How right he was. The decor - which I didn't even mention first time around, feeling that I'd given the place enough of a kicking for the food, but had really not liked - has been softened, with rustic wood panels covering the once-bare walls and saloon doors hiding the formerly visible kitchen and dishwash area.
A much-extended and redesigned menu stays true to the healthy-eating vision (which, do remember, was one of the things I genuinely admired about the place first time round) but offers greater variety - even puddings! - and ordering from it felt much more enjoyable and less of an exercise in parsimony.
But the biggest and most pleasant surprise was the food itself. Butterfly chicken breast and grilled tuna steak from the grill were adeptly cooked and subtly flavoured with home-made marinades, and beautifully plated on distinctive but unfussy flatware. Sides of asparagus and halloumi (grilled, of course) were well-seasoned and bulked out with crisp, fresh salad. And we very much enjoyed dessert of banana & chocolate protein pancakes with peanut butter and honey - that's pretty much all of my favourite things on one plate there.
Noticeably, the clientele now better reflects the owners' original vision too; the strapping chaps occupying the other tables were remarkably easy on the eye. And those 'eminently threesomeable' waiters? As hot as ever, I'm glad to report.
When somewhere takes as much notice of early criticism as Gyms Kitchen clearly have, and improve this much, I'm very happy to eat my words. And I'd be very happy to eat there, again.
Call me old-fashioned - Lord knows I've been called far worse - but I find the current trend for and obsession with 'dirty' food really rather disgusting. Table manners have gone out the window, perhaps unsurprisingly given that the popularity of street food means there are no tables to need manners for.
If I read one more breathless paean to a burger whose 'bloody juices run down my face and through my fingers' or another review of a barbecue gaff serving up 'melting fatty piggy gorgeousness', written by an apparently sane and presumably not-raised-by-wolves adult now gone feral, I shall probably give up reading (and possibly writing) about food altogether. Enough is enough.
By the Law of Opposites then I should be very excited about a restaurant like Gyms Kitchen, proudly 'serving fresh, healthy grilled meats and vegetables' - the polar opposite of all the triple-deep-fried, lard-basted, confited, hickory-dipped nonsense I find so unappealing. Except that Gyms Kitchen (I've checked, no apostrophe) is not the kind of restaurant it's possible to get excited about, unless you are the kind of serious gym-goer at whom it is aimed, the kind of muscle-bound, mahogany-stained body-builder who sees food as fuel and fat and carbs as the enemy. Which I am not, and don't.
To be fair, I only came to be at Gyms Kitchen through necessity; I was due to cook dinner for a friend who has just moved in nearby but a botched delivery meant that not only did we not have a table to eat off or chairs to sit on, but no crockery or pots or pans either. He'd had breakfast at Gyms Kitchen and enjoyed it so suggested we try it for dinner, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't hope that a place with the slogan 'Eat Clean...Train Dirty' would be heaving with hunks.
Disappointingly, with the exception of the present writer and a brace of eminently threesomeable waiters, the clientèle on the night of our visit was entirely hunk-free, consisting of a large family group and a solo lady diner none of whom appeared to be on their way either to or from the gym. Nor did they strike me as the kind of customer who was overly concerned by the calorie, fat, carb and protein content of their food as listed for every dish on the menu.
More than likely they were attracted by what I could see as being Gyms Kitchen's wider selling-points, namely convenience and value for money; certainly there was no faulting the portion size of our - huge - grilled lamb wraps for the price, £6 or £8 with the addition of a side order.
Less attractive though was the actual food itself; huge wholemeal wraps had the texture and consistency of linoleum and the meat within was tasty but tough - I suspect grilled at high heat straight from the refrigerator without time for proper resting - and in places pure gristle. Side dishes of spicy rice and chargrilled asparagus were just that. There were, unsurprisingly, no puddings, nor any booze, with its evil carbs and empty calories; instead diners can choose from protein shakes (oh God), low-fat smoothies with an optional scoop of protein powder (shoot me now) or a virtuous range of soft drinks. Coffees are, of course 'all served with skimmed milk' as if you'd dare order anything else.
If I didn't enjoy Gyms Kitchen - and I'm sorry to say that with the exception of the company, I didn't - it could be said in their defence that I'm so far off their target customer that I was never going to. And it should also be said in fairness to them that even though it's not my cup of whey powder, their concept is at least thoroughly thought through and honest in its intentions, and I'd like it to do well.
Were it in Soho, say - the spiritual stomping ground of the gay (and they are mostly gay) gym-obsessed body-dysmorphics who absolutely love this kind of thing, Gyms Kitchen would be doing a roaring trade, but it isn't - it's at the top end of Leyton High Road, an odd choice of area to test out a concept which, the website admits, the owners hope will be the model for a franchise. As it is, all the available spots in Soho have been taken up by the kind of dirty-fried-street food pedlars that Gyms Kitchen is anathema to. For the time being, Gyms Kitchen will have to try even harder than they train to make eating clean as appealing as eating dirty.
Gyms Kitchen, 388-392 High Road, Leyton, London E10 6QE Tel: 020 8988 6362 http://www.gymskitchen.com
Posted by +Hugh Wright