' Since it opened a year ago enticing whispers have been viraling throughout the East End and making their way across the capital '

By Thomas Haydn Dee

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MCQUEEN is the latest club/lounge/restaurant offering from entrepreneur Dezzi McCausland. We've deliberately held off until the restaurant part of the venue opened and had time to settle in. Three months into the venture we couldn't wait anymore and so, Thursday came and we excitedly checked in for our reservation. I should say that I've been to the lounge bar before and so already had a sense of the layout and décor; though I haven't dined previously and for my colleague, this was a first visit.

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Arriving at around 6.30, the bar was already filling up creating a bustling, city cocktail hangout populated by a homogenous blend of city slickers and the inevitable Shoreditch set (you know, skinny jeans, tattoo sleeves and the obligatory where's Wally faux-glasses) Surprisingly for a venue so decidedly East London there was a healthy contingent of made in Chelsea types. This is a positive thing, as the appeal of McQueen seems to cross borders of both location and genre.

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After being greeted by the enthusiastic front of house team we met Arthur, one of the bar staff - friendly, knowledgeable and above all, speedy with the orders, he was a delight to have on hand and looked after us with the right balance of flair and professionalism. McQueen has a very decent offering when it comes to cocktails. Clearly not afraid of bold statements and interesting mixology; drinks such as Absinthe, Pernod, Lillet Blanc and premium spirits are fused with tropical fruits and alternative mixers are aplenty.

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One exceptionally character forming cocktail not to be missed is simply called 'Chocolat'. It's a rightly so award-winning drink from McQueen's very own Theo Von Ungern-Sternberg. It includes: Tuaca herbal liqueur stirred with Pernod absinthe, Toussaint coffee, Aztec chocolate bitters and softened with still water. Don't be fooled by the water, several of these will leave you momentarily sans jambes.

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My colleague and I both opted for a Vesper Martini (£10) named of course from the concoction in Daniel Craig's first Bond outing in Casino Royal. I deliberately didn't specify my cocktail, as I wanted to see how it would appear in its natural form. A little wet for my liking (though I like them as dry as they come, from a lillet rinsed glass, no ice and the lemon removed before drinking) it was pleasingly refreshing.

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McQueen is perched on the corner of two streets with two small tables and comfortable armchairs parked alongside the venue which we managed to commandeer for a while. And as we sat outside in the sun, the drink couldn't have been more fitting as we watched a defiléof classic Aston Martins drive by (The venue is parked just behind the Classic Car Club). Personally I'm not sure a martini is best served in a Marie Antoinette coupe but it was an interesting singularity and my fellow diner preferred it. Vespers vanquished (sorry, couldn't resist), we made our way inside the restaurant.

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First thing to mention is that the layout, in all honesty, could be a little more thought through. The restaurant, we felt, would benefit enormously from having it's own entrance. We watched several people try to gain entry via a fire exit and then go around the corner to the actual entrance. As the venue incorporates a large club in the underbelly, there is a significant security presence. A burly suit guards the restaurant entrance ensuring that people don't flow in by error from the bar. We didn't mind this going in but if you want to exit the restaurant for a cigarette break or head to the bathrooms, there is a sense of clashing with two atmospheres and if the bar area is busy it can take a while to get back to the restaurant. Having said that, once you make it into the restaurant area, an entirely different and more exclusive atmosphere hits you instantly. A moody, opulent room brimming with design features welcomes you and sets the tone for an enjoyable dining experience. At 7.30 on a Thursday, the restaurant was almost full though, for the level or service we were granted, we may as well have been the only two there. No waiting to be seated, and menus materialised within seconds. A refreshing change from some other establishments!

