Mak­ing a meal of it

This week, Michael Dea­con heads to hip­ster heaven. Pho­to­graphs by Mark Whit­feld

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Making A Meal Of It -

Satire changes noth­ing. Ev­ery sub­ur­ban white boy in Eng­land laughed at Ali G, yet it didn’t stop them speak­ing in Jafaican ac­cents. Ev­ery TV re­porter laughed at Brass

Eye, yet it didn’t stop them over-egging the news with far­ci­cal bom­bast. Ev­ery hip­ster laughed at Nathan Bar­ley, yet it didn’t stop them wear­ing ironic bowler hats and writ­ing think pieces about dread­locks for Vice.

Nor, for that mat­ter, did it stop them launch­ing restau­rants like Smokey Tails. Smokey Tails used to be a pop-up deal­ing in what it calls ‘Beats & Eats’ (or, if you pre­fer: food, with mu­sic play­ing in the back­ground). Last month, it opened per­ma­nently in its spir­i­tual home: Hox­ton, east Lon­don. I looked at its web­site. Smokey Tails, it pro­claimed, would daz­zle ‘Lon­don’s home of hip’, serv­ing a cui­sine known as ‘Mid­west mod­ern’, and over­seen by some­one named Seth Trox­ler, ‘world-fa­mous megas­tar DJ’ and ‘se­cret-sauce-recipe be­holder’.

I’m 35 years old. Sud­denly I felt about 70. I was go­ing to need help. For­tu­nately, I have

I felt pa­thet­i­cally out of place. I wasn’t wear­ing a fat cap, my suit was unironic… Lucky I had a beard or I might have been stopped at the door

a col­league who is 22 and works in some­thing called ‘trend­ing con­tent’. I brought her along to act as a trans­la­tor.

On ar­rival we were greeted by a waiter with a han­dle­bar mous­tache. Well, we’d clearly come to the right place. I’d booked for 8pm, but our table wasn’t ready, so we were shown to the bar, where we or­dered a cock­tail (‘the Madonna’ – all cock­tails were named af­ter retro singers and bands) and a white wine. These were served, re­spec­tively, in a half-pint beer mug and the sort of bed­side tum­bler into which you might plop your den­tures. ‘Not very In­sta­gram­able,’ frowned the 22-year-old, not­ing with dis­ap­proval my cock­tail’s lack of gar­nishes. Still, she didn’t mind wine from a tum­bler. ‘Round here I’ve had it served in a jam jar.’

Af­ter 20 min­utes we were fnally shown to our table. I looked around: at the DJ booth, laden with old vinyl and dot­ted with cac­tuses; at the net­works of ex­posed pipes, manda­tory un­der the East Lon­don Hip­ster Bar Act 2002; and at our table, where for some rea­son a tiny can­dle had been placed at the bot­tom of a large fow­er­pot, the min­i­mal light it was able to cast made in any case re­dun­dant by the mas­sive elec­tric lamp sus­pended about two feet above it. The mu­sic, mean­while, was pitched at the ideal vol­ume for any­one who liked look­ing at their part­ner but wasn’t so keen on talk­ing to them.

In short, I felt pa­thet­i­cally out of place. I wasn’t wear­ing a fat cap, my suit was unironic, and I was the old­est per­son present by at least fve years. Lucky I had a beard or I might have been stopped at the door.

‘Mid­west mod­ern’ turned out to be a com­bi­na­tion of bar­be­cue and American fast food. The menu was brief – four mains, fve sides, four sal­ads – and they had run out of two key items, the Trox­ler BBQ pork brioche bun and Mamma’s fried chicken. I de­cided to com­pare the pork ribs and the lamb ribs, with a side of fries; the 22-year-old took the miso aubergine with smoked tofu, the mac and cheese, and the tomato salad (‘I’m vege­tar­ian. I fnd cows re­ally sym­pa­thetic. I love their soul­ful moo. Are you go­ing to har­vest my ban­ter for this?’).

At 9.05pm, over an hour af­ter we’d ar­rived, some food at last found its way to us. I say ‘some’, be­cause they ’d for­got­ten my fries. My two sets of ribs were both car­toon­ish,

Flint­stones- sized slabs, one brown, one red. The lamb was ap­a­thet­i­cally favour­less, as if tasting of any­thing were some­how be­neath it. It prob­a­bly shrugged while it was be­ing slaugh­tered, rolled its eyes while be­ing butchered and browsed Twit­ter while be­ing cooked. I couldn’t taste the pork ei­ther, but that may have been be­cause it was slathered in a tonguedead­en­ing bar­be­cue sauce.

The 22-year-old was happy enough, though, par­tic­u­larly with her smoked tofu. ‘They’ve made tofu in­ter­est­ing,’ she said, with an air of gen­uine re­spect. (I know: in­ter­est­ing tofu. Miche­lin stars have been awarded for less.)

I re­ordered my fries. This time they ar­rived, although with­out the may­on­naise that was meant to ac­com­pany them. Then the may­on­naise ar­rived, but not the cock­tail I’d also or­dered. Af­ter a while I man­aged to flag down a waiter. ‘Who did you or­der it from?’ he asked, pony­tail swish­ing in­sou­ciantly. I looked blank.

‘Oh, if you don’t know who it was, it could be any­one,’ he said. ‘Might have walked out of here by now.’ I’m fairly sure he was jok­ing, but it did sound plau­si­ble. He promised to ‘go and look for’ my cock­tail. I never saw him again. Maybe he’d walked out him­self.

To sum­marise: a table that was 20 min­utes late, a plate of fries that had to be or­dered twice, and a cock­tail that seemed de­ter­mined not to turn up at all. It even­tu­ally ma­te­ri­alised at 10.10pm, af­ter the third time of ask­ing. I would have or­dered pud­ding, but I had to be at work by nine the next morn­ing.

Still, I didn’t like to com­plain. Launch­ing a res­tau­rant isn’t easy, and these were early days. A dis­con­cert­ingly young man­age­ment type was go­ing from table to table, apolo­get­i­cally ex­plain­ing that tonight had been very busy and anx­iously check­ing that peo­ple were hav­ing a good time. I felt for him. He seemed wellmean­ing. And, to be fair, I’m hardly the tar­get mar­ket. I’m an old man of 35, set in my ways, with an­ti­quated ideas about drink­ing wine out of wine glasses and eat­ing food the same night I or­der it. If you’re younger and cooler than I am, as in­creas­ing num­bers of peo­ple are these days, you might feel more at home.

A word of ad­vice, though: if you want a cock­tail with your meal, save time by bring­ing your own.

‘They’ve made tofu in­ter­est­ing,’ my com­pan­ion said, with an air of gen­uine re­spect. Miche­lin stars have been awarded for less

From top Smoked lamb ribs, pic­tured with as­para­gus with an­chovy but­ter; a BBQ pork brioche bun with a tomato salad

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