The sheer exhilaration of going to lunch in a former bike shed at Rochelle Canteen in Shoreditch, is that it necessarily is a “take the afternoon off work” kinda lunch. BYO at at a devilish £5 is the cue for pulling out finest bottles, and if the weather is cute, sitting outside being sunned while sinking some very fine juice feels as good as it gets in London. Press the buzzer, enter the schoolyard, sit down in a bike shed.
Hearing that James Ferguson, former Head Chef of Rochelle Canteen is the man behind the stove at Beagle, was enough to bring back plenty of those sunny memories. I remember a mutton pie for four, suet crust; an unimpeachable crab on toast; some fine duck rillettes; Camel Valley rosé slipping down a treat on an outside table: it was always good.
Now James is cooking in the poshest railway arch known to humanity, three railway arches polished, buffed and re-designed by Fabled Studios, the floor made from reclaimed railway sleepers. It could easily double for a fantasy Hoxton apartment.
Brothers Danny and Kieran Clancy are better known in their other guise as Krankbrothers, DJ-ing and organising parties in unique locations across the capital, while Danny was also recently involved in setting up seafood restaurant Bonnie Gull in Fitzrovia.
Cocktails are a strong suit and Myles Davies (ex-Viajante and Hix among others) has put together an intriguing list with some potent combinations. A Beagle Martini with Chase potato vodka and Gin Mare Spanish gin, stokes the pre-dinner fires one evening, another visit taking in a Silver Fox mix of gin, vermouth. sherry and Lillet — a skewer of silver skinned onion, caperberry and olive is a welcome foil for the rocket fuel in the coupe. No-nonsense Pusser’s Navy Rum on the back bar is a good sign: 54.5% abv for the Hoxton Hardcore.
Pork Fries and Aïoli (£3.50) – Fries? Fries?! If fingers of juicy pork belly breadcrumbed and fried count as fries, then these trump the potato. Pig chips. A great bar snack.
Courgette, Wild Garlic and Mint Soup (£5.50) - Soothing liquor, subtle honk of wild garlic, every spoonful helping to pass any impending internal MOT. A cleanser.
Grilled Lamb’s Tongues, Radishes, Green Sauce (£7) - Tender little swines with a perky green sauce. Radishes a great touch.
Pigeon and Prune Terrine (£7) – Up there with some of the best terrines in London; Magdalen on Tooley Street is always my benchmark. Moist and glistening in all the right places, seething with tasty offal, some heart here, some innards there, until you’re not quite sure what you’re eating — you just know it tastes good.
Hampshire Pork Loin, Roasted Fennel, New Potatoes (£17) - Cooked daringly close to pink, this gave due respect to a cracking piece of pork.
Skate Cheeks and Aïoli (£7) - Lightly battered and fried, and better than the clunkier cod version we had on one visit.
Salt Ling, Chickpeas, Marinated Tomatoes (£6.50) - Sustainable take on salt cod made for a palate wakening starter. Comment from an adjacent table: “It’s a bit salty for me.” Some people…
Braised Meatballs and Lentils (£13.50) - Takes balls to pull off deceptive simplicity like this, but the meatballs are charged with flavour, made with beef, pork and veal we’re told; an enticing smokiness makes us wonder if there is some cured meat in there too. Puy lentils are mopped up to the last scrap — gutsy plate.
Ricotta Tortelli, Peas and Broad Beans (£14) - Despite slightly anaemic looking pasta, these parcels are fantastic. Silken pasta filled with pillowy ricotta, strewn with pea shoots and baby broad beans, a refreshing whoosh of lemon pulling everything together. Rochelle Canteen-esque.
The wine list. I want to pick the list up by the scruff and slap it about a little, get some love and life into the little fella. £60 as the entry point for a Champagne feels a bit savage, forcing us to sullenly drink a £30 prosecco. Nobody ever really wants to drink a £30 prosecco, even less so in Hoxton. I struggle to find much to raise the vinous heartbeat, although the wonderful Cos Nero d’Avola from Sicily at £40 is always worth wading into. One visit sees us try the entry point white, a distressingly flabby Vinho Verde 2011 from Arca Nova (£18.50), a wine that should be sparking the palate into action with zippy acidity; time to get the fresher 2012 in, probably. Much better is the entry point red Origenes Tempranillo (£19) from La Mancha, Spain, a modern style old vine Tempranillo with lushness and fruit to burn. The best wine we try is the organic Cirelli Trebbiano 2011, far more poise and elegance than most examples of this plodding workhorse white varietal. A few typos on the list are another signifier that the list needs a little TLC to bring it in line with the restaurant.
We see platters of whole beef foreribs with duck fat chips going out (£60 for 2/3), and whole lemon sole with brown shrimps and monk’s beard (£18), both looking excellent. An order of chicken livers, broad beans and poached egg never arrives, ordered seconds too late after another table. We were up for a bit of that.
Coffee is the final part of the set-up in a tiny corner of one of the arches with a shiny new La Marzocco machine, the excellent Climpson & Sons supplying the beans and a proper Aussie barista, Alex, just arrived from Tasmania; flat whites here are very good.
Pimped up railway arch, wood grill, exocet strength cocktails: you can fall into Hoxton station just next door too.
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