Has anyone else noticed that Mare Street has gotten all trendy and village-y. A bit like the Stoke Newington end of Kingsland Road. I’ve spent years travelling down Mare Street onto somewhere else and have generally always considered it a right shithole. Then, Hackney Picturehouse opened a year or so ago, and it got a bit better. But you still couldn’t get a 2-4-1 Pizza Express anywhere near on an Orange Wednesday.
But more recently, there has been a spat of new restaurants opening up along this grotty thoroughfare and the truth is, they’re quite good. And then, when I was walking down to one of said restaurants from Hackney Central – The Advisory, which is opposite that massive Iceland on the corner – I noticed that, actually, Mare Street was quite nice. Hardly anyone tried to stab me. There were quite a lot of people eating in quite a lot of the restaurants – even in all of the Vietnamese’s, which usually look dead empty. The weather was nice, but not too nice, and it was a Thursday, and generally everyone looked like they were in a good mood. It was all very pleasant. I was surprised.
I booked a table at Rotary Bar and Diner within days of reading a glowing review on the Burgerac blog. Dubbed as ‘frankly, epic’ and taking the boy’s propensity for a dirty chicken burger, we popped along on a hot Saturday night last weekend.
Not fancying wine after two nights of booze on the trot, we settled for the far more sensible pint cocktails to drink – £10 a pop. I’m not entirely sure some of them could classify as an actual pint, but they were rather large. I ordered two different ones featuring gin and vodka/ rose respectively (alright I’ll have a bit of wine then). They tasted good, but they didn’t taste like booze. The boy knows a good thing when he gets it and stuck to the Hawaiian Stone Sours – Dewar’s 12, pineapple, lemon and honey. With a sharp tang that hit you in the back of the throat like a boozy gobstopper, these were just right. Have one of them. Heck, have two. Go crazy. They also served a big jug of ice water with lemon and ribbons of cucumber. I’m a fan of free fruity water. Thumbs up.
I first ventured into the Hawksmoor Spitalfields Bar one hot, hot day in June with the boy – they had launched their new menu, and despite it being just twenty minutes after opening, the 50% off all month deal had lured many a penny pinching foodie and there was a two hour wait – there’s no reservations.
Deterred, we headed straight over to Psychic Burgers at Birthdays (quick review: amazing bootlaces chips, 7/10 burgers – that’s good – and kudos for the deep fried chicken addition, but it tasted baked, not fried – and no dirty chicken aficionado wants that. Great cocktails and atmos. Oh, we also saw a film after – The Purge. That was good too).
So I first started writing this review well over a month ago after my first visit to Beard To Tail. Which, incidentally, was a heavenly occasion. However, after perhaps one too many Crabbies/ white wines/ vodkas I have returned from a second far less successful meal and have the felt the very urgent need to splurge my experience all over the page. So, here we go, and do please excuse any typos/ general non-sensical rants. I’m drunk.
I’m going to start with my very first review, which I didn’t even get half-way through before abandoning for more pastures green. I’m writing a novel while holding down two jobs, so sue me. But here is the beautiful, elegant prose I first penned in all its glory (I just wrote flory. This is going to be so much harder than I first imagined):
We first heard about Fingers and Thumbs Sea Food Shack walking past The Arch Gallery on Bethnal Green Road one night. The windows were all steamy and there was a lot of clattering and drunken gobbling noises coming from inside and we thought – what is this magical place and how can we eat there. A quick Google later and we came up with a Facebook page – Fingers and Thumb Pop Up, the event: Sea Food Shack.
With only a paltry hundred or so likes it’s fair to say this is a word of mouth event. Intrigued, we booked seats for the next session and watched with salivating delight as menu posts popped up in our feed: Six Colchester Rock Oysters for £12, followed by a shellfish bucket for two with mussels, clams, razor clams, king prawns, potatoes, veg, bread and lemon rouille, cooked in a choice of regular or spicy broth.
The upstairs of The Royal Oak is a deceptive place. You squeeze through a heaving East London crowd downstairs, flowing and oozing like a giant shoal of well dressed fish. The Royal Oak is ALWAYS rammed. I’ve been here on several occasions at different times of the week and never found a seat – this being a Friday and my friends and I feeling lazy, we booked a table upstairs, thinking the bonhomie would rise, like heat. We were wrong.
Upstairs is empty – there was a maximum of five covers at any point. The menu is different too, as the waitress pointed out when we asked for the downstairs dishes. They’re trying to distinguish themselves from pub food to fine dining – although the toilets were broken, so you had to do your business with the common folk below.
Although it was early evening on a chilly Sunday night, the Meat Mission was rammed full of hipsters when the boyf and I visited. Slightly giddy from a three-hour session of The Hobbit fuelled by popcorn and diet coke, I sat down for my dirty diner dinner full of excitement – and caffeine.
We were served by friendly but frantically rushed waitresses and seated in the reservation area – which is definitely a boon as you can’t reserve at other Meat joints (Easy, Liquor and Market). The whole area is very darkly lit, framed by stained glass windows and box-lit images of naked girls with skulls for head – all very jolly. The place was buzzing – warm and friendly if not a little pretentious (which is alright with me).
I am a creature of habit and I have my favourites when I go for dim sum. These mainly involve sticky barbecue pork in various unlikely casings, such as the slow burner Char Siu Cheong Fun. This is the aforementioned syrupy pig meat rolled in a freshly made steamed rice roll, glossy and glutinous. The dish is perfected with a generous pouring of sweet soy sauce. First impressions might leave a lot to be desired: the Cantonese alternatively call it Chee Cheong Fun: literally ‘pig intestine noodle’ as it resembles the small intestines of a pig. But don’t let that put you off because this dish is is as tasty as it is globular.
The pork is marinated using varying recipes, often with a mix of honey, five spice, red fermented tofu, dark soy, hoisin and rice wine. The result is tender meat smothered in a ruby rich glaze, superbly balanced by the gooey rice noodle. Another alternative is Char Siu Baau: the same pork filling encased in something quite unique, a steamed bun. I’d never seen or tasted anything like it before: the ‘baau’ bun feels pillowy, warm and moist. Imagine a sticky pork stuffed cloud and you’re close.
Imagine the meltiest satay sauce, bursting with peanuts and packing a coconut punch. Then see it oozing over tenderly grilled skewered chicken, collecting into a pool of creamy nutty goodness and slowly seeping into a delightful dome of fragrant rice. Served with curling carrot ribbons, chopped spring onions and baby asparagus to balance all that gooey sauce. Heaven on a plate, non?
Well I didn’t have to imagine this last night because that’s what I had for dinner. Chef Shaw makes a mean chicken satay and I’m a willing culinary cavy. First, the chicken is marinated then griddled in a potent spice mix of tumeric, cumin, garlic, coriander, and sesame oil, providing colour, flavour and earthiness. This makes the meat snowy soft and stained a delicious clay colour, tearing away from the skewer like candyfloss from a stick.