Depending on your perspective, Shoreditch is either the epicentre of excitement or a baffling anthology of everything that’s wrong with London. It’s also the birthplace of the recent ‘dirty food’ fad, whereby dishes traditionally associated with cheap comfort food are unashamedly re-appropriated as gloriously gluttonous exercises in semi-irony. With Far Rockaway, an American-style sports bar crammed to the brim with comics and figurines and snowboards, dirty food falls flat. It’s a shame, because there’s an excellent bar here.
The food we’re served achieves the unfortunate double of being pretty expensive and pretty bad. It’s the kind of stuff that a neglectful parent might absent-mindedly shove in the microwave for their children’s dinner during a particularly hectic week. Popcorn shrimp, served in a huddle beneath a handful of stale popcorn, are crusty and overcooked. Covered in a dark, rust-coloured batter which is neither fresh nor crumbly, they look like bad motorway service station scampi. Inevitably they taste chewy and overdone. There are only half a dozen bite-size pieces hidden beneath the haystack of popcorn on my plate. Even at £5 this feels like a rip-off.
Steak of the day provides the clearest signal that something is going badly wrong here, the culinary equivalent of a black box beeping under miles of seawater. Today’s steak is fillet, served with fries and an as-yet unidentified pot of brown liquid masquerading as peppercorn sauce, and priced – presumably amid barely-suppressed guffaws from the management – at £22. Nothing on our table is worth anywhere near this amount, least of all the fries, which are frozen crinkle-cut chips of the Mc-something variety. The fillet steak is passable, yet arrives overcooked. The whole sorry ensemble is delivered on a big yellow plate, the kind you’d get in a greasy spoon – except it’s priced as if it were the Hawksmoor.
Meanwhile a slice of the honestly-named Garbage Pie pizza fares little better. It’s a fair old slice alright, the size of a tablemat, and the dough benefits from being light and airy. It’s decorated with lamentable ‘USA sausage’, fatty streaks of pancetta and some artichoke hearts. While not the worst offender, I’m glad I didn’t order the whole thing (which retails at an entirely unjustified £19).
A salt beef sandwich at least tastes approximately like the dish it’s based on. Essentially it’s a toastie stacked with salt beef, enlivened by a bit of unnamed cheese, mustard and some pickles. It’s £8.50 and comes partnered with the same processed fries as the steak.
We skip dessert, but decide to try the peanut butter dessert cocktail. I’m glad we did: it’s rich and creamy, without becoming too sweet. In fact, the drinks here are uniformly good. There’s a big selection of authentic American beers alongside a creative and playful array of cocktails. The Hot Bitch stands out – it tastes exactly like sweet red pepper; peculiar, refreshing and definitely worth a try. It’s just a shame that the food is off-key.
Ultimately, Rockaway reeks of marketing conceit. You can taste the high mark-ups, the way the food is being used to fund an impressive and interesting bar. Everything we try here is a fatty melange of brown and yellow, bright colours and e-numbers, a backwards step into a grim yesteryear when all that mattered was copying faddy American fast food trends. So much effort has been put into the venue and the concept that they’ve forgotten about the food. Shoreditch might be all about the hype, but without substance it’s just a fad.
97-113 Curtain Rd
Tel: 020 8305 3090