It was 9pm on a Saturday night and we were in Off Broadway on Broadway (market) when the hunger struck. I’d never been to this particular hipster dive before but it was appealing to us in a big way. Between marvelling at the fish tank cisterns and playing endless rounds of some brilliantly 80s “conversation-starting” game called Scruples, and while necking neverending raspberry margaritas and Rekorderlig strawberry and lime ciders, we’d neglected to eat.
With every half decent restaurant nearby stuffed to the rafters, and payday still just out of reach, we needed somewhere half empty and cheap. Our friend pulled out her trusty Taste London card, revealing her membership to that rising cult of foodie thrift that – coupled with a pretty exhaustive iPhone app – will get you a meal nearby for peanuts.
In case you aren’t aware, the card gets you 50% off your food bill at 1,000 restaurants around London for the annual price of £70 (and they discount this to half price so often you’d be a mug to pay that much). There’s enough restaurants signed up that you’re never more than a short walk to the nearest.
The only problem is, there’s nowhere that great signed up to the scheme.
Or at least, that’s my experience. Every time she whips out the card we end up somewhere that’s just…OK. We get the kind of food and service that’s astonishing for the price you pay, but would be risible at full whack. Everywhere we’ve been has obviously had a reason it needs to be part of the club – it doesn’t offer enough to attract customers the usual way. And its very convenience (not to much money saving capabilities) means we use it far too much, which is detrimental to discovering exciting new places.
So, our last two experiences on the Taste London ticket (comment below if you’ve found a good one):
The Old Ship, Hackney
Perhaps the archetypal Taste London venue, this place is a tangle of good intentions, misplaced priorities and half-baked ideas. Full of promises it can’t follow up on it’s not exactly a kitchen nightmare but definitely a bit of a broken dream. The grammatically runaway mission statement on its owners Urban Inns’ website says it all as it falls over itself to lure you in: “The Old Ship offers a friendly contemporary interior that our guests can relax and enjoy a drink in our bar area or enjoy some fantastic British cuisine designed by our team of talented chefs as well as stay in 1 of 10 beautifully appointed rooms”.
So while the fish is fresh from Brixham and the beef straight outta Aberdeenshire, the good ingredients fall at the last hurdle (the kitchen) and end up like this (skid marks chef’s own):
Venison was tender but chilly; the pork belly needed a Samurai sword to cleft open. The Travelodgesque toilets reeked of piss and we had to show ourselves to a table before being told the kitchen was shut (and bartering for food). That said, we left full and only a tenner lighter. If it tickles your fancy you’ll find it next to a BBQ X-Press, behind two tramps on blankets and up a dark alleyway that feels like the entrance to Space Mountain. No wonder it needs to join the TL club.
The Royal India, Stoke Newington
One of the better members, this probably only joined up because it has the Rasa empire on its doorstep. Tough competition indeed. However, it still succumbs to a load of schoolboy errors that, if corrected, could promise promotion out of the Taste London league. Dreams of makeovers float through your head as you first arrive (rip down the Christmas lights, sell the cheap furniture with bourgeious pretentions, teach origami to whoever scrunches the paper napkins into a mess, delete the stereo’s Indian Videogame Dance playlist) but the food is highly commendable.
We went mental on the menu knowing it would come to a laughable total and pretty much everything wowed. Naans had a moreish fluffy crunch while the Sabzee Haleem’s lentils were herby and welcoming, tandoori chicken was succulent and fried onions bursted with flavour. Potatoes in the Aloo Chat fell apart valiantly and came smothered in fresh coriander and wilted spinach. We gorged and gorged and left a big tip because a) we felt like we were robbing them and b) they were playing playing Luniz.
Cheap at half the price. So, London eaters, where can you find a decent Taste London restaurant?
SUBSCRIBE FOR MORE
Dinner By Heston Blumenthal At The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Hyde Park – Review
NOPI – Yotam Ottolenghi’s New All-Day Canteen Venture In Soho (Recommended)
Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa – Planned On A Napkin And It Shows
Look Mum No Hands – a new pit stop for London’s bizarre cycle tribes
London Sunday Lunch Index – What’s Your Favourite Gastropub / Weekend Boozer In The Capital?