Surprise! I went out to lunch in Clerkenwell! Sorry, I don’t travel far for lunch when I’m working from home, so EC1/N1 it is. And 155 Bar & Kitchen it also is. And you know what? I like 155 Bar & Kitchen. I want to move in. I want them to come over and decorate my flat. I want to be a kajillionaire so I can buy all their jewelry and spritz myself with all their custom scents. And I really want that gold herringbone floor.
But first, a word about the service.
I called and made a booking because you know…there is nothing more awkward than trying to dine solo but no one has any space for you. I arrive at the restaurant and they immediately know it’s me. They show me to a table, perpendicular to a nice enough man but if I take this seat, I will pretty much be staring at his jaw the entire meal. He’s dining solo too. This feels awkward. Am I the only person who thinks this is awkward?
I am shown to another table. The bench is bedecked with pillows. A kajillion pillows. This cannot be normal. Am I to recline like a pasha? Why all the pillows? But then I realize…the table next to me has gotten rid of all their pillows and put them on my bench. I hand all the pillows to the host and sit down.
And I open the leather-bound wine list.
Only it’s empty.
There’s nothing in it.
The server arrives. “Would you like something to drink?”
I order the chicken caesar salad, a ridiculous bargain at £8. £8! It’s not a huge portion, but it’s still pretty perfect. (What it misses in presentation, it makes up for in taste.) They must have a sous vide machine or something back there at 155 because the chicken is ridiculously tender. Either that, or someone is very good at the poaching. If so, I need to have them over to my house because my frozen chicken breasts never taste so nice when I poach them. (Probably a little pan-frying there too.)
You know what’s even nicer than a chicken caeser and a glass of Sauv Blanc when you’re dining solo? GOING SHOPPING IN THE RESTAURANT AFTER LUNCH. It’s like my dream.
Yes, 155 Bar & Kitchen is all the new thing: the LIFESTYLE thing. A “carefully curated” thing. Go have lunch, go buy pretty trinkets. Go hang out at the wine bar downstairs. Now there’s a sure way to make money in the restaurant industry. IF…you can attract the foot traffic on a weekday afternoon…people who want to eat your food and buy things they really don’t need on a Wednesday at 1 pm and then drink wine downstairs afterwards. Hmmm.
The Verdict: I like 155 Bar & Kitchen. I hope it prospers.
Seriously…the pace of change in London is unbelievable. There’s a new skyscraper — The Shard — and London Bridge Station is completely unrecognizable. (Classic moment: I had to ask one of the station masters WHERE TO FIND THE TRAINS. Also, where did M&S go?? I found it. Eventually.) The area around Old Street even more so unrecognizable. There are new coffee shops everywhere, and the dodgy Chinese ballroom is now Rotary Diner, with the most gorgeous of jewelbox bars in the basement.
I was in London for the 4th of July. What do all the American employees of an American company in London do in London on the 4th of July? They go to the Rotary Bar Diner for PULLED PORK. And it is unbelievable fantastic. (Although the corn bread was a little on the dry side.) Amazing to see “American” done so well on this side of the Atlantic, but after Pitt Cue Co., I should not be surprised.
Also, the lemonade is AWESOME.
All that being said, they revealed their British side by only providing us with ONE measly little napkin each. Why don’t British people like napkins??? I have always wondered this. Also, the service at Rotary was slllooooowwwww.
The Verdict: Go, please. Although I hear they might only be a pop-up so go soon.
The pace of change. For years, my stretch of City Road in London was desolate. Empty. There was a Pret a Manger, but not much else. We got excited when the pixtos place opened up, but after too many bad meals there, we were no longer so keen. And then I left the city. And everything good happened. The dodgy Chinese ballroom became Rotary Diner (more on that some other day), and the dodgy Chinese takeaway window became YUM BUN. And Yum it is. Very, very yum.
Yum and PACKED. My colleague Echo warns me we must go early or else we must wait. And we do go early. But still we wait. The queue is deep. But for £7.50, we get two buns and some pot stickers and we sit in the window of the old dodgy Chinese ballroom and watch the hipsters cycle through the Silicon Roundabout and I wonder…why are my lunches in America so f*cking boring.
