“ L'Oasis / 237 Mile End Road / Stepney / London / E1 4AA / Tel : 020 7702 7051. „
Stepney restaurant L' Oasis is well named, offering a haven of good, home-cooked food in an area swamped with kebab shops and fake Kentucky Fried Chicken joints. The innocuous building has green tiles on its frontage, in tribute to its history as a former pub. It was taken over and turned into a restaurant in November 2000, where it has become our restaurant of choice when visiting family in the area. I say 'choice', but I use the term loosely, on this stretch of the Mile End Road the only other place to sit down and eat is a Wetherspoon's pub, and there is nothing else in walking distance. The fact that L' Oasis has no competition in its immediate proximity does not mean it sits on its laurels but offers a constantly changing menu of good food in a relaxed, informal atmosphere.
I have eaten here several times now, both in the main downstairs dining area and in the function area upstairs, but for the purpose of this review I am going to write about my most recent visit, last Saturday lunchtime.
Arrival and Atmosphere
We arrived about 12.15 pm and were the first customers so had a choice of seating ourselves anywhere in the restaurant. The place is very laid back, you are not greeted and fussed over, we were invited to sit where we liked. We considered the table at the front as the light is better (my step-dad's eyesight isn't very good these days and the restaurant is quite dimly lit towards the back), but fearing a draught every time the door opened we went towards the back. The restaurant is narrow with heavy wooden tables and mismatched, cushioned chairs running along each side and the large bar is at the back. There is no seating at the bar. The décor is very simple with green wooden paneling running to dado rail height and cream painted walls above. There are some neutral pictures on the wall available for purchase, by a local artist. They are all if a contemporary, uncluttered style and an interesting interpretation of East London images. There are half a dozen pictures that all co-ordinate and fit in well with the restaurant, rather than a mismatch of work that you do sometimes see in other places. According to the website the fantastic mirror behind the bar is also from a local artist. Two huge blackboards displaying specials and quotes from reviews take up the rest of the wall space.
Although the downstairs part is (currently) a smoking area, as it was quiet we were not really troubled by it, although if someone had been sitting directly next to us smoking this may have been more of a problem. The upstairs area (which can be hired for functions) is non-smoking. There was music playing - old soul such as Jackie Wilson and Ann Peebles - which was mainly upbeat. It was easy to hear it in the background and identify the song, but I suspect at busier times the general restaurant chatter and scraping of heavy chairs would make it a noisier environment and harder to hear.
They have a separate menu weekday lunchtimes, and I gather the restaurant is very popular, especially on a Friday. However on Saturday's we have the main A la Carte menu and the extensive specials list (which has practically the same amount of dishes). On Sundays they also do traditional roasts. Vegetarians are served well here with a number of original choices and classic favourites. The menu is printed, in colour, on cream headed paper. Even though the menu is essentially an A4 sheet of paper it was not creased or stained as it is seemingly changes often, so always looks fresh. Seasonal Christmas dishes were also available.
We decided to skip starters and went straight to mains. The typical mains price is £8-11, although you will pay more for a rib-eye steak, and some other dishes. They do their own home made burgers which my mum and sister-in-law had, my mum is not a big burger eater and I thought this was an unusual choice for her but she loved it, and thought it cooked perfectly, and seemingly made with quality, fresh meat. It is served with plenty of thin fries and a fresh side salad. My step-dad had the smoked haddock with mash, spinach and poached egg with a saffron sauce, which he also pronounced delicious. I dithered over having the Vegetarian breakfast (a regular Saturday special - they also do traditional English) but ultimately plumped for the Jerusalem artichoke and pumpkin gratin with a mixed leaf salad drizzled with truffle oil and parmesan shavings. I am a bit of a salad snob and am fussy about the lettuce I'll eat, but this contained the strong, dark leaves that I love such as rocket plus watercress and another I couldn't identify. The dressing was tasty but not over-powering. My gratin was delicious although the pumpkin somewhat overtook the flavour of the artichokes. The vegetables were all well-cooked and I enjoyed it, some of my mum's fries helped though - added a different texture to the meal. All additional sauces and dressings were brought to the table in clean, individual little dishes with a spoon, rather than a sticky bottle. For desserts there were a couple of takers for their homemade Christmas Pudding ice cream, which can be served as three scoops on its own or one scoop with a piece of pud (also homemade). My parents both tried it and loved it, saying you could pick out the flavours of Christmas pudding mixed with vanilla in the ice cream. I had the homemade pineapple sorbet which was as crisp and refreshing as you would expect it to be.
Most wines are available by the bottle and start from about £12.50. There is a limited choice available by the glass. There is an extensive spirits range, especially whiskies. I have found spirits to be quite expensive when I have been here before. Although L' Oasis advertises itself as a 'Restaurant & Bar' you are unlikely to go here for a drink only as you will find yourself hovering around the bar area trying to keep out of the way of the waiting staff whilst not crowding the diners.
The emphasis here is on the informal, you will not necessarily be greeted at the door and shown to a table; you normally go to the bar at the back to check your booking or find a table. The waitresses, whilst perfectly polite and amiable, will not keep coming round and topping up your glass or checking that everything is OK. If that is your thing then L' Oasis is not the place for you. Saying that, they do possess good attention to detail and will check if you require any sauces or dressings before bringing your food to the table, rather than going to get them after, whilst your meal gets cold. Fortunately it is not such a big place that you cannot flag a staff member down should you need something. This could be more of a problem upstairs as the staff pass through less often
I have enjoyed every meal I have had here, and so have my family. The menu is changed regularly and there is always a good selection for vegetarians. I think the menu could be classified mainly as traditional English, although they do offer some pasta dishes. To me, it seems to be more of a gastro-pub type place (although it is no longer a pub) crossed with a restaurant because of the informality, although you are always made to feel welcome and nothing is too much trouble. Our meal for four included main courses, three desserts, a bottle of wine and a glass of tonic water came to £62.50.
There are Ladies and Gents toilets on both floors. They are clean and fresh smelling, and simply decorated -there are no contemporary sinks or fancy lights. Disabled toilets are downstairs and the layout of the restaurant means wheelchairs can easily get through the tables.
The restaurant is just 2 minutes walk from Stepney Green tube station (District line). Bus No 25 (Oxford Circus - Ilford) stops nearby if you are coming from central London, as well as other more local buses.
Parking is a nightmare daytime during the week because of residents' permits so 'scratch cards' will need to be purchased from local newsagents (they are about £1). Try one of the streets off of Globe Road (Next to the tube station).
Booking is advised at peak times
237 Mile End Road
Tel: 020 7702 7051
Open: Mon-Sat 11am - 11pm. Sunday 12 - 10.30pm
Some menus samples are on the website - http://www.loasisstepney.co.uk/index.html
It only shows a limited selection and not everything will be available all the time as they try and keep the menu fresh and varied.