The most depressing phrase I’ve heard so far this month – even worse than Dry January – is Veganuary. Going vegan for the month doesn’t necessarily need to spell misery but under the umbrella of Veganuary it is the equivalent of being drenched by a bus driving through a freezing puddle. A bus that you were running for and missed. And the driver knew it and laughed.
Unfortunately much of the food I’ve eaten out this month has been similarly miserable, with the exception of a delicious veal ragu with fettucine at Osteria Basilico in Notting Hill and beautiful udon (as ever) at Koya.
This week Jago followed Stelle di Stelle in being a bit of a disappointment. Newly opened in Shoreditch and tagged on to techie workspace Second Home, it sells itself as having Ashkenazi-Jewish influences. However, with ham hock on the menu they have clearly taken a selective approach to the influences. They also fail to do a good salt beef, which seems to sum the place up.
There are a few problems here that stretch beyond picking at their PR pitch. The first is with the temperature. The restaurant is built on to the side of this huge trendy flexible-working private members’ club like a more permanent poly tunnel, with curved clear plastic and metal strip benches that form the side of the building.
There seems to be no insulation, however, and the benches were ice cold; so cold, in fact, that fan heaters were brought in and even then people had to move on to different chairs to escape the icy blasts of air coming through the gaps.
The second is the food. We are in the early stages of opening so you can allow some wiggle room, however the dishes we had were verging on tasteless. The ham hock terrine came straight out of the fridge, which further reduced any flavour it might have once had.
The goulash was watery and under-seasoned and the orange cake that Jay Rayner claimed was in the running for dessert of the year was fine but nothing exciting; indeed, the orange curd that formed a moat around it was so sickly-sweet I struggled to eat it. I hope the food improves with time, as on paper it looks good.
Other efforts have been more successful. Amaru, which has just opened in St Katharine Dock, serves Nikkei, a blend of Japanese classics with Peruvian influences. The menu is based around a selection of ceviche, sushi and sashimi with salads, puddings and treats that take traditional Japanese flavours and mix them with less common flavours including truffle, sweet potato and mango.
I tried the Peruvian cured beef with wasabi, sweet potato and onion escabeche, the toasted sesame crusted tuna with avocado, truffle and umeboshi plum, with a side of the seaweed salad. I’m not sure the tuna needed any truffle but other than that it was all tasty.
It wasn’t cheap, at between £4 and £12 per dish (and you’d need three to be full), but it was flavoursome and nicely put together. If you’re worried about healthy eating, then this ticks all the boxes, with carrot and beetroot juices also available.
With a few more weeks before we hit February and meals varying from Chai Wu at Harrods and the National Theatre’s The Green Room to Koffmann’s and Den, January still has time to pull something exciting off.