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Restaurant Review: Hart and Fuggle pop up restaurant off Brick Lane

There is a twitter and food blogging zeitgeist in London.  It tells you that @HawksmoorLondon is good for steak, @Beas_Bloomsbury does tea and @Moolis does, erm, moolis?  And, well, its spot on for that.
The zeitgiest also keeps you informed about up and coming things such as an exclusive pop up restaurant or a new supper club.  There is one problem with this - and it might just be my problem – that it comes with a peculiar form of blogging guilt. I remember when I first went to Hawksmoor with an intent to blog I was nervous about whether I was going to have a good meal.  I didn’t want to go, have a bad one, and then face the possibility that I was going to offend someone (i.e. the person from Hawksmoor who tweets under the name of @HawksmoorLondon).  Luckily it was just as nearly every other meal I have had there; good and expensive (review here).
Now that fear has remained but has thankfully not been manifested; well until I went to Hart and Fuggle. I first heard about this on Twitter and excitedly booked. It was less of a supper club/ underground restaurant and more in the style of the Reindeer Restaurant (from the Bistroteque guys) and their excellent pop up in the Truman Brewery many years ago.
So what are my lasting impressions of the meal?  Having discussed this with Gideon, my date for the evening, we both agree it was in a very nice room and very prettily decorated.  A stylist’s dream.  It was held in the Ragged Factory which is a cool space just off Brick Lane that I have been to before to see some art exhibitions and degree shows.
Erm.  What else?  Well the people we sat next to were fun. Gideon could have left with either a new boyfriend or a new girlfriend.

Still, this was meant to be about the food and we paid £30 for it. Well it was a prepared starter/ pudding and roasted main kind of thing.

Now there are all kinds of reasons why I feel guilty about being blunt about the place or even bothering to review it.  One, that the zeitgeist says I should be nice about it.  Two, that it was only a temporary kitchen for a limited time and they hadn’t found their feet.  Three, that half the profits were given to charity.  Now I recognise this and wince as I write this but I just didn’t see the point in Hart and Fuggle.  For the food I would go elsewhere, for the room I can visit as a gallery and for the charity I can donate directly.

Price – £30

18 Comments

  1. Mr Noodles

    Blogger guilt is a weird emotion. Other than getting hacked off with various professional critics (three times and counting), I do try to find some good in every place I visit. I guess I've been lucky that I've only ever totally slated a place once (so far) !

  2. Tom

    I growing increasingly unsure whether someone can call themselves a "professional critic" unless they go to restaurants in disguises. I respect and admire the New York Times writers who used to go to extraordinary lengths to conceal who they were. Our critics are more interested in selling the celebrity of themselves…

  3. Kang

    I think it's perfectly fine to disagree with the zeitgeist every now and again. Everyone's palate is different, and we all have varying degrees of experiences, expectations and benchmarks. At the end of the day, any review is one opinion and one perspective on the meal, it is not definitive. That's the beauty of it as well right, that different critic/bloggers have opposing views? For the record, I didn't enjoy my visit to Hawksmoor. I thought it was above average, but it certainly wasn't as great as some claim it to be.

  4. The Grubworm

    In a strange way, I think being honest about the food etc is a good thing for all concerned. If you're always nice then people will never improve, and wonder why they go out of business. The secret, and most difficult thing, is to be honest without being unfair or offensive. It's a really difficult balance to get, and one that many 'professional' critics let lapse into personal grandstanding.

  5. Tom

    Kang – I have to say that is why I generally like the NY scene more as there are hundreds of different bloggers and you can pick out the person who had a bad but once off experience from amongst the hundreds who had great meals.

    Hawksmoor is a place I have probably been to +50 times now over the years and I generally think it is worth it (which is about the most basic test from a restaurant that pricey). Still as you said, different experiences.

    Grubworm – I know. I like a bit of grandstanding as it is entertaining but often you get caught up in the elation of using words rather than actually thinking about the meal. Having a blog has generally been positive so far as I think it has made me somewaht more considered in my thoughts about meals

  6. Lizzie

    I try not to say where I'm going now, not only do random people from twitter turn up (this happened to me last week) but I feel obliged to give feedback. It's good to be honest; we're just blogging our opinions anyway.

  7. Tom

    Lizzie – I hope I don't have to start using a fake name : ) Though it could be fun choosing one…

    I generally forget to say where I am going on twitter as I am too hungry to remember to do so.

