Hoi Polloi: Hackles raised, but expectations surpassed (January 2017)

As a resident of Maida Vale who works in Mayfair, my sphere of dining experiences is both narrow yet wide. Some of the best restaurants in the country are just a short distance away, but I do end up restricting myself to a relatively confined geographic sphere. Against this background, I found myself out of my comfort zone when invited to dinner in currently fashionable Shoreditch. Prior to even sitting down, my hackles were raised. To start, the restaurant was named, ever-so-pretentiously, ‘hoi polloi.’ My dictionary reminds me that the term refers to the masses or the common people and the suggestion implied by the lexicographer is generally one of avoiding said species. Shoreditch as insular, arrogant and elitist, surely not? Next, in order to enter the restaurant, one has either the choice of through the super-trendy Ace Hotel (think bearded Millennials clogging up the lobby with their iPads and related paraphernalia) or, more absurdly, via a florist’s on the main road. On arriving, it took me three attempts with different people to ascertain whether my comrade had booked a table. When, finally, I was lucky enough to be shown to my seat, I was presented with – of all things – a tabloid newspaper on which the menu was printed. Again, absurd, pretentious, anyone? Then, however, things got markedly better. There was a great atmosphere to the place, the DJ was playing some wonderful tunes (everything from 808 State to Tanya Gardner over the evening) and we both rated the food and drink. Diners get to choose from around half a dozen starters and mains, priced fairly reasonably at around £10 and £15-20 respectively. The food is pretty broad brush in terms of its geographic influences, but draws widely on a combination of the traditional and the comforting (think cheeseburger served with dripping chips, or pork belly) as well as the on-trend. My main fell into the latter category and was an excellent rendering of grilled octopus, harissa, succotash and polenta. The third ingredient, for those unaware, I learned is an American-originated dish of maize and lima beans boiled together. We paired our meal with an innovative choice of a Cretan red, whose spiciness matched well against both my dish and that of my comrade (a beef Wellington). Service was relaxed and we lingered after dinner on some further wine. In many ways it was a pity to leave; and when we did, at around 11, there was no sign of the place emptying out. I think I’ll be back in Shoreditch again soon.