29th September 2017
Bars: I’ve known many, too many to mention. But none quite like the one that for over fifteen years lived at 70 Leonard Street, London EC2.
The Eyre Brothers was launched by David and Robert Eyre in 2001, a luxe yet comfy spot that offered not only fine dining, but a damn good bar and tapas to fill the gaps.
This was a place where friends gathered unprompted, knowing that someone would always be there. And if perchance someone wasn’t there, the Brothers and their team guaranteed good conversation, looking-after and a jolly good time.
I offer you now my own Eyre story, a tale of being entertained, fed, watered and most of all cared for by kind people who were also great fun. It was here that I met some of my closest friends, entertained business colleagues and most of all, laughed heartily and a lot.
Although I visited often in the early years, The Eyre’s really came into its own for me when my company became funded in 2006; with Shoreditch being a creative place my medically oriented business didn’t attract too much interest, except here where entrepreneurial graft was understood. An abiding memory rises from around 2010, when one day I walked in looking grave; someone was trying to push my business into administration so he could “pre-pack”, shed my shareholders and seize control.
What’s wrong? asked David. I told him; I was broke and in danger of losing the little I had. He gathered the staff, gestured towards me and said She works really hard. She’s having a horrible time. Give her anything she needs and don’t give her a bill until I say its ok to do so.
In those early days before My Girls had left home, David and Robert’s place became my Telephone Box. Just as Superman would spin back into Clark Kent, it was here that after work I could drink a simple vodka-tonic, cleanse the day from my head, transform from stressed business owner into Mum, go home to cook dinner and talk about familial things
From time to time if chez-Eyre had a particularly compelling night, it might keep the regulars within its warm embrace for a few cozy hours; only friends of the house were allowed to remain. These times were always fun; I recall the end of one that was particularly entertaining. In the early hours, ready to leave I took my folded Brompton from the cloakroom. You’re not riding that at this time of night, chorused those present. I’m fine! I countered, assembling the bike. To prove my fine-ness, I rode a slalom through the restaurant. See! Look! I’m fine! Turning to ascertain their (un)impressed demeanors, I rode straight into the wall at the end of the restaurant. Without a murmur, without a chide, the witnesses brushed me down, folded my bike, called a cab, paid my fare and instructed the driver to take me home. Of course, I brought flowers round the next day to say thank you.
It wasn’t all crazy of course; this was a family enclave too. When in 2003 my eleven-year-old daughter was asked by David what she wanted to do when she grew up, she said I want to be a chef. He gave her an appraising look. What are you doing at half term? he asked. And so Youngest-of-All spent a week in the Eyre Brothers’ kitchen; I was concerned. David, she’s eleven, it’s not legal! His response: Fuck legal, let’s see if she’s any good. Banned from attending her first day, I witnessed only her return home, she looking very much like the Ready Brek kid, glowing with joy and verve. On day two, I ventured in to see just the top of her head moving around behind the open kitchen counter.
David, please don’t let her near the knives, she’s only little! I implored. Rubbish! She’s learned how to chop and she’s done all the mis-en-place for our lunch sitting. She’s a natural!, barked David. Today, dear reader, Youngest-of-All is indeed a fully-fledged Patisserie chef, owner of Monforte Viennoiserie in Melbourne, Australia. If you are there, say hello and tell her that Mum sent you. And by the by, I think David is as proud of her as I am.
David stepped up with yet more avuncular assistance when FirstBorn needed a Christmas job; he appointed her Chief Coat-Check Girl, briefing the staff to look after her. She spent three weeks checking coats, polishing glasses and cutlery and taking handsome tips; the role was reserved for her throughout the University years. Her penultimate tenure was the most eventful; with lower-than-usual tips she was advised by the Resident Artist to decorate her tip-tray with tinsel from the tree. In snipping said decoration, she accidentally caught the wire that made the lights sparkle: the tree fell dramatically into darkness. No-one dared tell a furious David and for over a year he thought the damage was wrought by a disgruntled customer, although with no obvious candidates his puzzlement was tangible.
An Eyre constant was the ready giving of help; when a “Healthcare Consultant” arranged thirteen lunches with NHS hierarchy, an expense I could ill-afford, David ensured that expensive options and all prices be removed and a dedicated Giovanna menu printed for my arrival. Whenever I called to book I was asked Is this one of your special needs lunches? The bespoke options were duly presented and my bills considerably lower than they may otherwise have been.
