One of the most imaginative kitchens to open in London in the last 12 months has announced it will close at the end of the month. Zijun Meng and Ana Gonçalves’ TāTā Eatery’s four-seat kitchen counter at Tayer and Elementary on Old Street — a residency that never stated a fixed-term — will come to an end on Saturday 28 March. It opened in May last year and has featured on Eater London’s list of the 38 best places to eat in the city since last autumn. The cocktail bar will remain open as usual, and is expected to announce a replacement residency in the coming weeks.
The announcement was made via Instagram on Saturday night, ahead of the opening of bookings for the month of March. “All good things must come to an end. March will be our last month of our residency @tayer_elementary so book the #ēekitchencounter while you can!” By the following morning, there remained almost no availability via the booking platform.
Meng told Eater that he and Gonçalves “are going to focus on TOU [the duo’s sando concession at Arcade in Centre Point] for the moment and regroup TĀTĀ Eatery.” He said that their contract with Tayer and Elementary owners, the world-class bartenders Alex Kratena and Monica Berg, had come to an end. Last July Meng told Eater that the plan was “to make money [at TOU] to fund TāTā Eatery — a little place with eight seats and two members of staff.” It is understand that this remains the case, though in the medium- or long-term, if not the short-term.
The sense, when the “permanent residency” at Tayer and Elementary was announced last January, was that they would be in place for at least a year, therefore adding surprise as well as disappointment to the weekend’s news.
TāTā, which means “he and she,” has evolved significantly over the last five years, beginning as a street food stall on Druid Street market in Bermondsey, before a number of pop-ups at the likes of Kitchen Table and The Newman Arms pub in 2016. A long-term residency at Curio Cabal on Kingsland Road followed before closure in August 2017. The turning point for the duo arguably arrived when they landed a hugely successful summer pop-up in Kensal Rise — in part via the creation of a viral sandwich — before ending 2018 at the Sir Colin Campbell pub, for a three month pop-up, in Kilburn.
While the counter — perhaps for reasons of practicality — was not formally reviewed in the local (ES Magazine’s Jimi Famurewa reviewed the bar food) or national press, there was a sense from within the industry that the combination of technical ingenuity and premium ingredients without a single culinary anchor elicited phenomenal results. Tasting menus which featured dishes like wild strawberry in mushroom broth with savoury sugar puffs; beef with gooseberry, black sesame and shiso; and aged, dried Dover sole with ginger, sake, and a wet herbaceous rice referenced China, Japan, and the Iberian peninsula, while championing British produce. Much of what made the cooking at the counter so inventive was the ageing of premium protein, as well as the careful realisation of through-lines in different culinary traditions, which eschewed typical notions of “fusion” in cuisine.
Eater London contributor Jonathan Nunn, who has followed the TāTā Eatery journey since the start, commented on how the output has changed over the last five years: “While this will be obviously be a loss to London’s food scene there’s a good reason to be hopeful. If you look at TATA’s history, the trajectory of the cooking has been astonishing. It wasn’t that long ago that they were slinging rice bowls in Druid St Market, and it was an even shorter time ago that they were serving dishes at Curio Cabal so austere they seemed to come from an Ozu film.
“At Kensal Rise they expanded to larger sharing plates and invented THE sandwich, but the cooking has become so refined at the counter it’s almost unrecognisable. Whatever comes next will be another surprise, another leap forward, although given that the counter was so wedded to the Western idea of a tasting menu [starter, fish, meat, dessert], it would be nice to see a return to the communality of the Kensal Rise residency, somewhere you could take a group just to order a gigantic portion of wet rice.”
If and when and in whatever format TāTā Eatery does return, there will be no shortage of demand for its cooking.