8 Hoxton Square, Quality Chop & White Lyan

I’d been keeping an ear to the ground for news on the sister restaurant of 10 Greek Street ever since I heard news that there was to be one. You see, although I quite liked the first, I’d never really warmed to it; not in the way that so many had. I’m not sure if it was the clattery, bustling, market like atmosphere, tiny perchy tables, or the food; that should have been my sort of thing but was just slightly off the mark on the couple of occasions I visited. The best thing I had was an utterly inspired dessert dish of tonic sorbet in a pool of gin that quenched so many thirsts on a sweltering Summers day. Pushing any preconceptions aside, I was more than curious to give the second location a new chance.

8 Hoxton Square is conveniently located just a short stroll from many good places to get a drink; I’m in the vicinity sadly just a smidge too late for a coffee (Macintyre Coffee & Embassy East – that would have been you) but perfectly timed for a second visit to the curious White Lyan; a cocktails bar on Hoxton Street that eschews ice and all perishables and, I think, the only place I’ve ever not ordered off menu. You can’t. The vast majority of the cocktail magic is performed in a couple of hours pre service, so that all you’re presented with as a customer is a bar and  a large fridge filled with pre mixed and diluted potions.

The concept is very love or hate and I’m still not entirely sure which camp I’m in; I love the innovation, it’s exciting seeing a bar operate in such a different way, however you do lose all of the theatre that traditional cocktail making creates. It’s a very clinical space and I actually rather like a lot of the paraphernalia that normally goes hand in hand with cocktails. I’m more than once brought to mind of the emperors new clothes; the room itself is not one I’d choose to inhabit and if there wasn’t a spot at the bar, frankly, I’d move on. However a spot at the bar *is* captivating, as the drinks, though not the making of, are very interesting indeed; there’s a certain danger in having the urge to try one of everything to see how simple descriptions are interpreted. I guess, with a group, you could. The Negroni, for example, works despite no ice and no zest, the only task the bar tender does is to fill the glass with smoke and sulphur from a lit match.

I feel very conscious that once the menu has been exhausted, there’s a danger of the novelty wearing off. I think that ultimately the bar needs to prove there’s method in their madness and legs in this type of menu by making sure they update their selection of drinks regularly to maintain a captive audience.

That said, I had a delecate little drink on Friday, named Pixie Dust (what’s not to love about that right?!) from what is to be their new menu; a combination of vermouth and lemongrass distillate that was enchantingly pretty and all of the dainty.

Now, whilst I was sat at the bar, waiting to meet my friend for our reservation at 8 Hoxton Square, I receive a phone call from said friend to say she couldn’t make it. No biggie; it was due to circumstances out of her control and really wasn’t a problem. However, it instantly changed the dynamics of the evening and highlighted the difference mood can make to an experience, especially after a mood enhancing couple of sharpeners. Ahem. I decide to honour our reservation anyway. Why wouldn’t I? I’ve long been an advocate of solo dining. But, oh! What a difference having that decision taken away makes… Rather than striding in with my head held high, proud to be able to dine alone in this wonderful city, confident of my ability not to crumble without conversion. No, I walk somewhat sheepishly into the restaurant, mutter something about being stood up (what do they care?!) feeling a little bit like a failure. Ridiculous behaviour. Don’t worry, I gave myself a stern talking to the next day.

There’s nothing worse than dining opposite an empty seat and so I request a spot at the bar. The main kitchen bar is downstairs, the one on the ground floor is more of a prep/drinks bar and has admirably large stool tops for my ever expanding behind. Once I have a Negroni to hand I allow myself a glance around the room; it’s as different to 10 Greek Street as two restaurants can be. In my mind, 10 Greek Street is all shiny, white, sharp, tight and screechy (but maybe that was my close proximity to the kitchen, sat before it on both occasions), here is a room that is languid and dark, an abundance of wood  lends a cabin-in-the-woods feel; mellow and inviting. The blackboard menu’s allow the same market vibe, there’s also white washed brick and shiny copper bar tops that mirror the former, but there’s none of the harried, frenetic air, I feel like I can breath; 10 Greek Street allowed to relax perhaps, to breath a sigh of spacious relief.

The service, I find soothing to my bruised spirit, I relax and order a slightly strange list of dishes. Just things that randomly appeal. My plan to share a number of dishes gone with my companion. I’m a slave to all things doughnut and so zepole, an Italian version, scream to me. I’m cruelly rewarded with a pungently salty anchovy filling (fish/seafood being my food nemesis – if I haven’t told you a million times before); my bad for not asking frankly, but they’re whisked from sight and I’m not billed, I certainly would have paid for MY mistake. Instead I nibble on rather good house bread, always a good sign; a bouncy corn bread and moist (sorry) onion focaccia particularly moreish.

I’m so hungry at this point that my small plate of orecchiette with n’duja and cime di rapa is hoovered up at an alarming rate; lovely and comforting; turnip tops (new kale? Seen it adorning many a menu of late….) adding savoury green to the punch of spicy sausage. And when all else fails; steak and chips is generally an easy option. Well, a version of it anyway. Chips here are aggressively salty and give just the right crunch, just the thing for my frame of mind, served with a rich aioli, as is the perfect rendition of venison tartare, topped with truffle and a dwarfed quails egg. It’s worth mentioning here that the wine I’m recommended is just perfect too, I forget now what it was (Hi potent cocktails!) but as with their first, the carefully and very reasonably curated wine menu is as much the draw as the food.

