Button Down Dining: London’s Newest Relaxed Eating
In recent years the way Londoners view food has changed. Now that there’s high-quality street food on practically every corner, restaurants have – for quite some time – begun to dress down and act in new ways. They’ve begun to present flawless cuisine in often relaxed ways. So if white tablecloths and silver service are no longer the barometers of what is good, then what is? And are there any rules left?
In modern dining terms, informality reigns. Take street markets, which once were novelty summer food flings. They’re now nearly permanent additions to London, crusaders of the eat-on-the-street culture that is eclipsing the need for formality. Some of London’s new industrial-sized food and drink vaults closed only for a few weeks this winter before being back again, welcoming freezing cold Londoners in to guzzle down prize-winning nosh beneath the glare of street heaters and the rasps of the log fire. With the permanence of food markets came the removal of their novelty factor – these all-encompassing food fests, replete with highest-quality food, have become the norm.
It means diners no longer need to be sticklers for time. Incorporating night life elements like DJs and good music ‘til late, you needn’t eat straight after work if you’re eating on the street. In fact, post-night-out bites are more tempting when they’re made available from night markets you read about in Time Out or Just Opened London, which are still open past twelve. Restaurants are beginning to notice.
We have the Night Tube to thank (bear with me…) for London’s new spate of eateries that are opening up all night. Recently-opened La Cabina in Dalston serves food (and good cocktails) until five in the morning, unleashing diners upon “Tapas from Seville to Shoreditch”. In doing so, the eatery acquaints late-night eaters with the same freedom drinkers are given in their relentless all-day, all-night pursuit of alcohol.
Work is being done in the arena of wine, too, in the interests of making fine wine (finally!) accessible and unpretentious. Lucky Chip, the burger pros since 2011, made leaps and bounds towards declassifying wine drinking as a high-class pursuit this year when they opened Lucky Chip Burgers & Wine. The Dalston launch has 100 carefully chosen bins behind the bar to (get this…) pair with beef burgers. The innovative proposal aims to connect the dots between casual dining and wine, and New World variants from as far afield as Lebanon feature. Generously, a new fine wine is opened every Thursday evening and sold per glass, at cost price.
The opening was supported by some of the coolest press shots we’ve ever seen:
If wine must be easier approached, ‘British Fried Chicken’ has the opposite problem. Helping sweep it out of the gutter and into the food magazines is Brit-born Billy Stock, who grew up eating fried chicken at football matches – it’s a seminal London memory of his. His new Soho restaurant, Billy & The Chicks, is a light-hearted – but very delicious – ode to a British institution that has never been seriously compared to its Korean or US counterparts.
It’s not just Billy renovating Soho’s food rep – London’s busiest district is the heartland of high concept food made casual. Experimentation is rife and Shackfuyu, now open permanently following a year-long ‘permanent pop-up’ (an infuriating term we could do without) serves Western-styled food (intriguingly) with Asian flavours. Taco tacos (octopus, shiso avocado and gochujang) and kinako french toast (roasted soybean flour on french toast) are innovative and experimental dishes served within the confines of a traditional-looking Soho restaurant.
These recent openings, a snapshot of the places covered on Just Opened London, focus on informality, versatility and high quality and discard traditional restaurant decorum. Reclassification reigns, and experimentation on the plate compliments an open-all-hours approach. Adam Bloodworth
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