It’s long been a trope of the London restaurant scene to deck out pokey shoebox venues – no doubt rented at extortionate cost – as if they are luxurious, hedonistic beach clubs.
God knows how many thousands of tonnes of sand is dumped over car parks round the back of the Roundhouse in Camden and on soulless stretches of the Thames each summer to make Londoners feel slightly as if they’ve escaped the grey dreariness.
Most of these beach clubs only serve to remind diners just how clear it is that they aren’t in (insert sunny location), but are actually in (delete as applicable: Deptford/Peckham/Hoxton). Most of the time London is gritty, after all, not relaxed like a beach club, so who are we kidding? Sorry restaurateurs, but rarely does your five metres of outdoor space where the bins should be feel much like Malibu.
Laurel’s on the Roof in Shoreditch is the latest opening attempting to waft diners away from east London and take them to, well, probably Malibu, or Miami, or some other American city that’s romanticised in films.
And it’s pretty successful at achieving that image: Swimmers dove in out of the pool (yes, rooftop pool), like figures from David Hockney’s Pool Paintings. The skinny outdoor area gives off a much bigger impression thanks to laidback wicker furniture and an inviting clash of shrubbery. Inside, large windows frame views over east London and genteel, pastel shaded furniture, the type you’d spot in the windows of Laura Ashley, lured me beyond poolgazing, to look at the menu.
And blimey, did we look – for around half an hour, with no sign of anyone coming to take our order until desperation took hold and I began waving my hands like the figure in Stevie Smith’s seminal poem Not Waving But Drowning. After our starters came out wrong, I felt I began to embody the “poor chap” in the poem more and more. In short, dear reader, everyone was polite but the service was all wrong, and the restaurant was half empty. Sure, it’s new, but it’s bankrolled by hotel giant Ennismore, which runs the rooms downstairs and should really know better.
When it came, the food was as bright as the environment. A starter of tuna tostada was colourful enough for the ‘gram. Served classically with the fish pepped up by soy sauce and a squeeze of lime, it was a melange of inviting softness and challenging crunch.
Linguini and clams doesn’t scrimp on the clams, with enough to pick at long after the salted pasta has been hoovered up. It gave my friend time to finish necking her mezcalito; the titular spirit mixed with fino sherry, grapefruit, lime and basil. (Also a mezcal fiend, my Oaxaca Express – mezcal with coffee – was disappointing, with little taste beyond the caffeinated stuff.)
My vegan guest’s jackfruit quesadillas were generously sized with fresh salsa borracha, while corn ‘ribs’ with harissa yogurt was piled high and achieved a balance of raspy dry spice and sweetness. She was pulled back to reality from gazing at the poolside divers with the reality that there is no vegan main, although a tantalising vegan lemon and avocado cheesecake cheered both of us up.
Laurel’s is worthy escapism. It just needs to sort the service out or the relaxed vibe fears being overrun by frantic arm movements – and I didn’t even go for a dip.
Laurel’s on the Roof is bookable online; 45 Curtain Rd, London EC2A 3PT, 020 3988 6272