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Why Are Three London Restaurant Critics Complaining About Shoreditch?

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Plus more questions answered in this week’s review of the restaurant reviews

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Chefs stand and work in blue aprons and whites at the pass at Brat restaurant Shoreditch Ben McMahon/


Political journalists Robert Peston (for ES Magazine) and Michael Deacon (at The Telegraph, still) are the lucky lads checking out former Ottolenghi head chef Ramael Scully’s new digs: Peston goes in with “high hopes” — “often a recipe for disappointment,” but not in this case. In short, Scully is “mind-blowing”: tomato and coconut salad with green strawberries and tomato shrub is “a dream of summer,” beef short-rib is “delicate and succulent,” a frozen ginger marshmallow with rhubarb is a winning combination of sweet and sour at its “tangiest.”

As for Deacon? Seven paragraphs complaining about how annoying it is when waiters explain the menu to you, then a series of single-sentence judgements passed on dishes (“So recommended”; “Tasted like wet crisps”) accompanied by a range of adjectives (“strange,” “weird,” “mysterious,” “weird”) that convey Deacon’s mixed feelings about such “varied and distinctive” cooking. This, ultimately, is where he leaves things: it may not be “completely” for him, but he nevertheless bows to the “creativity and imagination” that powers Scully’s menu — “no single nationality, no one particular heritage; instead, a bright and colourful coming-together of all sorts.”

Bike Shed Motorcycle Club

Meanwhile, over at The Times, Giles Coren is writing about hipsters. Even allowing for the possibility that he’s not being totally sincere in his savage skewering of “handlebar moustaches” and “face tattoos,” his review — like those vaguely WTF pieces about millennials taking over the workforce — is a position that overlooks the fact that millennial culture is... culture.

Shoreditch is the new Leicester Square as far as many tourists are concerned; that which was once the preserve of the in-the-know few is now in the domain of the many. Just look at that mega-viral tweet last week, mocking an activated charcoal croissant: not the product of some achingly trendy east London bakery, but being flogged by run-of-the-mill pasta chain Coco di Mama. Single out laughable idiosyncrasies, sure, but when trends make it to the mainstream within seconds of being birthed, there’s no denying which generation is in the driving seat.

Anyway: Bike Shed Motorcycle Club? It’s fine. Steak is “too chewy,” the mac and cheese is “floury and underseasoned”; a goat’s cheese salad features figs that are definitely on the “unripe” side. But overall it’s “not terrible.” These hipsters: their restaurants might just be OK after all.


There’s more grousing about millennial “fashion blather” over at The Observer, as Jay Rayner observantly observes that Brat is “achingly Shoreditch and so staunchly Now.” He then goes on to declare “I’m meant to be interested in Welsh heritage and Basque peasant culture, but all I care about is the end result,” which is maybe a tad churlish (brattish, even?) and not entirely unlike saying I’m meant to be interested in the words that Jay has spent time and effort thinking about but all I care about is a score out of five.

Tl;dr: it’s five. The storied turbot is “the pinnacle of a meal with many high points”; before it, spider crab, cabbage and fennel leave Rayner “a little breathless”; after it, lemon tart and cheesecake are both “models of their kind”. Once he has got over being told that his approach to cooking is of no interest to Rayner — these hipsters and their caring about stuff — Tomos Parry will doubtless be delighted with another rave, as articulated in a closing sentence to cut and paste onto any front window: “the food at Brat is both seemingly effortless and utterly lovely.”


Concluding a hat-trick of helpful Shoreditch explainers this week is the Evening Standard’s David Sexton who is at new bar-restaurant Leroy. First off, its wine list is a “minefield” of natural selections; its cooking pursuing “the path of righteousness and significance” with a view to leaving guests “rectified and instructed, rather than served and indulged.” This, of course, being “one of the directions that dining is heading now, while at another angle everyone’s charging off for dirty burgers and smokehouse palate-crushers.”

Is “everyone” eating “dirty burgers,” though? A brief survey across a list of the town’s buzzier new openings reveals one Chinese pop-up, one modern Irish, one modern Welsh / village Basque, one nu-Thai, Leroy itself, one classic French gastropub, one Thai fashion cafe, one classical British fish place, one revitalised Soho classic, one deeply thoughtful modern Japanese, one Spanish bar-restaurant-asador trinity, one subterranean kitchen counter, and one high-end Indian tasting menu joint that some are heralding as one of the very best restaurants in the city. This without mention of the leaps and bounds occurring in the vegan world, or the boom in interesting, affordable new openings far, far away from anywhere with an east London postcode.

This is not to quibble with any of the claims Sexton makes about the food itself — merely to observe that he risks undermining valid criticisms when resorting to a shorthand that doesn’t really take into account how London’s dining scene is evolving. To be fair, errors in execution abound over at Leroy, too, by the sound of things: morels are “gritty”, potatoes are “underseasoned,” poached rhubarb stalks come “icy cold” with an ice cream that is “bland to the point of hauteur.” Flavours are imprecise throughout: a sauce is “vividly green” but only “generically veggy-tasting”; white asparagus with egg yolk is “an impressive composition” more than it is “commonplace food.” Put simply, “all of these dishes need alleviation.” Perhaps Sexton should have left it there. After all, if what we eat is “always mixed up with self-image and ethics as well as enjoyment,” then surely the same can be said of food writing, too.


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