And then I also wonder WHAT IF, but then I get sad so we leave.
Back to London. And the giant glowing orb in the sky actually cooperated for a moment. Everything was beautiful. (Look closely at Tower Bridge and you can see the Olympic Rings, getting ready for their descent.) I worked well, I ate well, I WALKED well. London is an incredible city to walk in, and I stayed entirely above ground during this part of my visit.
I moved into the compact but efficient Zetter in Clerkenwell for five nights. This made me more than a little teary-eyed because I was staying just a few blocks away from my old flat, a flat I lived in for over five years. Amazing how quickly London has changed in the short period I’ve been away.
I liked The Zetter. But the rooms are VERY small. (If you need to stay in this general area, The Hoxton is a bit more spacious.) The Zetter staff were lovely though and the bath products (Ren) were much much better than The Hoxton’s. (The Hoxton is generally cheaper than The Zetter though.) In short, if I could swing it, I might stay here again. But I think The Hoxton might still win out.
Here’s where I ate and drank…
Salvation Jane, 55 City Road, Shoreditch/City. I was glad to see something useful had finally gone into this strip of City Road. Let’s hope Salvation Jane lasts because the Indian street food place didn’t last long (and there were a lot of bailiffs involved) and then there was that Thai place that was all quite dark and scary and they were always rehabbing the toilets. We had some good coffees at Salvation Jane though, and the service was nice and overall, I like the vibe. The Verdict: Recommended for coffee talk.
The Old Fountain, 3 Baldwin Street, Shoreditch: I returned to one of my favorite pubs in London, The Old Fountain, with my friends Gerry & Ben. It was ridiculously different. There were no old men, the carpet had been replaced, and it had been entirely repainted and refurbished. I appreciate gentrification, but I was still a bit sad. That being said, the beer selection was ace and the rooftop was lovely. The Verdict: Recommended if you’re in the area and want to have some beers in a quiet place.
St. John, 145-57 St. John Street, Clerkenwell. I couldn’t not stop into the bar at St. John for some drinks and snacks. Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese for the win! The Verdict: GO.
Hoxton Beach: Whitecross Street Market, Barbican. You can’t see what’s in there, but it’s the most delicious falafel wrap EVER. I love these guys. I dream about them. And their pickled vegetables. Get a falafel wrap (this is the small) from Hoxton Beach and then head on over to the Two Brewers down by Waitrose for a cheeky pint. The Two Brewers lets you bring in food from the market. Genius idea. The Verdict: Yes to Hoxton Beach!
Grab Thai, 5 Leonard Street, Shoreditch: I think I’ve written about these guys before. Incredibly inexpensive, incredibly delicious. I normally stick to the green chicken curry for lunch. Good times: The Verdict: Cheap and filling and very good lunch. GO.
Tramshed, 32 Rivington Street, Shoreditch. (If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m an East London girl.) I really enjoyed my steak and chips. Couldn’t really complain. I also liked the design of the place and all the tilework. (It’s a Mark Hix place, btw.) Not sure how I felt about Damien Hirst’s preserved cow, but luckily, it’s high enough above the dining room that you don’t have to look at it while you’re eating. The Verdict: Very good.
10 Greek Street, 10 Greek Street, Soho. I’m somewhere in between on 10 Greek Street. I like the idea of the place and I like that it’s small and I thought all our servers were lovely but try sitting on a bar stool where a creepy man is pressing his sweaty back up against yours repeatedly for 45 minutes and, well, you might just end up feeling a bit UNWELL about everything. The food was very nice, but I drank a lot of white wine to get over my feelings of violation, so I am no good judge. The Verdict: I need to go back. (Talk about the beauty of natural light for photos, huh?)