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Seats taken, you get to fully observe and appreciate the surroundings. Black and white movie stills featuring, of course, the man himself, Steve McQueen in some of his most acclaimed features. A silent projection of McQueen films beams out from the large plasma adorning the back wall and this is where you really get it. "Ah, we're in a Steve McQueen themed restaurant". Usually this would instill a sense of panic in me. Themed restaurants and fine dining do not go hand in hand. I've attempted to enjoy several throughout the years though I've never accomplished the enjoyment part. I'm reminded particularly of San Francisco's legendary "Stinking Rose" a garlic themed extravaganza (garlic martinis, garlic ice-cream and dishes such as "silence of the lamb shank"). Themed restaurants, they just don't work. This was different. I was pleased to see that the theme didn't carry through to the menu, plates, uniforms et al... rather this was a tasteful acknowledgement to the eponymous inspiration of the venue whilst focusing primarily on the food. It's also important to say that this restaurant has two hurdles to overcome 1. Being a themed restaurant and 2. Being a restaurant tagged onto a nightclub. One could easily surmise prior to a visit that typical fare would consist of mini-burgers and other similar bistro / club food. This was overwhelmingly not the case. Upon opening the menu you are immediately delighted with high-end wares such as crayfish and lobster bisque, seared scallops with truffle and cauliflower puree, braised pork terrine with pan-seared black pudding and Jerusalem artichoke and so on. Within minutes of being seated, taking in the surroundings and animatedly flicking through the menu, it's fair to say we were excited. A chilled glass of champagne helped the decision making process. The house champagne is Mumm (£10 per glass.) though plenty of vintage and non-vintage offerings are available with corresponding price tags.

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I opted for the crayfish bisque with lobster bits and shellfish oil (£6.00) whilst my fellow diner went for the seared scallops with candied yams & truffle cauliflower (£9.50). We certainly weren't kept waiting, which was good considering how busy the restaurant was. The seared scallops were presented in truly spectacular style, a feast for the eyes and the palate alike; we couldn't fault this dish in any way. For anyone visiting McQueen, take note and order this starter (trust me). Sadly, the same couldn't be said of the bisque. I ordered it on the recommendation of the friendly waitress who assured me this was the best starter available. The lobster bit (note singular) was spectacularly tasty though as one solitary offering in a large moat of bisque, it was a little lonely. The bisque itself was overpowering and heavily emphasized the dark meat of the lobster. Slightly too bitter for consumption, I'm sad to report this dish was abandoned before the halfway point.

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Starters were washed down with a delightful bottle of Austrian Friendly Gruner Veltliner Laurenz V 2007 (£35.50) and for anyone who shares my appreciation of the Gruner Veltliner varietal, this was a striking example. Zero acidity, so clean it was almost transparent and chilled to perfection. At the price, this was a treat. (I've had the same wine at a well-known London Hotel for over £14 a glass)

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It's fair to say that the team at McQueen has thought an awful lot about their offering. Everything from the décor to the layout to the food is designed, engineered and then designed a little bit more to impress. From the heavy stock furniture, chairs bases fashioned to depict uber-polished chrome exhaust pipes, knives so thin and pointed you feel as if you are holding a stylus... whilst being sufficiently testosterone fuelled in it's approach that this design is starkly and unashamedly masculine. If Jeremy Clarkson and Karl Lagerfeld teamed up to design a restaurant, this would be it.

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Boldly onto the main course, this was the moment we had been waiting for. Steak is clearly the order of the day and with big brave cuts being offered this is our inevitable choice. My colleague opted for a 10oz American prime USDA fillet (£30.95). This was about as macho a dish as you can imagine. A huge square slab of bleeding meat, big square chips (Blumenthal style arranged Jenga style) and some token verdure to make you feel less guilty about the carnivorous fetish you are about to indulge in. Asked for rare preparation, that is exactly what was served and it was cooked with expert flair. For my own choice, I couldn't say no to the steak but wanted to venture into the lobster territory and very conveniently the menu offers an appealing surf n' turf. A 6oz fillet steak with half a Maine lobster (£34.95). The options here are simply grilled or Thermidor. Normally I'm a fan of simple white lobster flesh, grilled and drizzled in nothing more than lemon juice. However once again the waitress managed to convince me that prepared in Thermidor style, this dish was going to be superb.

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I won't lie, I was confused. The lobster was an intriguing presentation of macerated flesh with an unforgiving amount of tarragon. Standard interpretation of lobster Thermidor is generally a creamy dish of succulent lobster meat in a cognac and mustard sauce, with a delicate cheese and herb crumble... This certainly wasn't that. It is possible dear reader that my expectations are misaligned so I will simply offer that this dish would have been more enjoyable if called something else. Redeemingly, the steak was exceptional and I couldn't conceive of how this could be better prepared.

