Letter from London: 5 Sure Things in Shoreditch
"It's our Williamsburg," a friend in London says. "Beard central," writes dyspeptic (and himself somewhat bearded) Observer critic Jay Rayner. His shorthand for a certain breed of trending East London restaurant: "Shoreditch Tossfest."
No matter. Whatever you comfort level with hirsute hipsters, this artsy, formerly grungy neighborhood is where you want to be eating and drinking in London right now.
First, check into the Ace Hotel on Shoreditch High Street, the first European outpost of the rustic-chic American chain. Re-energize at Bulldog Edition, the lobby coffee bar, then get exploring.
"This used to be a nightlife destination, all old shoe factories and industrial lofts," says Isaac McHale, chef at The Clove Club, an elegant pair of rooms in the old Shoreditch Town Hall. Boxing matches were once held upstairs. Now, curing hams and sides of beef hang inside what had been the ticket office.
Stop in the bar for quick drinks and snacky tastes of house-cured culatello and wispy, white curls of ventrèche, a French-style bacon. Or subject yourself to the full onslaught of McHale's enthusiasms. The £110 tasting menu might begin with an airy fried puff of whole, deboned chicken foot and wends its way through a dozen or so courses: a beautifully wobbly just-set egg of a black headed gull to be dipped in buckwheat salt, aged duck with gingerbread crumble, a heady duck broth served in a wine glass washed with 102-year-old Madeira.
"Chefs used to have to live in West London be near the Michelin-starred restaurants," McHale says. "Then people realized the rents were better out here and we could do the kinds of untraditional places we wanted and live close to our friends."
McHale formed the pop-up series and chefs collective called Young Turks with his pals James Lowe (formely of Fergus Henderson's St. John Bread and Wine) and Ben Greeno (now running Momofuku Seiōbo in Sydney).
Lowe just opened Lyle's, a pretty, light-filled restaurant with steel casement windows, whitewashed walls and dove gray industrial lights.
Though it was just the second full day of service when we stopped in, it's already clear it's probably worth flying to London just for the pleasure of hanging out at Lyle's all day. Start with excellent coffee and little cakes in the morning. Linger over a Bicyclette cocktail made of white wine and Mauro Vergano sweet vermouth. Tuck into a lunch of purple-flecked spring onions (£7) with a mellow garlicky yogurt sauce; sweet blood cake with damson and delicate raw chicory (£6.50) and a luminously pink hunk of perfectly roasted mutton (£13.50) with a dab of anchovy cream and wilted chard. Then hang around till dinner, a multicourse affair for a very reasonable £39.
It's fashionable these days for cocktail bars to do without certain standard amenities: signs outside; vodka drinks. White Lyan goes a step further. There is no ice (they make the cocktails earlier in the day and refrigerate to precise temperatures) and no brands on view (everything is mixed and bottled and labeled in-house). The world is awash in Sazeracs but none like the Moby Dick Sazerac spiked with ambergris.
For a more traditional but no less exciting round, head to Sager + Wilde where husband and wife Michael and Charlotte Sager-Wilde open large-format, interesting wines by the glass.
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