Pitt Cue Co., 1 Newburgh Street. Somehow, during all my wanderings around Soho, I’ve never managed to make it down Newburgh Street. But here I was, hanging out on a street corner, 15 minutes before Pitt Cue opened. I think I might have fallen in love with one of the proprietors while I was waiting. Sigh. I meant to order the pulled pork bun but got the pulled pork meal instead (with a side of baked beans), but it really didn’t matter because it was all pretty excellent. And only 11 quid. The Verdict: GO. But don’t show up with 12 people. They are super super tiny.
The Gate, 370 St. John Street, Clerkenwell. So here’s my first question…when you KNOW you are going to open a restaurant on St. John Street, WHY do you give it the same name as a BAR further down on St. John Street? Confusing. Then, when I enter your restaurant, why do you ignore me? And then when you finally take my drink order, why do you walk away in the middle of my conversation? And then when you come to take my order, why do you tell me not to order anything on the menu because it is all going to take a really long time? And then when you come to ask “How is everything?,” why do you walk away before I can even answer??? My dining experience at The Gate is worth a short story of its own. I think you get the gist. They are CRAZY. The weird thing? My asparagus rotolo was weirdly EXCELLENT. The Verdict: I’m afraid to send you here. But the food is really good. (Note entirely vegetarian.)
While I was in town, I also saw the Damien Hirst exhibition at the Tate Modern, which was quite affecting. I’d recommend it. I’m still thinking about it, a week or two later, and I think that’s what art is all about. I also saw the Christian Louboutin exhibit at the Design Museum, and while it’s nice to look at shoes, the exhibit didn’t give you much context about the artist, which was disappointing. There were also a lot of screaming 10 year olds. Who takes 10 year olds to a French shoe exhibit? Odd.
I’ve been thinking lately about trying to get back to London more often. Let me know if anyone is interested in an intermittent flatmate. 😉
P.S. I’m realizing after posting this that I didn’t include Sedap on Old Street or The Modern Pantry on Clerkenwell Road. I revisited both. I still highly recommend Sedap, but I wasn’t too impressed with my watery omelet at The Modern Pantry, unfortunately.
Yup…even though I was just there in April, I was back again in June. Wild horses and all that. And what a whirlwind! Work work work with a little fun on the side. Here’s where I ate and drank and what I thought…
Made in Camden, Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road: LOVED IT. Totally empty on a Saturday night at 8 pm. But luscious food and friendly, professional service. Maybe it’s the somewhat odd location — a concert venue — that was keeping the punters away. We almost ordered a second batch of roasted pork belly, confit fennel crumble, plum and rhubarb relish and I loved the grilled onglet, smoked chilli sambal, asparagus, and broad bean. Casual, but still very nice. The Verdict: Highly recommended.
The Hide Bar, Bermondsey Street, SE1: After dinner with Al & Louise, I headed over to London Bridge to meet EuWen for some birthday drinks. Cheese & Biscuits, Bribed with Food, and Jordi were there too, and it was great catching up. Plus some others, but my memory is a little hazy after all the Albariño and, well, the jetlag. Everyone seemed really tall and rosy-cheeked and had posh accents. A man waiting at the bar told me I should smile more. Verdict: I’m too old, I fear. Nice private room though.
City Best Kebab, 10 Pittfield Street: Not one of my prouder moments. After saying goodbye to EuWen, I was wide awake and — can you believe it — starving. So I went to City Best Kebab and got a small lamb doner to go. And it was pretty awesome. Verdict: If it’s after 2 a.m. and you’re in the ‘hood, sure.
The Japanese Ladies on Brick Lane: Across from the Sunday Up Market entrance, and just a bit north — right by the lane that takes you into that other market (the Backyard Market?), I picked up a chicken katsu curry for £5. They don’t do smalls anymore…only big bowls. A little too much for me, but still very delicious. And I like that you can see them frying your chicken right in front of you. As the first order of the day, my chicken was damn good. Verdict: Fun if you’re on Brick Lane on a Sunday.
Prospect of Whitby, 57 Wapping Wall: Gerry, Ben and I dropped in here for a pint because it’s one of London’s oldest pubs. It’s been taken over by a pub chain and has lost some of what I’m sure was original charm. Verdict: Not worth the trip.