Eyre Brothers clientele was not only eclectic but circular. It was here that many moons ago I became friends with my ex’s latest ex, the woman with whom there had been some overlap at the demise of this relationship. Seeing her at the bar looking frankly dreadful, I stopped on my way out. I looked like you two years ago. There’s air when you swim to the surface. She and I became the best of friends and met there regularly, so much so that said ex avoided the place, not least because David would text him: There are too many of your ex-girlfriends in here, as she and I nattered, gossiped and generally bonded, advised by staff who knew more than we did: Never go back.
The most precious gift delivered to me by the Eyre Brothers is my band of Beta Boys, fine non-alpha fellow-regulars who rehabilitated me after the aforementioned split. Seeing my distress and knowing something of the background to events, they scooped me up, rebuilt my self-esteem and treated me like a Princess; I was complemented, encouraged, teased and welcomed into their world. The role of GeezerBird suited me perfectly and nights too numerous to mention were spent barside in the company of these talented, clever, funny men, friends of David and Robert, artists all, each with a brain the size of a grand orb plucked from the solar system. Their conversation was intellectual, quick, sharp, witty and often very silly; I was in heaven.
This bar was also a conduit to meeting entertaining strangers, people with whom one would find spontaneous conversation; this could end happily, or in heated debate … but never ever dull. I made many new friends Eyre barside; hospitable, interesting, intelligent company so rare across London’s homogenous, loud destinations.
EB music was legendary and a thing to celebrate. Unlike most restaurants where the sounds are all wrong or simply invasive, here the tradition of jazz and blues established by Robert endured to the end. At Eyre table and bar, I discovered Mario Biondi, Van Morrison’s first and only Blue Note album and so much more. Sometimes later in the evening David might sway into a Baloo break beat, prompting merry moves from those present, sometimes to curious glances from diners unfamiliar with the place
The Eyre Brothers was not only good for me and my progeny, but good for business too as a goodly amount of our investment came from people I met or entertained here. For City or other folk with an interest in enterprise were always impressed not only by the quality of the place, but the way in which they were looked after in personable and professional manner. Every new dining guest or companion I brought here reported a return visit or two. Of course they did; once Eyred, never forgotten.
David is one of a handful of chefs interviewed by the British Library, recorded for posterity. His culinary talents were the crowning glory of this place, which meant my sometime simple eating habits could get me into hot water. For a time, the tapas menu included a delicious salad which I requested be topped with the Eyre’s unique and tasty anchovies. I would hear David from the kitchen If that’s Giovanna tell her she’s a bloody nuisance. But the anchovies arrived … until David took the whole thing off the menu; it reappeared eventually and the normal request was resumed. This time I heard Oh for God’s sake – tell her they are￡5.00 each! Unlike the threatened charge, the anchovies still appeared.
It wasn’t all buttercups and daisies of course. There was the famous actor who marched in with his henchmen, intending to punch one of ours, whom he accused of having an affair with his lover. There were other romantic tiffs and memorably the ejecting of a courting couple from the toilets, their clothes seen billowing from under the door. There were those who were banned for bad behaviour or not paying their bills; the customer who complained to David that his garlic soup was too garlicky; his bill duly presented, he was shown the door.
Valentine’s night was always a melee of romance, disaster and bets made amongst the staff as to which diners would row, leaving one of the party abandoned, which would become engaged and which would be back for a second date. They were usually right and second dates were recognised and welcomed.
Then one day last month I had lunch there with business colleagues, a lunch which like every other had been a huge success; warm and efficient service prevailed with food that was as always, beyond excellent. Being a Friday, the day when Beta Boys and other fine folk gathered around 6pm, I returned to find the usual jolly atmosphere tempered with shock. The unthinkable had happened: an e-mail circulated by the property’s owners announced that the lease had been sold. The end of Eyre Era was set in stone.
There is so much more to tell, so many happy memories; my 50th, Youngest-of-All’s 21st, family and business celebrations and other life-affirming occasions shared by many.
But the world works in mysterious ways and rather than allow my existence in EC2 to be blighted by the absence of this particular brand of cheer, the stars aligned; two days later the landlord of my office, a mere 200 yards from Leonard Street, announced the redevelopment of our building. Chiming with the demise of the best bar in the world my business has left its Shoreditch home of eleven years; our low-overhead policy cannot meet the demands of the now super-premium rents there. Forte HQ this week settled into less expensive Bloomsbury. The move is welcome, for there is now no reason to stay. No place can ever match David and Robert’s triumph.
All that remains is to say thank you Eyre staff of the last fifteen-and-something years. You have been more than marvellous, better than the best. Most of all, thank you David and Robert for giving Shoreditch its very finest and most original moments.
EB : RIP.
© Giovanna Forte 2017