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The sauces accompanying both dishes were a real treat and the béarnaise in particular was a shining example of how the world famous sauce should be prepared. At this point in the evening, the general manager of the restaurant and the executive chef (Aumpam Som, previously of Saf acclaim, London's premier vegetarian eatery) were doing the rounds and interacting with diners. I'm never sure if I like this ritual or not. On one hand there is a sense of engagement, which is welcome, and certainly you feel a tad more appreciated, but perhaps this is a fine art and staff should gauge when to jump in and talk to diners. (I would suggest that this is best performed between courses rather than during)

It was a delight to talk to the chef who happily offered hints on making the perfect béarnaise (he's a reductionist) though a moment of dismay descended when I raised the precarious bisque situation and he simply offered "yes well I wasn't very happy with it today".

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There would have been precious little point in entertaining a light red wine with the steaks we were attempting to do battle with. A hearty Spy Valley Marlborough Pinot Noir 2008 (£39.50) served its purpose admirably

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A brief excursion outdoors between mains and desert was again an interesting adventure. In the hour or two that we had been dining, security had been beefed up a few notches and the lounge bar had become saturated with pretty young things chinking glasses and gathering around the evening's entertainment. On Thursday nights, the lounge bar at McQueen is transformed (loosely) in to a nouveau cabaret "secret rendezvous" where burlesque girls do their thing accompanied by a whole raft of accessories (swings, ropes, flames you know...) after this brief foray, we made our way back to the restaurant to get desert (though after THOSE steaks, precious little desert is required). My colleague departed momentarily for the gents and came back with an intriguing expression. "They have one of those attendants, like in nightclubs" he said... "But this is a nightclub" I offered in return. It certainly is a strange affair and not one typically encountered on the restaurant circuit but that's where this place is different. The venue merges three purposes under one roof and so inevitably there is some crossover. If you are aware of this ahead of time, or even seeking out a more clubby atmosphere then this won't be an issue. Guys, remember to have a few spare pounds if you want to wash your hands and freshen up between courses!

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Deserts were near perfection. The New York cheesecake (£6) was a heavenly mouthful of aerated fluffy texture with a crumbly thin base (none of the overly heavy, cold dense crumbs that you so often get with cheesecake). And having eaten the real New York deal in Manhattan on many occasions, this was a winner. The evening seemed to have developed a pattern for my colleague choosing wining dishes and myself, perhaps, feeling a little envious. This was put to bed finally as both deserts were enjoyable and we discovered that taking the cheesecake from one dish, adding the coulis from the other dish resulted in a tantalizing fusion of flavours and textures that simply must be experienced by anyone visiting McQueen. To surmise, if you want to navigate through the menu and pick out the "safe bets" a starter of seared scallops, washed down with a glass of Gruner Veltliner followed by a prime American steak and a bottle of pinot noir rounded off with the New York cheesecake will make for a very enjoyable meal. You will be almost uncomfortably full (no pain no gain?) but you will waddle home happy.

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The Verdict.

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McQueen isn't just a restaurant so it's hard to try and rate it as one. There are factors to be taken into account due to it's proximity to the bar next door and the club below that we both liked and disliked. The real trick or so it would appear is to understand what you are venturing into and embrace it as such. For a nightclub restaurant this was spectacular. For a stand-alone restaurant there are issues to be addressed. Again I'm reminded that this place is but a few months old and has yet to settle into it's skin. Both the Chef and the General Manager explained to us that changes were just around the corner and so, in many ways we will reserve judgment and certainly sneak in again in a few months to see what's going on. There were truly enjoyable dishes and moments as mentioned above and single handedly, the starter of seared scallops won us over. This was an unforgettable dish and one that we will be benchmarking future scallop offerings against.

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The staff, service, ambience and décor were good. The food was great in places and a little disappointing in others. Don't order a martini without specifying what you are looking for (true of any bar or restaurant) but it would be a crime to spend any amount of time here without trying one of their many fine cocktails.

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On the whole we certainly would recommend McQueen both for private dining and group bookings and it will be interesting to see how the restaurant evolves over time. A few minor changes, rethinking a few dishes and this restaurant could be truly a unique and special offering. It�s certainly going to raise the bar for Shoreditch.

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