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|Address:||56 Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6JJ|
|Tel:||020 7729 1888|
|Price: £38.00||Wine: £19.50||Champagne: £47.00|
|Opening Hours:||Mon-Fri 12N-11pm (Tues -12M Fri -1am) Sat-Sun 10am-1am (Sun -11pm)|
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I am normally a placid person, so why do I get so cross in restaurants? Things have to go so right, especially in the ifrst 15 minutes of arrival, otherwise I sulk for the rest of the meal. Needless to say I don't do this much, as I realised wasn't getting invited out much.
Last Saturday, things bode so well: a beautifully sunny day in an exciting part of London, a restaurant with great pedigree (I love Soho House, especially the Shoreditch branch), and we went at a quiet time: 6 o'clock. Not quite afternoon, but not quite dinner time. Indeed, the vast restaurant was nearly empty. So to get some sour-faced greeter telling me: “we want the table back in an hour and a half. Is that OK?” didn't go down well. “Well, no it's not OK. If you want it that badly, I suggest you have the table back right now and I'll go somehwere else.” But, sensing a tanty, my partner nudged me and I kept shtum. We were shown to our table.
Now two-person tables always have it tough in restaurants. They're always tightly packed, and in Pizza East's case, by a small extension of both arms, I could comfortably eat off the adjoining tables, too. But we were sat in the middle of an empty sea of twofers, so that was fine. The waiter came boiunding over. Anything to drink? Sparkling water please. He then went into the waiter equivalent of the nurses handover chats in hospitals, And a bottle of tap water arrived (obviously this waiter wasn't invited to such handover chats). At room temperature. Obviously, as it was boiling hot outside, this wasn't pleasant. So it had to go back.
By now, more people had started to arrive and – would you believe it? – every single couple were placed either side of us, so over there was a totally empty restaurant, and over here was packed with couples who couldn't help but try to eat without putting their neighbours' eyes out.
Now I have to hand it to Pizza East: you do get stuff on the menu you don't get in other Pizza establishments. Like Deep Fired Artichokes. Remembering the fine items you get in Rome, three shrunken artichoke bases arrived. They must have been genetically reduced, and, perhaps worse for a restaurant, they looked lost and friendless on the plate. No accompanying sauce, just a lemon squeeze. If you remembered to chew them before swallowing, they tasted very nice. Now they and the other starter, the squid, arrived almost as I was in mid-sentence ordering them. Two deep-fried items arriving as if the hour and a half window we were allowed into Pizza East depended on it. So they must have been cooked earleir. 'That's Unfair' shout the chefs. ‘Well', I answer, ' the squid certainly tasted as if it had been cooked then kept warm because it came up soggy and chewy’. But then I did have to ask the waitress (our original man was still being de-briefed) twice for some more lemon so maybe the squid did have a bit more time than usual to make itself comfortable on my plate.
Main-wise, had to try the pizza, but I really fancied a salad. Now, I was expecting something special on both counts, seeing as it's a Soho House brand. But the pizza was average (maybe I'm spoiled because my office is round the corner from the best pizza place in London, Malletti's in Soho) and the salad did nothing more than what it said on the tin. The salad tin, you understand. An egg, asparagus and anchovy salad had lettuce plus egg, asparagus and anchovy(s). Well, what do you expect? Some dressing perhaps? English Asparagus? (I'm not being xenophobic here, but like most things not flown in from the other side of the world, it does taste completely different)
I've just read all the above and it does sound like I'm griping, but I think eating out is a collection of little moments that have to be right, and none of this was. Asking twice for some more lemon is a little thing: nobody died, but you know what I mean. I have to report that on several twofer tables, the couples were starting to talk to their neighbours: it was virtually impossible not to. I think it all staretd with a man with a lazy eye.
My partner loves desserts, so we ordered Maple Panna Cotta and the Salted Caramel and Chocolate tart that everyone writes about.. The Maple (unless they put it into the Panna Cotta itself, which I don't believe) consisted of a sesame crunch no more than an inch square. But good Panna, all the same. The Tart? Well, this mixing of savoury and sweet wasn't as revolting as when I mistakenly once put sugar on chips, but it was far too rich for our delicate little tums.
With just ten minutes left on our Pizza East meter. I wanted to stay to see what happened when the wardens came round, but by now, some of the couples looked as if they wanted to swop tables, so we left.
My impressions? A well-run organisation where the desire to maximise profits got a bit in the way of a great customer experience. The food? Not great. I think I've made myself clear on that. But you know, by the time we left, the place was buzzing full of people who clearly just wanted something to eat and drink quickly before they went out for the night, and I have to admit – you see how begrudging I've got – it scored highly on that count.