certain circles for his deft, seasonal cooking at Portland, where he composed pollock with girolles, onions and Alsace bacon, and at west-African-style Akoko, where a mille-feuille of carrot pushed the notions of aesthetics, texture and flavour extremely close to the transcendent. He’s done a term in Australia, and his ripe ball of comté at Cycene has the pleasurably tough chew of a firm mochi. 

With his fingerprints at Cycene, the usual hallmarks of serious eating are all there to see: your server will lovingly tell you about the provenance of the oyster from Carlingford; the sommelier will delight at the pinot noir they’ll pair with your segment of duck, a Stabilo-sized cut of the bird that’s been roasted on the crown to a flush of pink, singing with the flavours of time, game and fire; there’ll be an ageing chamber, clay beakers, and plum ingredients you’d likely find in the Ducasse portfolio, as with the cavatelli that’s been tossed around with uni and dusted with thin shingles of truffle. At one point in the meal, the firewall separating diner from cook will be ripped away as you’re whisked into the kitchen to meet the brigade; and the intricately choreographed menu, which sings to the progress of the season, will have the same run-time as a James Cameron feature. The tracklist sometimes has the ambient thrum of a four-beat progression, and roughly around the sixth or seventh course, you’ve likely been seduced into a soft, dreamy haze in which you long to drift towards the bed that awaits you at home, a typical indicator that a restaurant has done its job. 

The first menu at Cycene consisted of a quickly poached oyster, its chew perhaps – or perhaps not – briefly reminding you of the split-second silky-bumpy bite you’d associate with perfectly rendered cartilage, the coveted texture in the Chinese kitchen; and the shard of turbot, slipped into the oven for 20 minutes and flanked on either side by a green sauce of lettuce and a red sauce of sake, appeared like a colourist’s study of contrast and tones. A tartlet of crab with genmaicha and kombu, and that cavatelli, which is jolted by a pilates pillow of a cassava soufflé and kinome leaf, may sing just a little out of key, but if you visited recently, the duck liver that’s been sculpted into a cube the size of a roulette dice, and brushed with red-pepper powder, has a whipped funk that amplifies the mouth. The marine smoothness of sliced scallop rides out on a float of macadamia milk and drops of Greek olive oil, and is fragranced with blood orange, scallop-roe powder and a little shiso leaf.  

A hefty cut of barbecued monkfish, seemingly big enough to stop your living room’s double doors from blowing wide open, is moistened with a glaze made of mushroom, monkfish bone, and cep garum; and that duck is just superb, the kind of filler that can snap you into that bed-lusting trance. 

Though the grammar of cooking at Cycene may never quite take over the local food lexicon in Shoreditch – where a hunk of Beigel Bake’s salt beef can command the same reverence as a gleaming cut of a o-toro would in Kyoto, and whose locals are always seemingly keen to lecture you in the virtues of masa, the way they enjoy the communal feel of small-plates eating, and why they must incorporate a few snips of kimchi into every one of their meals – it remains a beautiful, ambitious thread in the city’s dining patchwork.

If you’re so inclined, insist that you end your meal with a shot of honey and fermented milk. It’s likely you won’t have room to spare for it – but you really should think about all those calcium benefits! 

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