132 Curtain Road, London, Greater London EC2A 3AR
The weather was particularly drizzly, grey and dank. I had an overwhelming urge to be catapulted to a place far far away so it seemed an appropriate day to sample the delights of Huong Restaurant, Curtain Road. Steamy windows concealed the buzz from within, it was Friday lunchtime and it was packed. Waiters span off their heals to serve the array of customers, this had to be a good sign.The waiter recommended a house favourite of prawn and squid cakes as an appetiser, they were delicious and really did get me revved up for the main.
Following the theme of warming winter lunches, I chose the Hu Tieu Tom. Described as “Flat rice noodles in clear soup with prawns, topped with beansprouts, celery and shallots”. Very reasonably priced at £4.95 the portion was huge. It comes with a teeny pot of chilli oil which I highly recommend drizzling over the top. The chilli kick was just what I needed, not only clearing the lingering cold of the week before but also giving my taste-buds an awesome shock from the mundane sandwich-at-the-desk scenario. This is the sort of place to go with friends, enjoy sloshing about the soupy broth, twizzle chopsticks around your fingers and feast over a refreshingly different lunch.
The Albion sits proudly on the corner of Boundary street and Shoreditch’s infamous Redchurch Street. Its smart facade is counterbalanced by the rustic looking wooden shelves with humble, organic, seasonal and quite beautiful display of vegetables outside the entrance. Inside is a similar affair, waiters bustle around it’s a smart interior, though the food is scrumptious, comforting and generous. I scour the room for an empty seat, it’s an average Wednesday, its 1pm, but the place is heaving. The weather is freezing outside, my stomach growns with envy as my eyes follow a homemade pie that’s just crossed my path. Not far behind it is a large battered cod and generous helping of fries – they’re flown in to a table of happy looking customers. I’m shown to my seat and within seconds chirpy waitress is talking me through the menu. It’s extensive, it’s varied and quite simply mouth-watering.
I ordered the homemade soup of the day – on this day it was Mushroom – which is accompanied by homemade bread (displayed in slices, upright in a mini metal loaf tin) nice touch. It’s as light as air, and the soup is divine. Next up was an elegant slice of homemade vegetable tart, beetroot and blue cheese; served with a neat side salad. The presentation is stunning. This place has all the glamour of fine dining, with a level of comfort food you’d expect from a gastro-pub. If you’re looking for escapism and some peace and quiet at lunchtime, this might not be for you. If you’re dining clients and want somewhere to not just impress but indulge, head here. You’ll leave feeling stuffed, but stuffed with jolly good food.
56 Shoreditch High Street London E1 6JJ
Let me start by the interiors, Pizza East is uber trendy and industrial though original. It’s open plan, it proudly displays exposed brickwork, and it’s very very “Shoreditch”. Yet the huge hanging legs of Italian hams don’t seem out of place strung up high in the windows. The menu has me salivating at the table, I wanted everything. Not only was this seriously good Italian food, this was really unusual and really inspiring. Far from the standard bruscetta, olive, margherita classics we’re used to, think cheeses you’ve not heard of but are dying to try. Think herb combinations and vegetable additions to the old classics. For any doubts over some of the ingredients, the waiters are on hand to give an equally passionate explanation of the food types (so much enthusiasm you’d think they were Italian).
I ordered Arancini to start (little balls of risotto, deep fried) which were phenomenal. Note to self – never share these, there’s only 4 on the plate and I’d go to great lengths not to give any away. I also ordered the artichoke salad which again was beautiful and so refreshingly different it woke up my tastebuds from the deep slumber of predictable rocket and tomato combos. For the main I ordered one of their new pizzas on the menu; a Pancetta, squash, stracchino and parmesan pizza – DO IT is all I’ll say. This was big, in size, in flavour, in attitude and in comfort.
I prayed for more room, but the portion was so generous (and the speed I devoured the starter) I could barely get half way through it. Thankfully, the waiter soon boxed up the beauty so I could re-start with round II later on. Perfect time? Go with a group of friends, or colleagues on a Friday – the atmosphere is awesome.
If you want warmth from spice and warmth from exotism (as opposed to soupy, bready, Englishness winteriness) Boho Mexica might be just the mamasita you’re looking for. The drinks menu in itself is definitely worth a try (perhaps after work!) and I couldn’t help be tempted by the Mojitos. The strong smell of rum and mint wafted over to my table and despite being barely 2pm a rowdy group of friends sat at the back with jugs of colourful cocktails. I was annoyingly good, and went for a non-alchoholic aqua-frescas Hibiscus drink, dark purple and fruity. Not sure my taste buds understood this new flavour, but it was sweetly good.
The menu’s were works of art, I was quite distracted daydreaming at the pretty coloured sketches of Mexican retro designs on the pages, when suddenly a starter flew off the page. I quickly remembered an old south American friend of mine recommending the dish years ago, Tostadas de Ceviche. Lime marinated Sea Bass, serano chilli tomato salsa, avocado and salad over two corn crisp tortilla. Yes, friggin, please. My tongue went into momentary shock for a few seconds, and then I fell madly in love. The second course was a little heavier; Flautas de Barbacoa, tortillas filled with shredded lamb topped with tomato habanero salsa and sour cream, lettuce. This really was a dreamy lunch, though it was almost wasted on a lunch break. I wished I could stay for the evening, stick my head in a mint plant, drink my way through the cocktails and eat endless Tostadas de Ceviche whilst daydreaming about sunny Mexico.
Franze and Evans
101 Redchurch Street London Borough of Tower Hamlets, E2 7DL
First things first, in my opinion this place has the most beautiful food counter in Shoreditch. While I appreciate that’s quite a statement – it’s an honest one. Stunning cakes, muffins, bite-size beauts, croissants and pastries adorn the counter. They’re beautifully decorated, they’re unpredictable and they are mouthwateringly attractive. They sit deservedly high, on thrones of cake stands and under beautiful protective glass dome cases. Good job as it stopped me from nose-diving the carrot cake (and face-planting the icing-sugar dusted almond croissants).
Invited in to try a hearty, warming winter lunch, I was actually thankful for the direction. I sat down to a hot plate of homemade Lamb Stew and Rice, and it felt like a bear-hug of a lunch. Sunday-afternoon-feeling comfort food, the kind you daydream about when you’re hung-over; full of vegetables, the lamb was tender, the sauce was rich and tasty. You know sometimes you just want dinner for lunch? Sometimes you’re just too cold for a sarnie and just so hungry you want to feel stuffed? Franze & Evans delivered, I genuinely felt that stew healed me. If you don’t go to be comforted, go to be impressed by their cake counter. I challenge you not to drool.