Notes From Hipster Central

Saturday, November 05th , 2016

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In the last few years there has been a distinct regeneration of parts of east London, with formerly run-down and downright dangerous areas now sporting artisan coffee shops, trendy restaurants and fashionable young people with tattoos, vintage spectacles and an interest in music on vinyl. From Hackney to Shoreditch there has been an explosion of bars, restaurants and cafes. No longer does Hoxton Square have the “intolerable dreary aspect” noted in 1902 by historian Walter Besant. This week I review two restaurants that have exemplified this transformation of east London from the state that I remember when I lived there in the 1980s. 

Ellory in Hackney was awarded a Michelin star in its first year, even though the founding chef had already left by June, a situating highlighting the lag in printed guides like Michelin. As it happens, the same thing happened with Pidgin, with its chef Elizabeth Allen already having moved on before the star was awarded. Former sous chef Sam Kamienko now runs the kitchen at Ellory, so I can only comment on what it is like now rather than how it was in its early months. Sadly the meal that we had this week was pretty disappointing. It started well enough with a spicy broccoli dish, but nothing else in the meal approached that level. A monkfish dish was fine, but a ratte potato starter lacked flavour and a pork dish had an oddly cloying sweet sauce. Desserts were just dull – a lump of quince and a biscuit does not show a lot of imagination. Perhaps the food was much better under its previous chef, but as Sergeant Apone said in the movie “Aliens” – “whatever happened here, I think we missed it”.

By contrast Som Saa was excellent. This restaurant evolved from a pop-up and has two chefs that both worked at Nahm at The Halkin. Grilled prawns in a coconut marinade were particularly good, and also enjoyable were a som tam spicy salad and a wok-fried chicken dish. However the dish that impressed me the most was gaeng tair po, a red curry of pork shoulder with whole kaffir limes and morning glory leaves. This was complex and rich, and showed real ability behind the stoves. Spicing was punchy and vibrant, and I would certainly be happy to return here and try some of the other dishes on the menu. 

Parlour is a regular haunt of mine, an unlikely hidden gem tucked away in a gloomy looking side street in Kensal Rise. Jesse Dunford Wood is a chef with a classical training but a creative streak, and a penchant for reinventing unfashionable dishes. His chicken Kiev is a delight, a crisp sphere of chicken with garlic butter served on a bed of excellent coleslaw whose dressing balances the richness of the butter. His salads are always top notch, at this visit the “vegetable” ravioli with beetroot in various forms working really well. Goat pie was hearty and even the accompanying cabbage was impeccably cooked. Parlour is a fine restaurant whose cooking trounces most trendy central London restaurants. Its out of the way location is the only thing that is causing limited recognition – if this was in Shoreditch it would be the hottest ticket in town.

The Michelin Chicago 2017 guide came out. The highlight was two stars being awarded to both Oriole and Tru. Chicago now has a pair of three stars (unchanged) in the form of Grace and Alinea, 5 two star places, and 18 one stars in total.