There is a lovely parallel between London – the ultimate example of the world in a city – and the global stage: in both, power is shifting to the east. If you want to meet tomorrow's global leaders, you have to visit the bazaars of Bombay and Beijing, and if you want to meet the future leaders of London, you have to visit Shoreditch, Hoxton and Dalston. For an excellent snapshot of that rising class, you could do worse than visit the establishments Rotorino and Beagle.
The former is a few doors down from The Haggerston, perhaps the hippest of all hipster pubs. It is run by a talented triumvirate: chef Stevie Parle (from Dock Kitchen in Ladbroke Grove), Jonathan Downey (owner of the Match Bar Group) and Ruth Spivey, whose pop-ups, Wine Car Boot and Street Vin Wine, have generated much chatter.
The interior of Rotorino (pictured above) is low, brooding and sporadically lit, with booths for a fat four rather than a thin six, and geometrically patterned blue-and-white floors traversed by cheery, thin staff. This is Hipsterville, all right, and the menu is worthy of them: stylish and succinct.
It is split between First, Second and Third, with sub-categories for each and "Sweet" incongruously placed in the middle category. A caponata (£4.80) – the test of any restaurant – is quite oily and has celery that is cut too thin, but is otherwise full of flavour. A plate of mixed small fish and squid, served with lemon and monk's beard, is here done to perfection.
From the grilled section, a plate of octopus (£4) is badly overdone, so that charcoal rather than octopus is the overwhelming taste. But after this it gets better and better. The pistachio casarecce (£7.50) is essentially the poshest pesto imaginable smothered over the sweet and salty green nuts, and a sausage gnocchetti sardi (£8) – slow-cooked sausage with red wine, chilli and breadcrumbs – is full of irresistibly bloody black-pudding flavour. You can also get steaks, middle white pork chop and sea bream, but I would be sure to save room for some exceptional desserts. These include a candied fruit tart with orange flower (£6), and a very moreish, diabetes-inducing chocolate cake with honeycomb, crushed pistachios and sour cream (£5).
Henry and Eve, our companions tonight, are certainly impressed; and my wife, who has higher standards than me, in food matters at least, says this grub is really good.
Down the road in Hoxton, right under the new railway station, is a bigger, lighter, higher-ceilinged version of the same concept. It's built beneath the old railway arches, but the solidity of the building means we're spared too distressing a rattle and rumble with each passing train on the new overground orbital. There's also an outside pavement area with a retractable roof in case of rain.
Beagle boasts a cocktail list, brunch and lunch menus, all of which are pretty good. Avocado with datterini tomatoes, spinach and perroche (a goat's milk cheese) is over-dressed but healthy and filling at £8.50. A rich green parsnip soup comes with warm, crumbling ham croquettes (£6); and the gently braised cuttlefish with green sauce (£7.25), while a little cooler than it ought to have been, is a generous serving.
The peas, jersey royals, watercress and soft-boiled bantam egg (£6.25) is fresh and by turns crunchy and soft, while the tender, pungent braised English kid comes with spring carrots and white beans (£16.50). A very short menu, with just six mains, also provides a solid onglet steak with beetroot, pickled walnuts and strong horseradish (£16), and a whole lemon sole that comes beautifully off the bone and has grilled cucumber and sea beet for company.
The desserts are excellent, particularly the orange and vanilla burnt cream (£5.50) and a chocolate and praline tart with crème fraîche (£6.50). I find the magic slightly dimmed by all the Tupperware and squeezy bottles on display in an open-kitchen arrangement. But then the sweaty intensity of the bearded young men – only men – toiling away is somehow cheering.
Hipsters they may be, but they seem to be working their nuts off, knowing their city's new stars are rising in the east.
434 Kingsland Road, London E8. £160 for four, with wine.
397 Geffrye Street, London E2. £140 for four with wine.
Four more foodie notes from the past week
Regular readers know that I don’t do breakfast, contrary to all dietary advice. But when I relent, it’s this stuff I go for, with frozen berries and golden syrup.
Eccles cake and cheese
St John is a favourite haunt for my wife and me. This treat, wickedly dense, and the ultimate in sweet and savoury, is unbeatable.
They do an exceptionally chewy cookie here. Makes you wonder why everyone else cooks cookies until they’re dry and crumbly?
Vanilla is often misused and misunderstood. It doesn’t have to be sweet. But if you are having ice-cream, Co-op’s ownbrand stuff is good.