Making a meal of it
This week, Michael Deacon heads to hipster heaven. Photographs by Mark Whitfeld
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