The Wapping Project, Wapping Wall: After our disappointing stop at The Prospect of Whitby, we hopped across the street to The Wapping Project. And fell in love! We did not eat here. We just drank. But it was lovely, with the sun coming through the windows just SO. The Wapping Project is set in an old Power Station. There’s a spookily lovely exhibition in the back — a wedding dress suspended over water. Verdict: I can’t vouch for the food, but for drinks, it’s a really lovely and unusual setting.
Bevis Marks, 4 Heneage Lane: On Monday, I had dinner with a business colleague who keeps Kosher. I had no idea how difficult it was to keep truly Kosher in London until I had to feed someone for a week without making constant trips to Golders Green. (Note: Waitrose on Whitecross Street has a small number of kosher sandwiches. Look for the ones in the green boxes.) So on Monday night, I made my first trip ever to Bevis Marks, a place that’s been on my list for a while. The service was really lovely. The food was competently done. But as my Israeli colleague said at one point in the meal, “I come all the way to London and I’m eating Eastern European food.” I also felt the portions were VERY large. Oh, and they were out of latkes. OUT OF LATKES?? Verdict: A good choice for a Kosher meal. Pricey though.
The Rivington, 28-30 Rivington Street: On Tuesday, we had a big group dinner at The Rivington Grill in Shoreditch. My beet salad starter was GREAT, but my roast chicken main was dry and HUGE. It felt like 1/2 a chicken. They swear it wasn’t a whole half, but it sure was BIG. Verdict: I’ve dined at The Rivington many times and generally like it, but I felt a little let down by the chicken. Ah, also they totally struggled with a big group and we waited forever for our food. They did charge my iPhone for me though.
The Bricklayer’s Arms, 63 Charlotte Road, Shoreditch: I bought 20 Kronenbourgs here, 20 minutes before closing. Seriously. Verdict: Fine. A nice little pub in an area chock full of trendoids.
Grab Thai, 5 Leonard Street, Shoreditch: I noticed this little Thai eatery down a side street by my office on my first day in town and knew it warranted a visit. I liked it so much I went a second time later in the week. Nice green curry. Verdict: Great for a casual lunch.
The Zetter Townhouse: Dropped in here for a quick couple of drinks before dinner on Wednesday. Loved the old auntie feel in here…like you’re in your grandma’s lounge. All very civilized. Verdict: Recommended for cocktails.
Bistro du Vin: Without a booking, we managed to walk in off the street on a busy Wednesday night and snag the only unreserved table. I’m sure it’s a nice place, but my experience here left me ANGRY. I watched as the gentleman at the table next to us sent back his steak frites because the steak was underdone. Then my steak frites arrived — ordered medium rare — and it was pretty bloody. So I asked to send it back. The waitperson tried to argue with me that it was indeed medium rare. (Strike #1 — don’t argue with the customer. In this particular instance, it doesn’t matter if I’m right or wrong…I will want it COOKED MORE.) I patiently said that I was sure it wasn’t medium rare, but that it didn’t matter and I just wanted it cooked a bit more. She SMIRKED at me, started to take the plate away, and then started this tsk-tsk head-shaking thing as if my request were just so ridiculous…to the point where I had to say, out loud, “Don’t you shake your head at me. It’s undercooked. Take it back.” Verdict: Meh.
Thursday: I took Thursday off and went to bed ridiculously early. It was awesome.
Cay Tre: Have you figured out what hotel I was staying at yet? On Friday night, I met some friends over in Hyde Park to see The Killers. And it was awesome, but shame about the rain. I realized when I got back to my hotel why I was so hungry — I hadn’t eaten dinner yet — so I dropped into Cay Tre for some duck curry to go. Just like The Killers, it was awesome. I really, really enjoyed this. This may have been helped by the 17 beers I had drank earlier, but still. Pretty damn delicious. Oh, and while I was waiting for my food, I totally watched this 70 year old man mack on a 20 year old girl. FASCINATING. Verdict: Yeah! (Cay Tre, that is. Not dating old guys.)