Gourmet gems in the heart of Brooklyn

Terrific views of Manhattan’s skyline, oysters galore, legendary steaks – an odyssey around Williamsburg reveals its glorious gastrodomes

Dumplings filled with charred aubergine at Westlight
Dumplings filled with charred aubergine at Westlight

Manhattan has many attractions but, perversely, Manhattan isn’t really one of them. For the finest view of the famous skyline you are better advised to cross the East River and gaze back at the sublime clutch of skyscrapers from a rooftop in Brooklyn.

The Gannet’s favourite eyrie is Westlight, on the 22nd floor of the lofty William Vale hotel. The views from the terrace are stunning, and best appreciated with a cocktail in one hand and one of Westlight’s handsome yellow telescopes in the other. It is a jewel of a bar, but hardly a hidden gem, as the queues for the lifts demonstrate: le tout Williamsburg seems to come here for an aperitif. Book a table, however, and all will be plain sailing.

The enticing menu concentrates on small plates: since I was planning to visit the majestic Peter Luger Steak House later, I restricted myself to some lighter dishes, avoiding – with admirable self-restraint – baby ribs of kurobuta pork (from Berkshire pigs, the porcine version of Wagyu, heavily marbled and deeply flavoured) and tacos filled with duck carnitas and huitlacoche (a truffle-ish Mexican fungus of which I am very fond).

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Instead, to partner my excellent Negroni, I ascetically devoured a plate of bass ceviche: sauced with aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow chilli) and sharpened with calamansi, a Filipino citrus fruit, it was as beautifully dressed as Westlight’s chic clientele. I followed it with bouncy little dumplings filled with charred aubergine, drenched in sweet soy sauce – sesame seeds and slices of red chilli adding some crackle and heat

Back on terra firma, there was time for a pleasant pitstop at Maison Premiere, a seductive, Deep South-accented bistro with a lovely, leafy little garden, and a list of oysters to make a mollusc maniac weep with joy. There were other splendid fishy bites too: raw strips of flounder strewn with slices of gooseberry and tiny nasturtium leaves bathed in a watermelon aguachile that sparkled with drops of sunflower oil; and sweet sea-urchin curds, scented with lime and white peach. 

A bottle of Muscadet and a dozen beautiful bivalves later – they had such deeply evocative names: Pleasant Bay, Pickering Pass, Purple Mountain – I tottered off to Mr Luger’s: my fifth visit, I think. All you need to know is that a) it serves the best steak in New York and has done for 132 years; b) it doesn’t accept credit cards, so take cash; and c) arrive almost fainting with hunger. Thanks to the skill of the chefs at both Westlight and Maison Premiere in building bricks of flavour without too much calorific straw, my appetite was still as sharp as one of Peter Luger’s estimable knives.

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