So, I pretty much ate my way round around Shoreditch over a couple of days last week. In order to justify such excess, I offer this as my recommendations should you find yourself kicking your heels in the City of London and in need of sustenance.
My hit list had included Pitt Cue, Fish (at Borough Market) and Som Saa. Two of these feature, Fish was replaced with the sublime Rök, which I stumbled upon when heading somewhere else and there were a couple of random additions.
First up (and a random addition) Busaba Thai, on Old Street, this is a chain, it seems there are 16 of them. This might explain the service. This was a “we’re tired and starving, what’s close?” choice, rarely a good basis for a restaurant decision, but needs must and all that. Spacious and dimly lit, with large shared tables, the interior is clean and modern with the odd nod to Oriental style, (paper lanterns) but it is subtle and not in your face. As there was barely anyone else in, we shared a corner of a large square table that could seat 10.
Couldn’t really fault the food, to be fair, it was hot, served quickly and really very tasty. Let me just say, though, that Busaba Thai’s idea of what constitutes “hot” (as in spicy), isn’t mine….We went with vegetable spring rolls, a pad Thai, Ginger beef with spring onion, and some tempura prawns. Everything was good or very good. Except the service.
I mean, it doesn’t hurt to smile does it? Efficient service is fine, in fact it is good, but a smile works well as a complementary addition. This is especially so if you ask the customers (a party of three with one clearly absent) if they are ready to order and shrug your shoulders with something approaching disdain when asked if you could come back in a few minutes so we could order when we were all back together. Shoulder shrugs, a distinct lack of interest (even “pretend”) in whether or not we enjoyed the experience and no discernible personality are not the best prerequisites for a job in hospitality. I don’t want bells and whistle, I’ll stop at polite.
We might have been unlucky. There are another 15 which might be better. I wouldn’t go back on principle, even though the food was pretty fair.
Next day, a stroll round Spitalfields market, fortified by possibly the strongest cup of espresso I have ever attempted to drink in my life, from the Department for Coffee and Social Affairs (surely a former civil servant was involved with this name?)
Rounded the corner to stumble across Adam Handlings first gaff The Frog (had been booked here last summer but events meant we had to cancel – still on the list, mind).
Now, Rök. What can I say about this truly distinctive place? Located in a row of three characterful old (probably Victorian?) buildings (one side a pub, the other a derelict something – lots of carved wood, I fancied tobaccanist?) which have withstood the developers ire and stand proud on Curtain Road when the rest of the street has been levelled and is now host to emerging corporate towers. Rök is a Scandi inspired smokehouse, very simple and totally delicious.
Lunch for us was pickled cucumber and gin, beetroot and horseradish.
Followed by a bowl of blackened cabbage with macadamia nuts and vasterbottenöst (scandi cheese) and hot smoked salmon.
And Charred boccoli salad with seeds, almonds and quinoa with smoked lamb shoulder. Both of these bowls were hugely satisfying (and very filling) with amazing flavours and beautiful textures. If I couldn’t eat anything else ever again but this food, I’d still be happy. Different, exciting and no messing.
And lovely service too, friendly, knowledgable and just chatty enough, with great recommendations for beers. I am warming to this hipster thing. (I guess that means it’s on its way out) Herewith the difference between an independent (there are two in London) and a chain. Superb place, seek it out and book yourselves in.
On to Pitt Cue in Devonshire Square. Industrial, rustic, more smoked meat than you can shake a stick at. Great service, friendly, helpful staff, some of the best scallops I have ever eaten and some quite weird wall-paper in the Ladies.
So starters were the house Magalitza Sausage (these are the woolly pigs that look like sheep) a country loaf with butter and the stunning scallops with whey and pea.
I actually licked the shells. I really did.
Mains were the house pulled-pork bun, smoked beef neck with pickled shiitake, the lamb Denver, with stunning marrowbone mash and salmon, sorrel and hispi cabbage.
My beef neck did defeat me, but the flavour was fabulous and the meat just fell off the bone. Pitt Cue know their meat and it was nice to have smoked meat that didn’t arrive on the scale of something out of the Flintstones, as so many places are now wont to do.
We shared the dessert – we ordered the poached rhubarb and milk caramel, but got the custard tart. With fine aplomb the server brought out the correct dish and told us to help ourselves to the custard tart too. So we did.
Breakfast was a bacon ciabatta at Ruby’s on Charlotte Road, sooo good, fresh bread, good quality bacon, perfectly prepared. Don’t eat in your hotel, eat at Ruby’s.
Tea was orange blossom from Whitards in Covent Garden.
Lunch was the wonderful Som Saa on Commercial Street. Ok, I’ll put it out there, possibly the best Thai food I have ever eaten (not having been to Thailand, mind you). Som Saa (which is a fruit apparently) started as a pop-up in an East End railway arch. The fully fledged restaurant that it has become is located in a former fabric warehouse just at the edge of Spitalfields market. Be warned, they don’t take bookings unless for larger groups or you unless you want lunch.
This is, so I understand, the real deal, with authentic dishes from across the culinary cultures of Thailand, with none of the sweetness associated with so many of the usual dishes we are presented with here. The flavours were glorious and let me say Basuba Thai could take a lesson in what “spicy” actually means. But this was spicy with coriander, mint and herbs I didn’t recognise, not just heat (although there was plenty of that and I did take on a rather puce hue that required some patting down before we left).
From the “Wok” we had the stir fried morning glory with crispy pork, the som tam thai salad with green papaya salad and snake beans, dried shrimp, peanuts and cherry tomatoes, five spiced soy braised beef cheek with chilli vinegar sauce and a sticky and a jasmine rice. The only thing I forewent was the egg, it looked fermented and it was on the edge of unecessary in light of the joy of the other dishes.
and finally, dinner was a ham sandwhich on Virgin trains and it was okay, actually, even though we had, in fact, booked on East Midlands trains. I won’t bore you.
So eating out in Shoreditch (ish) 1) Rok. 2) Som Saa, 3) Pitt Cue,