When I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch
I do like a bit of an intellectual do, do I! Just for a change, now and again, it’s stimulating to exercise those little grey cells and step out of the vacuous posing of London social life, to exchange news, views and listen to people who know their highbrow stuff. I mean, let’s not kid ourselves, like 90% of attendees at these events, I am more of a pseudo than the real McCoy. Sure, way back when, in those heady university days, when I wore black top to toe, participated in sit-ins and generally made an effort to be Serious with a capital S, I worked diligently at my reasonably good degree. I was the queen of marker pens and margin notes, adored the Existentialist revival, attended any discussion group going and listened enthusiastically to the works of obscure French chansonniers. All this was conducted in blessed short-sighted soft focus, because, despite my desperate attempts to cultivate that intellectual image, vanity, so frowned upon by my peers of a similar ilk, prevented me from wearing my glasses and seeing things as they really were. And that was the beginning of my pretending to be more scholarly than I really am. Who doesn’t like to step into another identity occasionally?
Plus ça change, so I was thrilled to be invited to my friend P’s book launch of his impressive academic work, The Dandy at Dusk, an art historical tome on culture, melancholy and taste in men’s fashion in the 20th century. This was the perfect opportunity to strap on my clever clogs and mix and mingle with people who smoke untipped French cigarettes and drink too much red wine and generally enthusiastically indulge in critical decadence. Wheyhey, my kind of scene! Well sometimes, at least. And where else should this take place but in Shoreditch, the centre of London hipsterdom, of fashionably seedy nightclubs and post-ironic, in truth, wildly gentrified East End squalor?
It’s come a long way, has Shoreditch, from it’s unsalubrious beginnings as, so it is said, Sewers Ditch, and its former description by the Middlesex Justices in 1596 as presenting a “great number of dissolute, loose, and insolent people harboured in such and the like noisome and disorderly houses, as namely poor cottages, and habitations of beggars and people without trade, stables, inns, alehouses, taverns, garden-houses converted to dwellings, ordinaries, dicing houses, bowling alleys, and brothel houses”.
For most of its history, this has been a working class neighbourhood and was, at times, even a byword for crime, prostitution and poverty. Over the centuries, this area, so close to the London docks, was the first port of call for immigrants seeking their fortune in the metropolis or escaping persecution in their countries, from the Huguenot silk weavers in the 18th Century, to the Ashkenazi Jews and Irish a century later and, more recently, the Bangladeshi community. In fact, these days, it is also known as Banglatown and is famed for its many curry houses. The 1990s brought sanitation and the influx of galleries, restaurants and middle class youth. Technology companies have based their headquarters here, it has featured in books and films, and the artist Banksy has made his distinctive mark in various locations. How much more street cred can an area get?
At the heart of Shoreditch is Brick Lane. Now this is clearly the place to be; it’s just pulsating with neon lights and life of all hues. After we’d toasted the author at the book launch and had thoroughly enjoyed the company and conversation of those present, we were hungry. It was late but achingly hip Brick Lane showed no signs of slowing down. Quite to the contrary, it was just getting into full high energy swing. Just opposite the famous East End Beigel Shop, we found Blanchette East, the quite newly opened sister restaurant to that of the same name in the West End. A cosy French bistro, about as authentic as you can get outside France, it was packed to the rafters. Even so, we managed to squeeze in and find a table.
Unlike your common or garden bistro, here they serve North African influenced French tapas, in other words, small portions, ideal for sampling and sharing a variety of dishes. An inspired concept in my view, and far too rarely available beyond Spanish or Japanese restaurants. Isn’t it far nicer to try a little bit of this and a little bit of that, rather than splurge on just one dish? After all, variety is supposedly the spice of life! Two of us started off with a bowl of Cheese Beignets, deep fried cheese puffs, which were nice and crispy but not particularly distinctive in the taste department. Still, they made for a pleasant first nibble. These was swiftly followed by Rare Peppered Tuna with Chili, Avocado and Lime, another dish of Monkfish with Smoked Aubergine Puree and Chermoula Courgette, yet another of Guinea Fowl with Gem Lettuce, Smoked Cheese, Hazelnuts and Grapes with an extra order of Green Bean Salad with Aged Compte Cheese, Shallots and Walnut Dressing, and finally, a Wild Strawberry Vacherin.
The two fish orders and the green bean salad were quite outstanding, beautifully presented and very tasty indeed, cleverly combined as they were with the other ingredients. The Guinea Fowl, however, was a little dry and bland, but the Wild Strawberry Vacherin quite glorious with a perfect crispy but chewy meringue.
Service was excellent, especially considering how busy the restaurant was. Strangely, and so incongruously in this multicultural neck of the woods, the diners appeared be exclusively young, middle class and white. The buzz and the conviviality here made for a fun atmosphere and all in all, this was an enjoyable meal and a suitable finale to our excursion to the East of the City.
Our meal cost £66.09 including service charge and two glasses of wine.
What I wore
Diane von Fürstenberg wrap-around dress in green, blue, black and white, green Armani Exchange jacket, blue Manolo Blahnik patent leather Mary Janes, French navy Miu Miu bag.
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