100-102 Hoxton Street, N1 6SG
Tel: 020 7729 1444
FOOD Three stars
VALUE Four stars
ATMOSPHERE Two stars
Cost for two with drinks: £70
OUTSIDE, a young woman draws on a cigarette, her waistline not much thicker than the rim of the spectacles worn by boys who glance at her as they walk past. Inside, the toilets are unisex; the bricks and pipes are exposed; the waiter dons a matching waistcoat, shirt and tie combination with sleeves rolled up to show off his tattooed forearms.
We are, of course, in Hoxton – at a new venture that embraces its location even in its name. Single tables are crammed close together, accompanied by functional, uncomfortable-looking chairs that have probably been sourced from an actual “old school”. Loud music competes with escalating chatter, reverberating off the walls of a building that 100 Hoxton’s proprietors describe as a “Bauhaus-inspired former council block”.
Bearing in mind the kitchen is led by a couple of chefs known as Ace and Tonto, it occurs to me that I may have walked into a hitherto undiscovered fourth series of The Mighty Boosh. As I sit awkwardly in an ill-matching jumper and brown trousers, a creeping fear emerges that it’s only a matter of time until I’m exposed as a ginger version of Howard Moon.
You’re invited to select a variety of dishes that are intended to be shared. I opt for one flatbread, a couple of vegetable dishes, some scallops and – the evening’s special – a rib-eye steak with shiitake mushrooms.
As the dishes arrive (at irregular intervals) it becomes clear that beneath 100 Hoxton’s style, there is a considerable amount of substance. Its head chef, the aforementioned Ace (also known as Francis Puyat), is Ottolenghi-trained and his schooling is evident in many of the creations.
A quinoa salad with squash, avocado, and feta may sound standard but is brilliantly brought to life with the addition of toasted coriander seeds and the middle-eastern spice sumac.
Meanwhile, my pointing at the menu to request an edamame and split pea fritter is misunderstood by the waiter who instead delivers an aubergine salad. This turns out to be the best culinary mistake since a caveman accidentally dropped a bit of animal flesh on the fire. The charred, shallow strip of aubergine comes decorated with a sprinkling of tomato pieces, apple, nectarine, beetroot and hazelnut. It sounds straightforward but the dish adds up to something far greater than the sum of its parts.
Apple is included with many of the dishes – it’s the first time I’ve seen it on a plate next to two giant scallops – and it’s one of many elements that – along with well-selected leaves and sprigs of herbs such as coriander – cleanses the palate so that skipping from one dish to another is seamless.
Admittedly, the couple on the next table (who are no more than three feet away) decide that their scallops are “a bit meh”, but I quietly disagree, having been pleasantly surprised by how well they work with the Asian-influenced black bean accompaniment.
The special, however, is not the most special part of the meal. The seasoning was far too spicy for a piece of meat that should be enjoyed on its own merits. The cuts are covered with a layer of what appears to be an onion-based spicy relish – and I spend a moment before every mouthful scraping this off, a process that results in me knocking over a glass of wine (a very good Riesling, since you ask).
Fortunately, 100 Hoxton returns to form with its desserts. The miniature plum clafoutis would be good enough on their own, but are further lifted by a small pot of thick cream that’s flavoured with amaretto and, intriguingly, agave – a product typically used as a sweetener. Frankly, I could eat jars of that stuff.
I also treated myself to a banana ice-cream, which comes with grated coconut that will return you for a moment into a spoilt nine-year-old. Meal over, job done.
The discovery of decent food in Hoxton shouldn’t be a great surprise. This new venture is a stone’s throw from the cluster of Vietnamese restaurants that occupy the southern tip of Kingsland Road – some of which are extremely good. And many of the newer, trendier joints are managing to roll out impressive stuff, too.
The kids in skinny jeans riding fixie bikes may not look like they’ve had a proper meal in the last six months, but their corner of town is turning out to be a reasonable place for the rest of us to venture in search of a good feed. 100 Hoxton is a welcome addition.