77 Curtain Road, Shoreditch, EC2A 3BS
Nearest tube: Shoreditch High Street
Before I start the review I would like to address some of the bloggers vs critics debates/arguments/confrontations that sparked off over the latter part of last year. I can certainly empathise with the critics to some extent – their home turf is being encroached on by amateurs, but I don’t think that the issues are black and white. For me, blogs serve a different purpose to newspaper reviews – they in general get straight to the nub of matters ie food quality, service and atmosphere, rather than attempting to score points on cheap wit and extended metaphor (see Giles Coren) or placing restaurant trends in the wider social and cultural context (see Jay Rayner) – I could work through all the major critics on this theme. Therefore, blogs are a far easier and much quicker read than serious critic reviews which means you can scan through lots of blogs quickly allowing you to gauge a wider range of views. The ability to do this, for me, is an advantage of blogs, although it invites the oft used criticism of “infinitely scrollable” text. Another common swipe at food blogs is the quality of writing, especially grammar and spelling – these are certainly legitimate criticisms of most blogs (including mine) but if you read the top 20 London blogs on Urbanspoon you will find that in general they use crisp, clean language with very few errors and I think that is more impressive than the critics’ ability to produce something understandable after a flurry of sub-editors have pored over their prose. I think that many of this “cream of London food bloggers” probably consider themselves to be food writers that have not been given a chance to be a proper critic (a prime example being Andy Hayler) and the gap in quality between these guys and the critics is actually pretty small. Far more insightful writers than me have attempted to address this subject and I am sure the debate will continue, but it is pleasing to see that the critics have finally been rattled by bloggers and now feel the need to speak out. As a final point, I do agree with Giles Coren, who in his new book writes that the rise of bloggers using lots of pictures in their reviews has led lots of lazy chefs to serve up poor food that is presented well, so I am going to do a little experiment by presenting this review without pictures.
And so to Beard to Tail, another recently opened barbecue restaurant. It has the usual cocktail menu, no bookings, hipster staff and pared down menu that most of these places have. The slightly unique point is that they focus on pork and use the whole animal, from trotter to tail. Also, all the meat comes from a single farm in North Yorkshire. There has been a bit of hype surrounding this place with quite a few bloggers reviewing it late last year and Jay Rayner delivering a scathing review a couple of months ago. In general, the blog reviews have been tepid, but I was still keen to give it a go, especially to try the unusual cuts. Understandably, it was very quiet on the early January Tuesday that I ate there and the dearth of atmosphere was highlighted by the large dining room. The decor is all stripped down bare walls and reclaimed furniture, to be honest I am getting a bit fed up of this “Shoreditch” style and would like to see a bit of warmth brought back into restaurant design. The menu looks very interesting with British classics like faggots, black pudding and devilled kidneys appearing on the starters list. Main courses are mostly pork based, although there is a burger option, beef brisket and rump steak. After slurping down some good quality Beavertown beers as an aperitif we ordered starters to share. The bone marrow (£6.75) was disappointing, it had been slated by Mr Rayner and I agree with his comments – it was covered in too many herbs (mostly parsley I think), there was too little marrow on a very big bone, and it did seem like the bone had been reused. The ribs (£8) weren’t much better – they were scrawny, rather chewy and more like the kind of ribs they serve up in high street Chinese restaurants. Thankfully, the steak tartare was a lot more pleasing – the meat was melt in the mouth and was complemented by just the right amount of tart capers and a rich soft boiled quail’s egg. For main course I had the pig’s trotter (£12.50) which had been de-boned and stuffed with sausagemeat. It came topped with herbs and the portion size was very generous (although it was mostly stuffing). The skin was very soft and I think it had been boiled then finished quickly in the oven. I enjoyed the simple sausage stuffing which had been nicely cooked so it was still moist, however I was less keen on the green peppercorn hollandaise on the side, which was tasteless and gloppy.
The menu looks very exciting but in general the food fails to deliver.