For the past eight or so years, my existence has been blighted by the construction of two massive tower blocks, Eagle House and 157 City Rd., located at the end of my very small, low-rise street. Whilst there is not space here to delve into the fetid world of property development and the dubious relations that many developers have with local councils, it is safe to say that Hackney Council see the area to the north of Old Street as a cash-cow. Infuriatingly, we don’t even live near Hackney itself -it’s a 30 minute bus ride away, but the old boroughs of Hoxton and Shoreditch were swallowed-up by it during the 1960s. One gets the feeling that the decision-makers are unlikely to have to live with the consequences of their actions, whilst the local community won’t be getting anything that it doesn’t already have.
157 City Road is the site of a new hotel, owned by the Montcalm chain -who also own what was the Whitbread Brewery, having turned the historic St. Paul’s Tavern into a restaurant and the nearby King’s Head into an expensive gastro-pub. They do not care about desecrating traditional neighbourhoods for the sake of crass commerce.
Alas, I digress. The imaginatively-named M by Montcalm wants to be a ‘5-star boutique hotel’, mainly because it is hemmed into an area that is far to small for anyone in their right mind to build a luxury hotel, but also happens to be part of an international behemoth, which neatly puts paid to the ’boutique’ bit. This jagged structure, rises out of the pavement like a corporate flick-knife, threatening to sever the tarmac artery that is City Rd.
The bar and restaurant that lie within, Tonic & Remedy, is spread over the ground floor and mezzanine. The appellation smacks of an insincere homage of an already trite ‘hipster’ naming trend that has influenced everything from wine bar Sager & Wilde to advertising agency Surname & Surname. We are shown to a table in an unloveable and surprisingly-pokey room that reverberates with the sound of a hundred braying city boys (and girls).
In spite of this, the service was charming, the staff working hard to ensure that everyone liked them. This cannot have been easy, given how busy the place was and how recently it had opened.
The drinks menu was fairly comprehensive and included some reasonably-priced wines, although the food menu seemed ridiculously limited (I certainly hope that they are planning to rotate the dishes). There’s a bit of a neo-traditional English thing going on, where they appear to have reinvented the jellied eel. Hideously, they have joined the trend to refer to beetroot by the Americanism, ‘beets’, specifically ‘heritage’ ones, in this context.
We started with some smoked almonds, which were rather wonderful and certainly worth their £3 price-tag. We skipped the starters, not finding any of them to be terribly convincing and both found ourselves having the ‘Roast cod, shellfish casserole and fennel’ (£16). This wasn’t bad at all. I don’t normally have high expectations of cod, but this was fresh and firm, served with what appeared to be an Iberian-style bean cassoulet with clams (it’s always good to see clams). Though very tasty, it certainly required a side dish and may not be the best-value £16 meal in Hoxton. My father ordered the triple-cooked chips, I ordered the fries (£4 each) -both were good, but the triple-cooked chips had the edge.
At £8 a go, the desserts cannot but be ridiculously overpriced. Nonetheless, the ‘Chocolate fondant whisky and orange’ [sic] was certainly competently-executed, although perhaps too small to share.
Tonic & Remedy will have a tough time luring crowds from beyond its guestrooms, in spite of the competent cooking, although it might prove popular for business lunches. The space is rather odd, too cramped for its stylistic ambitions, with a handful of tables overlooking the traffic jams of City Rd., but the rest huddled into the dark and cacophonous space near the kitchen. I doubt that its presence will worry the proprietors of Merchant’s Tavern or 8 Hoxton Square too much, but the upstairs bar could come in useful for a quiet drink, late at night.