This week I continue my snappily titled “restaurants that aren’t ‘new’ anymore so you’ve probably already been, but kitchens get better over time and who cares about being first anyway” series.
No doubt this excites you a great deal. Well try, if you can, to contain your enthusiasm, because it’s a double rollover, two for the price of one, modern East London boozer edition featuring 8 Hoxton Square and Mission, and I don’t want you to explode before the end. Strap yourself in and hold on to your hats.
8 Hoxton Square
I didn’t fall in love with 10 Greek Street – the elder, Soho based sibling of 8 Hoxton Square. The food I had there was just a little too casually done and the room too manic. I remember, from the first occasion, a salad with more white pomegranate pith than red seed, an underwhelming, under-seasoned and under-braised duck leg, and a bill that I felt reflected the location, rather than the food, wine and service. I returned a couple of times, but was never won over.
Thing is, those were early days and my experience seems to be against the grain. Plenty of others go again and again. Further, reports (from people with good taste) of their sibling restaurant were strong from day one. The only reason it took me the best part of a year to visit, was that they were full every time I tried to book a table.
A long and leisurely Friday lunch, lubricated by an aggressively drinkable bottle of red, put things right.
8 Hoxton Square (exactly where it says on the tin) is a compact, light, bare brick, bare table, relaxed dining room. It’s an urbane interpretation of the kind of bistro you imagine exists in every provincial French town, but probably doesn’t. I imagine it’s bustling and energised in the evening. But at 1pm on a Friday, the tempo was relaxed and gentle.
A couple of blackboards repeated the paper menus that were neatly rolled and placed upright between cutlery and condiments. The specifics change regularly, but no doubt the formula’s well established: if you go (or have been), I guess there’ll be a couple of interesting things breaded and fried, one or two comforting braised meat dishes, a few grilled or flash fried fish numbers and another couple of plates where vegetables are the focus. Dishes are offered in a format that could be taken in classic starter and main form, but also as a selection of dishes to share. The style is St John Bread and Wine crossed with Provence crossed with, well, just contemporary eclectic global cooking.
Our meal included sweetbreads coated in crumbs, deep fried and served on a Jeru-choke puree with charred cauliflower florets and a wedge of lemon. Braised oxtail was dark, sticky, rich, yielding, and absolutely spot on. A bubbling and browned bowl of cauliflower cheese was the kind of good that means you have to cook it again for yourself a day later, because that’s all you can think of eating. I recall a bowl of thick chips that would’ve been one bowl too many, were it not for the pot of aioli that screamed to be scooped up.
Grilled sardines sat, unusually, under a pile of coriander, chilli and preserved lemons, and on top of minted (from memory) yoghurt. Enjoyable stuff, but whether that garnish is an improvement on a simple squeeze of lemon is up for debate.
The best dish might’ve been a leek, blue cheese and walnut number – the leeks cooked until soft and sweet, the cheese molten and nuts browned, and all of that hiding a thin, crunchy, extremely buttery pastry base. Like a vegetable mille fuille that realised it needed just one, not one thousand layers to please the eater. There was a decent tarte Tatin too, which was well partnered by ball of cinnamon ice cream.
What I liked about the food was that it was simple but confident (and competent). There’s no attempt to change any games, nor to ape feign deigning neither. Just good and proper scran. Maybe this is what it’s like at 10 Greek Street these days. Whereas there I thought the food too casually done, here the easy manner is backed by real quality. Service was spot on, the wine, as mentioned, mightily enjoyable. All in all, very easy dining. I will return.
Which leaves about 250 words on Mission: a wine bar come restaurant housed in a railway arch in Bethnal Green.
You’ll know, I would’ve thought, that this is from the couple behind the uber and eponymous wine room Sagar and Wilde, that the wine is all Californian, and that there’s a palm tree in the middle of the room. I’m trying desperately not to write ‘trendy’, because these are trend setters, not trend followers, and that adjective does anyone with innate style a disservice. But the deliciously appointed arch with its stunning all wall wine rack, exposed brick work, quality tableware and glasses is very definitely trendy. So I’ll just give in and acknowledge that.
I’ve been a number of times for a drink (quality, probably all technically great value, but certainly not cheap), though never ate more than the odd bar snack (ox heart tartare, tick).
This is an known oversight because I see plenty of Mission menus and food snaps, and can tell immediately that what comes out of the kitchen balances nicely between style, season and substance – the food always looks fresh, vibrant, interesting. Clearly an appropriate match for the setting and wine list.
Last weekend the betrothed and I popped in for a quick lunch and confirmed my suspicions in just two courses. Cheesy polenta was topped with two thick slices of pumpkin, wilted greens, pumpkin seeds and more cheese. Great flavours. Great eating. We had that alongside a parsley, dill, blood orange and pomegranate (no pith …) laced orzo pasta, topped with a well charred quail. Not the quality of Peckham Bazaar’s little bird a few weeks before – but still a zinging dish.
Like 8 Hoxton Square, Mission’s food is relatively simple, but confident and competent. Perhaps the menu’s a touch more sophisticated under the railway arch, or is that just the stylish setting? In any event, Mission is definitely (another) one to return to.
Update November 2015: Mission is now Sagar + Wilde Restaurant. For more, see this post.
8 Hoxton Square in 3 words
Casual, charming, Frenchish
I think we racked up £50 per head, but that included more food than required, a bottle of sommit and a couple of sweet wines to match dessert. I’d say it’s decent value.
8hoxtonsquare.com – 8 Hoxton Square, N1 6NU – 020 7729 4232
Mission in 3 words
Stylish, fresh, east
Nicely priced menu – £8-£16 for most dishes. But the bill can/will rack up, particularly if you’re thirsty.
MissionE2.com – 250 Paradise Row, E2 91E – 020 7613 0478