I’ve been meaning to post about Hoi Polloi for some time now; my handful of dining experiences there each being positively memorable in my mind.
With its stunningly amber-lit interior, I long to be sat back amongst the understated art deco glamour of it all, relishing in a new series of dishes that would excite and surprise.
Perhaps what makes Hoi Polloi just so memorable is the array of little surprises that greet you, leaving you unable to compare such details with anywhere else you’d go to dine.
Along the bustle of Shoreditch High Street, the Ace Hotel dominates a generous portion of space with the stylish hotel itself, accompanying cocktail bar and, next along, the hotel restaurant Hoi Polloi.
Dark glass provides minimal exposure from the street into the hotel, just enough to catch glimpses of the golden lights and iconically modern armchairs.
Whilst the hotel entrance is discreet, black-clad bouncers mind the doors and provide verification of the signifiant hot spot.
Diners at Hoi Polloi on the other hand must descend upon a lush, green florist, dodging vases of heady, spring-scented Stargazer lillies in order to enter the restaurant – not the most obvious of entrances from street level, but certainly more unique than others.
Attentive, warm staff with an air of cool confidence is standard procedure here.
As we’re led to our booth-style seats in buttery cream leather, a newspaper style menu awaits. A no-frills presentation, the menu is conventionally divided by dining time (breakfast, daytime, dinner, supper/overnight), then by key ingredient (fish, meat, vegetables).
Although the restaurant’s name may quite obviously imply a lack-lustre place for the masses, its irony becomes truly apparent only after witnessing the dishes themselves.
Whilst some elements are kept as paired down as possible, we’re then hit with the ‘wow’ factor where it really matters – in the food.
I felt like an overly challenging customer with my seemingly-relentless series of questions on certain ingredients – Berkswell? Sea Aster? Monksbeard?
Nevertheless, our waitress fired back with clarity on each in a suitably warm tone.
My dining partner and I opted to share two starters – one of Jerusalem artichoke, salsify, berkswell, the other Razorclams, sorrel and spring onion.
The spring-like prettiness of our artichoke dish made me reluctant to dig my fork in, as stems of artichoke were dotted around tiny slivers of the turnip-like salsify and delicate shavings of berkswell cheese.
The salsify had been pickled in a sweet, vinegary brine which contrasted with the sharp nuttiness of the cheese and offset the fresh artichoke nicely.
Our second starter whisked my mind off to the seaside, as the freshness of the razor clams and sour strands of vivid green sorrel combined to make a lovely, summery marriage.
The stand-out characteristic of the place is the sheer juxtaposition of casual, effortless cool vs. meticulously stunning.
The front of house staff are all clad in sneakers and turquoise sweaters who wouldn’t look out of place in an American Apparel photo shoot, whilst serving dishes that impress with their prettiness of presentation, punches of flavour and unusual ingredients.
The unconventional balance of chicness and cool fills me with conviction that, in a debate over the London vs. New York dining scene, Hoi Polloi would be a front-running candidate in favour of our capital.
I scoot away from the table and pass intimate bundles of high-spirited diners, en route to the loos.
The path is illuminated by little glowing orbs of light sitting on the large panels of honey-hued wood that wrap around the space. The lighting is the most intimate and flattering tone that feels like you’re living in a dreamy, amber haze (though perhaps the potent gin aperitif cocktails were a contributing factor).
Stunning brass feature lights are suspended from the ceiling, their colour continuing the golden theme and their intricate hexagonal shapes creating dancing shadows on the walls.
I begin to establish the consistent features of the interior, as the ladies’ basin comprises a thick slab of polished concrete with hints of shimmery bronze running through.
Black and white hexagonal tiles cover the floor, while elegant yet aged brass taps complete the refined interior aesthetic.
I return to the table to tuck into my hearty main of lamb belly, lentils, sea aster, mint; another inviting combination of earthy flavours from the lamb and lentils, offset by the hint of mint and the florally, (never before consumed) sea aster.
A glug of the full-bodied Argentinian Cabernet Sauvignon we had ordered is the perfect partner.
Though part of me concludes enough food has been consumed, my curiosity for unusual flavour combinations gets the better of me as I spot Rosemary and caramel ice cream, pine nut brittle on the menu.
As much as I get excited about such combos, I’ve been equally disappointed in the past when the promise of never-before-tried flavours turn out to be barely there and undistinguishable.
Not such the case with this dessert, as the rosemary hits my tongue and works wonderfully with the toffee-like salted caramel. Who would’ve thought?
Although usually one to prioritise the new places popping up ever so frequently in this part of the city, Hoi Polloi will always be a firm favourite on my list, for it’s winning mix of fab food, stunning interior and approachable, über-casual sneaker-clad staff – only in East London.