Last Days of Shoreditch Riviera//22ndAUG|2017

Hipsters: this city is full of them.

With ill-fitting garments they crowd tunnels of the Underground hurrying to their DIY indie gigs, clutching moleskin notebooks filled with ideas for three-part political dramas in one hand and  decaffeinated chilled soy beverages in the other. It’s really hard for me to not dislike them.

Although they come in all shapes and sizes, they are predominantly made up of folks in their mid-late twenties. Young, fun and fashionable: they represent everything that I am not – for that reason I spurn their presence and recoil in shame when they tell me that they love my blog.

As much as I’d like to continue harbouring a lovely warm, bitter resentment against this enthusiastic demographic, the truth is that I have them to thank for much of the fantastic, vibrant food that is so readily available in London today. Thanks to the thousands of young people flocking to the city to work, more and more trendy establishments have been opening up, offering some truly alternative dinner options.

I follow a trail of excitable aforementioned young people into the elaborately named Last Days of Shoreditch on a balmy evening night.

I’m told by a bespectacled twenty-something that we’re lucky not to have to queue, there is a reason for this: I arrived unfashionably early, having heard about the high demand for this pop-up food market/boozer/karaoke bar. As trendy as my fellow early birds appear to be, it seems that there’s really nothing cool about spending up to an hour in a queue.

For some Last Days of Shoreditch will represent everything that is currently wrong with London. It is quite simply, gentrification incarnate: a scrub of land reinvented as an ‘urban beach’, crammed with cheap wooden furniture, pop-up food stalls, craft ale and young people with too much money.

As I gently part the tide of millennials with my uncouth, old-man shtick, I try and summon up the necessary energy to take a disliking to everything around me. I’m slowly working myself into a rage, using a classic internal monologue to really get my spite turning when I’m accosted by a casually dressed waitress who blindsides me with a complimentary cocktail.

She tells me that it’s a new take on a Tom Collins, using Sicilian lemons and Sipsmith gin, it’s delicious. It’s so delicious, in fact, that I lose my train of thought and start chatting to a group next to me. They’ve just taken part in a pop-up escape room (I don’t even wince at the unnecessary prefix) and are now happily chomping down on gourmet burgers from Nanny Bills. They offer me a ‘Pea & Feta’ Croquette and I surprise myself by taking it.

After taking my leave from this bubbly group, I’m sidetracked on the way to the bar by some raucous screams and cheers. There a number of private karaoke rooms for hire and whilst it’s clear that someone has skimped on sound-proofing, it sounds like all involved are having a good time. I stop for a second and take a look around me – it seems like everyone here is having fun, singing, drinking, generally having a good time. Perhaps I’d judged these hipsters all wrong.

Despite it’s inherently hip nature, Last Days of Shoreditch is a well put together venue, offering good drinks, quality food and enough good-natured fun to keep you busy for a whole night. 

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Baiwei//12thFEB|2017

It might surprise some readers to discover that there are nights when I’d much rather cook than eat out.

Living in the capital, I’m often spoiled for choice for places to eat.

I’ve got a raft of food critic friends constantly inviting me out to a new opening here or a tasting there and my inbox is always full of invitations from restaurants all over the country. You’ll notice that my tone is complaining and for good reason: it is, plain and simply, tiring.

Navigating the hectic streets of London on a daily basis is something that I do not relish. I’m not one of those inhabitants of the city who takes pride in his ability of knowing the best route from Soho to Camden at 7pm. I’m one of those Londoners who only feels the need to leave the relative peace of his minuscule flat in order to buy food or toothpaste (these are the only things I truly need to survive) and can’t stand the constant half-jogging pace that stuck up business men and twenty-something, startup geniuses insist on setting.

I’d managed to avoid leaving the house for almost 72 hours, feeling thoroughly exhausted after my two-day sojourn to Bristol, but unfortunately, something always has to give and it wasn’t the toothpaste.

Some time ago, on the suggestion of a chef friend, I had my ceramic hobs replaced with induction hobs. Once I’d bought the right pans, I was happy as Larry cooking on them. However, last night when I went to fire them up to cook a quick stir-fry (chilli, garlic, ginger, udon noodles and chicken breast – nothing fancy) – nothing happened.

I know what you’re thinking: induction hob faults – ‘First-world problems’.

Well, this was a problem, because by the time I’d gotten round to cooking, it was already 9:30pm. It was far too late to book a table at one of my usual haunts and I’d be damned if I was to descend to the depths of ‘Just Eat’. So at 10pm on a Sunday night I found myself in the absolute worst position possible, frantically pacing the streets of London for a place to eat.

Luckily for me, I live a stone’s throw from the shifting labyrinthine neighbourhood known as Chinatown. This haven of late-night eateries and fast food joints is a bewildering place for a tourist. Restaurants close and reopen every month or so, each time under a new guise. Baiwei (“100 flavours” in Mandarin) replaced the rather dire Great Leap Forward a number of years ago and made a small splash with its menu designed by Asian Food specialist Fuchsia Dunlop, featuring rare Sichuan oddities such as ‘pigs trotters’ and ‘fatty fish-heads’.

I enter the restaurant in a ‘hangry’ haze of rain water and confused sweat. A charming waitress takes me by the arm, an overly familiar gesture but a brief glance in the mirror clues me into why. I look like an overweight Harrison Ford type, desperately in search for his children – that’s putting it kindly. After being tucked away in a cosy corner of the restaurant (out of sight from other customers), I’m served a series of dishes that serve to revitalise both my soul and body.

Sichuan comfort food might well have its quirks (Duck tongue is one such peculiarity that I might never grow accustomed to) but to a wet, starving man in his forties, the glorious blend of fresh chillies, gooey batter and meaty broth is something akin to heaven. The freshly served delights will make you forget that the chairs are as hard as planks and ignore the, bizarrely off-putting, Maoist paintings.

As the same waitress helped me on with my coat, I felt a reassuring pat on the shoulders, as if to say: “Take it easy, you’re alright now”.

She was absolutely right.

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