I am writing this desperate SOS to you from Boiled, where I am feeling distinctly unwelcome on account of being over 27, having gears on my bicycle, no permanent ink on my body (apart from a Biro note on my hand saying ‘bread, loo roll, sprouts’ which will come off after enough baths) and being utterly baffled by this place, and indeed by all new London restaurants.
Perhaps you know Boiled? You’re bound to, it’s been open nearly an hour. As far as the most influential vloggers are concerned, it is, like, totally over. It’s that place that only serves eggs. It is very much in the tradition of the single-dish restaurants that have taken the capital by storm in recent years – all those lobster shacks, burger dens and hot dog cottages – and will serve you your egg any way you like as long as it is boiled. For six-and-a-half minutes. And you have brought it yourself.
Oh, there’s no kitchen at Boiled. That small room out the back is where they keep the moustache wax. This is a no-booking, no-cooking joint, the latest thing out of Portland, Oregon, by way of Barcelona. You boil an egg at home, then bring it here, then queue outside for three hours until a seat becomes available on the distressed packing crate in the middle of the concrete floor, then take a photo of it to post on Snapchat, then leave. You may not eat the egg. Eating is not the point.
And even if Boiled doesn’t exist (and it may, for all I know), well, Cereal Killer Café certainly does. Time Out wrote about it just last week: that cornflakes-only joint run by a pair of twins who never got the ‘peak beard’ memo, where literally all they do is open a packet for you and pour milk on it. In barely an eye-blink, London has leapt from the one-dish restaurant to the no-dish restaurant.
Hipsters being hipsters, coolness and inaccessibility have overtaken all other concerns. Food no longer matters. Even burgers are too foody. All a restaurant needs to be now is a place with bricks and exposed plumbing where you can take an edgy selfie that will make your friends feel like they are missing out. Chefs are no longer necessary. Ingredients deliveries get in the way.
By the time you read this, Cereal Killer and Boiled will already have been made to look bloated and passé by Crisp, the self-styled ‘golden wonder’ of Acton, where a glittering crowd of social media millionaires and supermodels will soon be gathering in stonewashed ‘Seinfeld’ jeans and white Reeboks to share packets of cheese and onion or salt and vinegar (no post-1972 flavours allowed).
Crisp will be killed off in turn by H2Over, a pop-up bar at the old Victorian pump house in Croydon, where punters in sweatshirts and Birkenstocks will be invited to bring mugs of pewter or clay (no glass allowed) to fill up from the famous old standpipe, drink tap water and mumble at each other without making eye contact.
Neither of these, though, can hold a candle to Draughts, the crowd-funded Haggerston café where £5 gets you a board game and a table to play it on. Nothing has to pass your lips at all.
And if you think I’ve gone completely mad, only two of those last three are figments of my imagination (attentive Time Out readers should know which they are) and the other two will surely come to pass.
For this is the dawning of the age of the normcore restaurant, a phenomenon I witnessed earlier this year in New York and Toronto, where not only is food surplus to requirements, but so are hipsters. With their fussy hairstyles, fiddly piercings, stupid scratchy vinyl records and mismatched antique crockery, most young people in Britain are completely missing the point of modern restaurant-going, which in 2015 will be to gather, wearing plain-fronted rayon slacks and a cagoule, in an unmarked urban space with no telephone, door, staff, roof or walls, and play Risk.
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Just around the corner from Brewer Street’s stretch of cheap and cheerful Japanese restaurants, So aims for something a little more upmarket. The brightly lit dining room has a polished, contemporary feel, attracting a more mature clientele. The menu features luxe ingredients too – such as foie gras and wagyu beef. But it’s not all decadence here; there are also plenty of standard options like chicken yakitori, crisp veg or fish tempura and salmon teriyaki. From the long, curved sushi counter at the front of the restaurant come well-prepared nigiri, maki temaki, chirashi or sashimi – all made with high-quality fish. Check the specials board for less common options. Meat dishes are also worth trying. A generous portion of ibérico pork was charred at the edges and imbued with the sweet, salty savouriness of the miso marinade; it had all the melt-in-the-mouth tenderness that the menu promised. Wagyu beef sashimi, served with pungent raw garlic and soy sauce, was another enjoyable dish. The drinks list includes Asian-inspired cocktails as well as saké, shochu and an ample choice of wine.
Venue says: “So Restaurant in Soho is contemporary Japanese dining infused with unique European flavours.”