It’s not depressing because it will be yet another shallow and temporary glass bunion on London’s soul, or because it’s yet another plot of prime real estate wasted on something crushingly mundane and utterly bereft of true value. It’s because next door is an empty plot where the Tate Modern is threatening to build an extension. And while the arts institution has been struggling with funding, ripping up blueprints and working at a snail’s pace, the developers of Neo Bankside managed to tear down whatever was there before, flatten the ground, erect hoardings flaunting the forthcoming spectacle and put up four buildings. If only our cultural institutions could have the same work ethic and bottomless pockets as property developers.
I work in another monstrosity that was conjured fast, the Blue Fin Building, a glass cube plastered in blue fins that was heralded as a pioneering project and now houses IPC Media as well as a load of coffee shops and restaurants in the ground floor. Each one conforms to the building’s specs while doing their best to look individual. A sofa here, some vintage pictures of oranges there – they do a pretty good job of pretending they’re more than Unit 237 in a faceless block, much like us employees upstairs adorn our desks with posters, CDs and tat to pretend we’re more unique and individual than him out of ‘Office Space’.
Alongside the Starbucks, Prets and Tortillas are one or two semi-unique eateries that actually offer something decent for anyone navigating the gastronomic landfill between Waterloo and London Bridge. Leon is one, and mini-chain Del Aziz another. It’s the latter, a “one-stop shop for gourmets, bon viveurs and lovers of good food showcasing the very best of the exotic Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa” (their words) that have really made their mark next to the building’s loading bay though. Face the right direction on a Thursday night when the belly dancing’s on and you might be able to convince yourself you’ve taken the Marrakesh Express.
The food ain’t half band either. While they do hot mezze, charcoal grilled meat and tagines it’s the lunch munch I’m most impressed with. If you don’t mind splashing out at least a fiver their sandwiches are some of the best you can get in Zones 1-2 (and a quid cheaper here than in the Fulham branch).
Lemon-drenched tuna steak with rocket and mixed olives in a ciabatta doorstop tasted like fresh catch in a bun and packed enough chunky meat to put a main course in most restaurants to shame while cumin spiced slow roast shoulder of lamb, tzatziki and salad leaves was a monumental trip round the globe, great hulking slabs of cold flesh slithering on cooling tzatziki that seeped into the pock marks of the fire-branded ciabatta. It was so heavy it felt like one of those rubber diving bricks when I hefted it back to my desk.
A chorizo on artisan with roasted mixed peppers and rocket balanced perfectly between salty and slippery and made weekend working recently more tolerable and they’ve only let me down once, with the mature cheddar and ham combo, sliced banality on a practically olive-free olive bread.
As usual it’s not rocket science – just the highest quality ingredients at the highest prices they can get away with. Try it; just don’t look up as you leave.