The mood of this quiet corner of Shoreditch with limewash-coloured walls evokes a cosy and snug country house. Like a grandmother’s kitchen with a few contemporary tweaks, Eline is a restaurant that serves honest, seasonal dishes that lean into its creator’s French roots, with natural wines chosen to complement them.
The restaurant is a labour of love from co-owners and couple Maria Viviani and Alex Reynolds, who met while working at bakery and restaurant Pophams in Hackney. In a post-pandemic dining landscape dominated by enterprise groups and megawatt names popping up in five-star hotels, Eline is a breath of fresh air. Here’s what you need to know about this promising newcomer.
For its owners, Eline is about as personal as it gets.
When Viviani and Reynolds decided to open Eline, they were living in Italy. The two met at Pophams just before lockdown before Viviani ended her 9-month stint making pastries and where Reynolds was cooking. As the pandemic turned the industry inside out, they moved to Italy as they contemplated the next move in their respective careers.
“The idea started small – for me to have fun with food while Maria has fun with wines,” says Reynolds, whose fine dining background spans Fenchurch, Hide and Seven Park Place. But Viviani, originally from Italy, shared that when they decided that they wanted to attract a broader type of customer, London became the clear answer. “[Eline] is for people who are always interested in trying something new or finding different ways to eat the same thing,” enthuses Viviani.
Not long after, the couple returned to London in 2021, tied the knot and began building the idea of Eline.
With their new restaurant, Reynolds has turned to his first memories of food and cooking in a tribute to his late French grandmother, for whom the restaurant is named. The restaurant promises a welcome and cooking from the heart, an experience similar to his childhood, inspired by how Reynolds and Viviani want people to feel when they dine at the restaurant – warm, comfortable and at home.
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Chef Alex Reynolds’ menus lean into his French roots.
“The menu doesn’t look scary,” says Viviani, explaining that this was by design. The unassuming menu is split into snacks, starters, mains, cheese, and desserts, with no more than three options each.
But while simplicity is its first impression, complexity remains at the heart of each dish. “The food is complicated, but it doesn’t look [like] it,” enthuses Viviani, while Reynolds adds: “It feels very comforting to go here for a meal because you know what you’re having. The dishes don’t look like a piece of science and they’re easy to understand – what you see is what you get.”
Eline’s menu changes monthly and is influenced by the seasons and gut feel, with Reynolds shifting gears in the kitchen to deliver heartwarming plates with finesse. “For us, it’s about whatever is in season and whatever we think is tasty,” says Reynolds, whose approach and technique is led by his connection to his French roots.
A meal might start with a heavenly venison tartare which, with smoked hazelnuts topped with thin slices of celeriac, delivers a distinct crunchy texture. It’s designed to be smeared on the restaurant’s signature bread – one of the many things they make themselves in-house alongside charcuterie, ice cream and butter.
For mains, Eline’s standout agnolotti consists of four main components: Coco de Paimpol bean puree, semi-dehydrated tomatoes, pickled onions and celeriac broth with earthy chanterelles. The agnolotti retains its textures while swimming in the rich broth, the beans, onions and tomatoes complementing each other. And the broth – on its own – delivers a freshness to the bowl that Viviani believes is something a mother would cook.
To cap it all off, their lemon tart is made fresh daily, with a sourness that is balanced with the refreshing taste and slight sweetness of their homemade sake ice cream that’s served alongside it. Meanwhile, its owners’ pastry chops are on display in rotating desserts like a religeuse with peanut gianduja and banana ice cream, all made in house.
For somm Maria Viviani, wines are chosen to represent a time, a place and a story.
Viviani admits to an affinity for low-intervention wines and how she cannot imagine pouring anything else in their restaurant or selling through Kimchi’s, the restaurant’s adjoining bottle shop.
This is largely due to her belief that they are the true expression of a terroir in a specific period of time. “We can’t talk about cooking with top-quality and seasonal produce, sourced locally, organic or biodynamic and turning a blind eye to the wine industry,” she says. “If you care about what you eat, climate change, pollution and the environment, then these are the wines I think you should consume.”
Apart from handpicking a repertoire of bottles from across the continent (with some UK representation, too) for the restaurant’s list, Viviani also considers the suppliers behind the wines in her selection process. Meeting the passionate and talented people who have reimagined the traditional way of making wine (techniques usually learned from their grandparents or ancestors) is a crucial part to her deliberation. Through this, she has encountered different individuals who all share a commitment to a sustainable way of producing wines. She cites one example: one supplier of hers is a former marine biologist who fell in love with natural wine and left his job to run a winery.
For Viviani, each bottle embodies the story of where it comes from, whose hands it has gone through and the enthusiasm of the people behind it. “To me, that is beautiful and it’s why I love wines – I love being able to share these stories with our customers and making them fall in love with the wines they enjoy at Eline,” she says.
Eline is a neighbourhood restaurant, but one worth travelling for.
While having a small shop in a high street was the original dream, Viviani and Reynolds admit that they can no longer imagine running Eline from anywhere else apart from Hoxton.
During their search for the perfect site, the two gravitated towards new builds in North or East London. At the time, new builds offered significant benefits in terms of rent and build works to offset losses during the pandemic, which worked in favour of small businesses. Their space at Rosewood building – originally set to open as a bookstore before the pandemic struck – was built from scratch, from the kitchen equipment to the interiors.
Since they began the building works in July this year, Viviani and Reynolds have gotten to know the neighbourhood quite well. Surrounded by co-working spaces and residential buildings, Eline quickly became a curious sighting for both locals and passersby. “There’s a lot of effort and love behind the food, the wine and the space. We just hope people dining would feel at home [at Eline] and that they would want to stay here for ages having lots of wine and tasty food,” says Viviani.
The cosy and friendly atmosphere of the restaurant traces back to the team behind it. Being a lean team of four, Viviani shares that it allows a more open environment where everyone feels more comfortable to voice their own opinions. “It’s very easy to lead a team that’s very tight like that,” says Viviani. “Will and Alex have been friends for ages, so they enjoy their time in the kitchen together and they understand each other very well when they’re working,” she adds, describing the dynamic of the chefs behind the kitchen counters.
Situated at the end of Shoreditch, Eline – which has just turned one month old – is easily working its way to becoming a place of familiarity for locals and non-locals alike. The monthly changing menu draws diners back and motivates Reynolds and Viviani to keep experimenting with food and wine, and how they can be better enjoyed together. For the pair, Eline is meant to be a restaurant that people will want to be regulars at, with the promise of a different experience each time.
Juli Suazo is a freelance writer based in London.