Hoi Polloi: Where the food culture of the UK comes in bite-sized chunks

It is a fine thing to be introduced to real, living food culture with a fork in your hand

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Indy Lifestyle Online

In May this year I went out for dinner in east London and ended up in Margate. When I left the offices of The Independent that Thursday evening and got on the Tube, I had half expected it; it had been a long day. I wanted to let off steam. I didn't, however, expect to enjoy the experience it as much as I did.

But then Hoi Polloi – the gold-hued jewel of a restaurant parked in the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch – usually puts on a good show. And the Margate menu, which ran for six days, wasn't the first time it had come up with a geographical food theme – Broadstairs had been the subject of an earlier, equally unlikely menu.

Inspired by its neighbour on Shoreditch High Street – the Margatian skincare firm Haeckels – the menu had the distinction of being the only one I have ever seen that gave the longitude and latitude of the place the main ingredients in the dish came from.

It started with a gin and tonic which had been infused with sea buckthorn, which was followed by Margate burger puffs (a cross between a burger and a pastie), and a stew that may well, much to my delight, have drained the sea around Margate of all its jewels, involving as it did, a thick chunk of milky white sea bass, mussels, seaweed and some non-sea-based herbs.

The top of the menu contained the following quote by the writer Karen Blixen: "The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea." They had clearly taken this to heart (up to the tears, at least).

You may think that the whole concept sounds like it is the sort of thing that might disappear up its own fundament. But it was jolly and knowing, rather than pretentious. And now Hoi Polloi is to repeat the operation, with another "local menu". Where? Why, Giggleswick, of course.

Pablo Flack, who co-owns Hoi Polloi and its sister restaurant Bistrotheque with David Waddington, explains the choice: "It is the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales. There are lots of small producers in the area and it is stunningly beautiful. David also went to the local high school, so he's a great local guide and knows lots of farmers."

Before the restaurant menu reaches Giggleswick on 1 October, the pair will take a team from the restaurant to North Yorkshire to see the produce, "rejuvenate their creativity" and throw a big party in the Dales (which may or may not help the rejuvenation of creativity, but who are we to judge?). There is something else, too, he explains: "It also educates the team about the great produce we have in the UK."

And so it does – and not just for the staff but for the diners, too. It is fun to go out in the big city but find yourself eating around a small town – and it is also a nice way to connect with the farmers, the butchers and the fishermen there.

When most of us live, or at least shop, in a world where everything is in season and most of us wouldn't know if our sprouts came from Mumbai or Middlesbrough, it is a fine thing to be introduced to real, living food culture with a fork in your hand, rather than a remote control.