The Ace Hotel in New York is deepest hipster territory, with a cavernous lobby used by every Midtown creative for its free wi-fi, Stumptown coffee bar and – for those who can get a booking – chef April Bloomfield’s outstanding Breslin restaurant. I was once marooned at the Ace for a couple of days during a snowstorm; there are few better places to be stuck. Shoreditch’s new Ace Hotel is not, however, a cookie-cutter copy of its Big Apple cousin, and Hoi Polloi – its all-day brasserie – exemplifies this.
Access, for instance, is not from a vast lobby, but via a tiny flower shop. Walk straight through and the large restaurant (from the team behind Bistrotheque and Shrimpy’s) reveals itself with a mix of retro and contemporary styling that wouldn’t look out of place on a Scandinavian cruise ship circa 1950. The casual and sneaker-clad service is notably smooth and well informed. The music (a mix of retro ’80s pop and US alt electronic) isn’t too loud, allowing attention to focus instead on conversation – and the food.
The menu looks like a college music paper, which gives the curious impression that other diners are reading up on the LCD Soundsystem back catalogue. It covers breakfast, lunch, snacks, cocktails and dinner. Dishes are British, very seasonal and juxtapose flavours in modern but not outlandish ways that will leave you craving more – and wondering why other kitchens can’t manage so deftly. A fresh, vibrant starter of braised celeriac is topped with a tangle of remoulade-like shreds of celery and (rarely seen) cobnut pieces. Pork cheeks, slow-braised to intense meaty tenderness, are suitably autumnal with their chunks of spiced apple and on-trend pickled carrots (every chef with a beard is fermenting these days).
Potato dumplings (aka gnocchi) are served with tender baby globe artichokes and wild mushrooms. The size of this – and other savoury dishes – was modest, but prices are fair. Old-fashioned lemon posset is given a contemporary twist with a red berry puree. All our dishes were faultess.
The lounge bar of the Ace in NYC has weekend performances, mainly DJ sets. Not so here, but Hoi Polloi’s small bar is still a destination in itself, with cocktails that bear silly names but appealing combinations of modish spirits. At the moment, only two floors of the hotel are ready for guests (rooms from £199), but already this Ace trumps most of the Shoreditch competition.