  8. Samantha

    Hmmmm,yummy!!By the way what do you mean by word zeitgiest?just asking.!I hope I could also come to Hart and Fuggle..Nice blog!

    restaurants wells

  9. Tom

    Zeitgeist means literally the spirit of the times. We used it a lot at uni to try and sound clever. But basically the underlying food whisperings in london

  10. James

    Tom – odd to review a pop-up restaurant and barely mention the food, n'est ce pas?

  11. Tom

    James – I think you have caught the problem with your comment. The food was too fleeting to review.

  12. James

    Still, if you're going to be a credible source then you need to explain why it was 'fleeting'. It's just not enough to write it off. Sorry.

    I'm partisan, of course, having helped the girls out. You are entirely entitled to your opinion – it's impossible to please everyone. BUT I think it's lazy and arrogant to assume that a passing reference to food in a restaurant review will suffice. It won't.

  13. Tom

    James – (that night) the food wasn't the kind of food you go into depth on in a review as there wasn't that much to say. The food was not at the level where you could praise or pan it. It was good, functional average stuff.

    As I indicate in the review the food and the atmosphere were a bit flat that night and I didn't see the need to dissect why it wasn't a particularly overwhelming (in a good or bad way) terrine etc.

    I actually exchanged emails with Alice Hart afterwards and by all accounts they felt the same that day. That the food and atmosphere on the early Sunday meal we had were an exception to the other meals and for some reason didn't really kick off.

    As I emailed back an early Sunday supper after a long week is a hard one to generate atmosphere for or really drive the food forward.

    Did you help at that Sunday meal? Did you enjoy it? Think it was as good as the others?

  14. James

    I understand where you're coming from but I think my point stands. It's difficult to write a review of a middling meal, very difficult. But there needs to be beef somewhere. You simply can't say 'I didn't see the point' (a pretty damning conclusion) without saying why. Find me a review by Rayner, Gill, Coren etc saying 'the food was average so I won't go into it' and I'll back down.

    I wasn't there that night but I remember the girls saying it was a bit piano. Still, 'a bit piano' to 'pointless' is a stretch in my book.

  15. Tom

    Rayner, Gill, Coren et al write for a different reason. They write stories to sell newspapers, to get advertising, to flog their books.

    I write because I am fed up with that approach and have had enough of reviews that neglect the basic truth of how good was the food, what was the service like and how is the room?

    Big name newspapers and their critics are the kind of people that review Ms Marmite's suppers well because it is interesting and it is a better article to go "wow look at this new trend" then observe "interesting she's copied Jim Hayes and a bunch of poor Cubans and is doing average food".

    For me, a meal is a bit simplier than that. It is either good or bad (or average). The descent into calling out each ingredient/ flavour depends on a blogger's personal tastes (and is something I have increasingly done) but I think a blogger can simply say whether a meal is good or bad (or average). People do not have to read my reviews (god knows few do). Hopefully those who do trust my taste and attitude to restaurants and on that basis agree with my view on the food.

    As for the food it was the kind of stuff I could pick up from Waitrose or a deli and just eat at home. There was no need to travel for it.

    For me that is not enough.

    There has to be "something" to pop ups. There has to be some reason for their existence. Increasingly they just are. For the same price as that meal I could have eaten 4 to 6 times down in New Malden and had outstanding food (http://bit.ly/9ggoG6). Or, I could have walked 5 minutes to Hawksmoor for brunch and had an overwhelming good burger and cornflake milkshake (http://bit.ly/br5SXR). Or I could have fed four people at New Tayyabs. Or I could have had 6 or 7 bowls of Pho at Song Que. Each one of those meals would have better food.

    Or, if I wanted pretty, the set menu at Galvin La Chapelle. Glorious room, Galvin brothers' food.

    Given that, what is the need/ rationale for Hart & Fuggle as a pop up? That is why I ultimately didn't see the point. There was nothing to drive one there.

  16. James

    We're going round in circles. Whether I agree with you or not is moot. I just don't see why you couldn't have said this in the review. It's terribly arrogant to assume that your readers agree with you or 'trust your taste'.

    Odd that you say you're fed up of critics not talking about the food, too.

    Anyhoo…

  17. Tom

    James – I did comment on the food. It just didn't warrant expansive comment. I said "[f]or the food I would go elsewhere" and "it was a prepared starter/ pudding and roasted main kind of thing". The point was hopefully in the brevity. It reflected how the experience was not a "food" experience and I would go eat elsewhere if your driver was food.

    And critics would have instead written about how two people associated with Waitrose Food Illustrated were doing an exclusive pop up restaurant.

    However,through intense depth of comment hopefully we have bottomed it out. Food like takeaway Waitrose, me arrogant in not describing food in more detail.

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