Having made myself comfortable now, I’m in the mood to finish things properly. I’m SO close to ordering the almond and marmalade cake but the bar tender nudges me in the direction of the pavlova with rhubarb and pistachio. Good move. Meringue is just as it should be; exterior shattering to gooey chewy sweetness and the seasonal additions are as delicious as they are pretty. A martini completes my meal and finishes me off in more ways than one.

In the end, once I was in the right mind set, I thoroughly enjoyed my solo meal at 8 Hoxton Square and would err towards dining there alone again. As long as I could guarantee a spot at the bar that is. I’ll definitely be adding it to my growing list of great places to grab a drink (wine or cocktail) and a bite.

Quality Chop House remains one of my favourite London restaurants, but strangely is somewhere I’ve never dined alone; I wonder if there’s any correlation? And yet, I just know that I’d have a fine time alone too, sat at one of the tiny tables at the back of the bar, with my thoughts and a few questions about the wine and the produce, maybe a little banter on their cocktail ingredients or doughnuts.

Having only dined in the bar area previously, with many different combinations of friends and family, and always to utter success, I was feeling less confident about the prospect of a fixed menu, as is the only option when booked into the restaurant, which my friend and I were. I shouldn’t have worried, the meal we had last week was one of the very best I’ve enjoyed in London and the clear choice to take someone that’s sadly leaving the country and had yet to visit.

I’ve written about Quality Chop House in more length previously, almost exactly a year ago in fact, so here’s a quick run through of what we ate for an astounding, just £35 a head plus wine.

Starters, as is common in the restaurant world these days, are simply put but deliver far more than their written words. Two spears of endive arrive unannounced, filled with soft squiggles of cheese and pine nuts; I can’t help thinking a modern alternative to that very retro celery stick. A small plate of wrinkled and folded prosciutto is quickly devoured, a salty morsel to tame our aperitif of choice (clearly; Negroni), this is followed quickly with purple sprouting broccoli sat atop a smear of bagna cauda and draped with heavenly beef lardo. A plate, simply described as ‘carrot, brown butter’ is so astonishing we dip in with disbelief, astounded that carrot could be presented in such different ways, textures and flavours delight from crisply fried through tenderly roasted to brown butter sweet daubes. My friend’s crab on toast is declared another success, as are her optional scallops, but it’s my fish friendly dish of jerusalem artichokes with cheese and bacon that is so wildly delicious it’s in danger of eclipsing anything after it.

Again – I needn’t have worried.

Another undeclared small plate arrives, just because the chef had them and thought we might like. Do we heck?! Our miniature felled forrest is made up of tiny morels stuffed with foie gras parfait. HEAVENLY. We’re stuffed, but our main starts to fill the table; tender slices of Herdwick lamb, leg and breast, sit on a celeriac mash, pearl barley and herbs makes an interesting accompaniment as does a clever little dish of salsify that’s encased in a tapenade wrap and is crisply delicious. You cannot come here and not request the confit potatoes. They’re quite ridiculous. So we have, and those turn up too. It’s sheer merit to the chef that we make it through all that food, wiping plates sparkling clean.

Dessert is another triumph of flavours, textures and temperatures; once more really clever stuff; a cool milk ice cream is paired with a kind of whipped dulce de leche, with chocolate biscuit crumbs, hazelnuts and a pair of intense little chocolate macarons.

If we think we’re done, the two little chunks of posh crunchie are just the right side of decadence and send us on our way feeling spoilt and entirely elated with our meal. Simple honest food, extremely well sourced with unexpected flourishes of brilliance and deftness of cooking that leaves me feeling this has to be one of the best set meals in London right now.

It’s worth mentioning the restaurant’s recent proliferation to the shop spaces next door where they now stock many of the products and produce served in the restaurant. I pop back the following day to pick up another bottle of the wine I’d so enjoyed the night before, a natural Pinot Noir from Alsace that has a light natural spritz and a satisfyingly ripe and fruity flavour. I also bag a little jar of whipped lardo, as you do, who wouldn’t want salty, melty spreadable pig with the texture of a cloud?! A tiny jar of red wine salt, is purchased mainly on merit of it’s colour; PURPLE SALT. Sourdough from Elliots Cafe down at Borough Market is as good as the best in London, I’ve since been back to buy more, an incredibly rich and fudgy slab of hazelnut brownie, French salted butter and that king of cheeses; Tunworth, all become mine. They also sell their doughnuts when the pastry chef decides to make a batch. I, buffoon, did not get one of these. I *did* get some streaky bacon and sated the doughnut craving the next day like this

So, anyway, there you have three, very different, recommendations. And certainly, in the case of the restaurants, a good example of how different an experience you can have, or tailer, to befit your mood and your company.

8 Hoxton Square on Urbanspoon

The Quality Chop House on Urbanspoon

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