Wednesday, 11 March 2009
The Hoxton Pony, Shoreditch
I wouldn't, under any circumstances, expect to get the meal of my life in any of the flashy bars in Shoreditch. People don't go to places like the Electricity Showrooms or the Light Bar for that - they go to drink pints of Hoegaarden and sugary mojitos and shout at their friends. There's a very clear distinction between places you go to eat (Hawksmoor, Saf, The Diner, Rivington Grill) and places that serve food to go with your drinks (everywhere else). And so I wasn't getting my hopes up about the food at the Hoxton Pony, especially after reading this at the top of their menu:
Our vision is one of simplicity and tradition, taking classic British staples and applying a modern interpretation. In layman’s terms we’re celebrating the food that London was built on!
It's the kind of PR guff that strikes fear into the heart of any diner, and nothing more than PR guff it most certainly is, given that "celebrating the food that London was built on" at the Hoxton Pony appears to involve such traditional East End dishes as Welsh Rarebit, Grilled Goats Cheese Salad and, my lunch yesterday, burger and chips.
Though not quite inedible it was a pretty forgettable plate of food. The meat was overcooked and grey, topped with a miniscule circle of bacon and inside a horrible dry and crumbly bap. It was also served with (I can hardly say this phrase without wincing) Fat Chips, although to be fair these were pretty nice - soft inside and crunchy out. It was just as well that a companion's Fish and Chips came with the same chips as the fish itself was pretty awful - thin, flaccid batter covering a slimy portion of haddock. Worst of all, rather than the "mushy peas" mentioned on the menu, it arrived with a tiny pot of what I can only assume was crushed pea casings, dry, tasteless and offensively bad. God knows what they were thinking - or even if they tasted it before serving - but this awful concoction should never have seen the light of day, never mind been served to a paying customer.
There are good things about the Hoxton Pony. The room is quite stunningly designed, all moulded plastic and curvy mirrors, and the lighting is so effective it's currently up for an award. The bar looked well-stocked and even though I was on the wagon due to it being midweek on a school day, my Virgin Mary was well made and nicely spiced. Service too was friendly. Just none of the good things involve anything produced by the kitchen.
Look, I know what you're thinking. "Poncy Shoreditch Bar In Mediocre Food Shock!". But just because you're essentially a drinking den that has to serve easy food to increase your profit margins is not an excuse for doing it cynically or incompetently. The Music Hall, just a couple of doors up on Curtain Road, is basically a live music venue that serves simple grub to soak up their excellent selection of Belgian beers, but their food is honest and pretty tasty and very reasonably priced. And they don't bang on about "sustainable sourcing" or "modern interpretations" in an attempt to cover for the fact they're charging a tenner for a crappy burger.
By all means, go to the Hoxton Pony, order a mojito and shout at your friends. But if you start feeling peckish after that third drink, settle your tab, walk up Curtain Road and feed your hunger at the Diner. You'll thank me in the morning.