The Light Bar, London E1: “Shoreditch winds its way through the rest of the country” – restaurant review | Food
Wsipping on a ‘Sonic Mook experience’ in the newly remodeled Light barI have wondered how many over the years have wished for a Biblical plague to end Shoreditch. Well, no luck. It’s alive and well, and I had an old banana taste and some monkfish yakitori to prove it.
Having said that, I understand why people are so attached to this field, which has attracted young people and pissed off on purpose for almost three decades now, because it can be infuriating and is most definitely laughable. In fact, the word “Shoreditch” itself has become something of a punchline, and the cause of a lot of whining and prying eyes. It is difficult to get rid of such things.
It continued long after luxury Nobu Shoreditch Hotel opened and the YBAs had grandchildren and moved to Hastings; in fact, long after anyone genuinely daring or creative has migrated to Dalston or Haggerston, or the north or Berlin, or, indeed, anywhere with WiFi. Yet even all these years after Nathan Barley, every time I review a place in Shoreditch, the comments still fill up with the likes of ‘Keep it idiots’ and ‘The rise of the idiots’, because some things don’t. will never die.
If anything, the Light Bar encourages them, with a cocktail menu that pays homage to Ye Olde Shoreditch, and Sean McLusky’s club night at 333, Gary’s Bar, Jonjo Jury at George & Dragon, Secret parties. Sundaze, and soon. If you’re a reformed clubber over 40 with a working knowledge of the area, prepare to feel sentimental reading this list and then feel very, very old.
The Light Bar, a three-story former power station built in the late 1800s, has always been a remarkable building; I’m going to stop before I say it’s beautiful, because it never was. It’s a small miracle the bulldozers didn’t flatten it out in the 2000s, when a 2008 campaign by Tracey Emin and Suggs kept it intact, though it took a certain leap of faith to believing that that cavernous, running, falling The Bottom Relic halfway between Liverpool Street and The Tea Building was somehow significant.
Years later, and after several millions spent on titivation, I’m so glad someone did, for now in modern Shoreditch, among glass-fronted skyscrapers and Boxpark, there is still a piece of the Great Eastern Power Plant, with its magnificent red bricks and arched windows. Inside, in a downstairs space called The Engine Room, it’s flatteringly and elegantly lit, with openwork brickwork, navy leather, and bronze accents. While the ground floor focuses on meals and the brainwaves of Chief Johnnie Collins, the upstairs Copper Bar is a cocktail destination, while the soon-to-open rooftop Timber Bar will serve a private dinner.
The menu is eclectic, surprising and sometimes particular. Giant pale radishes come with their leafy tops and a puddle of wild garlic mayonnaise. A fresh flickering burrata is sprinkled with pickled pink rhubarb and broad beans. Stepney City Farm. The husky, deep-fried brown artichokes arrive with a cashew and green chili sauce, and while I’m not sure if either of these things tasted delicious, they were certainly lovely, and like Keats the once said, “A thing of beauty is always a joy.” Much more truly wonderful was the Spence Bakery focaccia, grilled until almost fire damaged and served with heavily salted butter. I try not to stock up on bread, but it was too good to be brought back to the kitchen.
The Light Bar menu is part of Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and Japanese youshoku. The fried pot roast is served in a bun and topped with a chocolate barbecue sauce – not too chocolatey, but definitely there. And if that sounds a little too much Letitia Cropley on The Vicar of Dibley, then maybe The Light Bar is not for you. Large robata monkfish skewers are marinated in black sesame, while a Swaledale chicken skewer is paired with preserved Tropea onion.
Here is a chef who refuses to be bland, and who bombards his guests with flavor; sometimes delicious, sometimes off-putting, but never forgettable. They’re not here to serve cozy burgers, eggs on muffins, and bottomless prosecco brunches. In fact, this is exactly the edge of Shoreditch that winds through the rest of the country. Still alive, still in shape and now served with a chocolate barbecue sauce.
The highlight of the lunch turned out to be a fatty, sweet and fresh donut: a plump and sweet donut filled with rhubarb miso ice cream, then made pretty with sesame dust; it was like a walk along the Blackpool waterfront in the 1980s, but with bells on.
We also had the “Simon Hopkinson Dark Chocolate Pie,” which was fiercely spirited and demolished without any fuss. We came for an hour and ended up staying for five as it was raining and the cocktail list and wonderful staff made it more and more difficult to check out. The “Family” cocktail is a chic and neat margarita made with tequila, peach, lime, chili and ginger ale. I raised one, or more like three, to a new era of post-pandemic Shoreditch. Still alive, still stupid.
The light bar 233 Shoreditch High Street, London E1, 020-8194 1685. Open Mon 4 pm-midnight, Tue-Sat noon-midnight, Sun 12 pm-6pm. From around £ 30 per person for three courses, plus drinks and service.