Shoreditch Set for More Vegan Goodness, Fully Organically Certified

Nicole T Raleigh

The British love a good moan, and if it’s not about the weather, then it’s invariably about something that’s lacking (if not sunshine, then common sense; but we won’t get into politics…). Back to the point, rather, what can’t be lamented anymore is a deficit of vegan restaurants. Indeed, Shoreditch has become a veritable hub of healthy eating on the outer bounds of the City of London, and looks set to expand upon that holier-than-though, no-animal-products-here-thanks attitude with the opening this month of Genesis: a fully organically certified, world travel-inspired vegan eatery.

The brainchild of Alex and Oliver Santoro (those guys from a family with a century’s history in the meat business who just suddenly decided to go vegan seven years ago after travelling the world; oh, and they launched their Raw Imagination label, stocked at Planet Organic, pretty much simultaneously with that life change…), Genesis has been vastly inspired by global street food. The resultant menu is a rainbow blend of gastronomic, cruelty-free wonder to delight both the supremely health conscious and the animal lover who really wants a nice greasy burger, just without the blood (and guilt).

The fact that Genesis has been certified fully organic by the Soil Association pre-opening is astounding, so the Santoro Brothers must be promising something pretty special with Genesis’ GMO-free ethos of “supporting organic farming practices that promote a positive impact on our health and the planet’s ecosystems”. What is certain is that Genesis very much leans towards the East London vibe kind of establishment, with graffiti set to adorn both walls and floors in the two-storey building at 144 Commercial Street, together with “pastel pink tiles, marble, copper detailing, neon signage” and an on-point soundtrack ever rotating in the background.

 

That “East” sense extends to our planet’s eastern reaches too, much of the menu’s inspiration identifiable by both name and ingredients. If you’re a fan of a Thursday curry, or have dabbled in the dietary delights of the Middle East, then Genesis is set to be your vegan hub of choice from now on. Think Tel Aviv Cauliflower (that special something-something achieved by a blend of tahini, almonds and cranberries); think Shawarma (that particular mixture of chilli, pickles, garlic sauce, and sumac really setting this Israeli salad apart); or think even the Malaysian Char Kway Teow (brown rice noodles, stir-fried vegetables and black bean sauce – simple but beautiful). There really is going to be something for everyone.

If, however, your preference is for something a tad more western, then fear not: for the American diner influence is set to be strong at Genesis as well. From the American Woman burger (all in, with coleslaw, BBQ sauce, onion rings, jalapeños, and gherkins) to an indulgently vegan mac n’ cheese, from soft-serve dairy-free ice cream with “whimsical toppings” to even – that true US diner classic – the milkshake, you’ll be humming your favourite Grease tune while waiting for your food to be served in no time. Poodle skirts optional.

 

Bloomberg Arcade to Welcome Kym’s by Andrew Wong

Nicole T Raleigh

Andrew Wong is opening a second restaurant on 2nd October in the Bloomberg Arcade. Set over two floors, the new premises – Kym’s – will continue Wong’s ethos of nurturing “the ancient craft of Chinese roasting and nostalgic flavours” and expand upon the native craftsmanship latent within Chinatown, the menu exploring a vast breadth of China’s regional cuisine.

A rather personal project, Kym’s was the name of Andrew Wong’s parents’ original Cantonese restaurant in Pimlico, which he reopened as A. Wong in 2012 (and which earned its first Michelin star in 2017). Named Chef of the Year by Eater London in 2017, Wong is quite the bright entrepreneur. A graduate of Oxford University and the London School of Economics, Wong turned his hand to cookery only after his father’s passing.

 

This respect for family history extends further, to his stated intention to use the considerable skills of “select craftsmen from Soho’s Chinatown, championing their specialist creativity and artisanal produce linking the landmark trading areas of London’s Chinese community with the heart of the financial Square Mile.” Indeed, British gastronomy has been positively imbued by the culinary talents of the Chinese community for the past 100 years and Bloomberg’s European HQs seems an apt place to set up shop, so to speak.

Kym’s will seat 120 and aims to move away from the modern Chinese dim sum his Victoria-local establishment is known for, offering instead “a modern premium casual Chinese restaurant with a relaxed and comfortable interior.” Though how casual a place can be with a 5-metre tall cherry blossom growing in the middle of the ground floor is debatable…

However, more than playing on the rich proximity and history of Chinatown, Kym’s will also cater to the City’s cocktail culture, with a 30-seater circular bar with an Asian twist (as well as beer both bottled and on tap). Further, a 50-cover private dining area is set to be available on the upper mezzanine level of Wong’s new premises – perfect for any City (or other) folk in need of such.

But as for the food… An – at first glance – rather restrained menu offers unusual starters (Lemongrass Salad; Lotus Chips; and Hot Gai Lan), skewer selections (King Oyster Mushroom, Pork, or Tiger Prawns), sharing dishes (the traditional Crispy Duck; Xian City ‘Lamb Burger’; Pork & Shrimp ‘Bao Bao’; and Taiwanese ‘Chicken Chop’), and hearty mains (Slow Poached Soy Chicken; Iberico Pork Char Sui; Three Treasure). Curious sides (no less delectable) include Uyghur Fries and Pickled Daikon. This is honest Chinese fare at none too extortionate prices.

What is savvy is the availability of a takeaway menu, too. Though a truncated version of the dine-in selection, for the set price of £10 you select one side and one main, with a quartet of optional extras (Wild Mushroom Steamed Bun; Crispy Seaweed; Spring Roll; and Hong Kong Pineapple Bun).

Open Monday to Saturday from 12pm to 3pm and 5pm to 11pm, on Sundays Kym’s will offer a special Chinese Roast menu from 12 noon until 9pm.

 

Helis & Iris at The Gherkin – The Real Dill

Nicole T Raleigh

If an evening out with a lofty touch of class sounds like heaven, then head for the clouds: renowned members’ club Searcys relaunched in July as Helix & Iris (a contemporary restaurant, and champagne and cocktail bar), finally opening to the public at large those coveted interior heights of the 39th and 40th floors of the iconic Gherkin building designed by Norman Foster. Why not float on up the lift this month and indulge?

Named after The Gherkin’s shape on the city’s horizon (helix) and the view of this City structure from above (iris), the closest tube option is Aldgate if you’re in the mood for some top-end modern British cuisine and locally inspired drinks (and your purse or wallet allows it). With a keen focus on British produce, Helix (on the 39th floor) serves food from 12pm to 2.15pm and 6pm to 9pm daily. Iris on the other hand is open between 11am and 11pm each day and is thought to be unique in its 360-degree Londonscape views.

 

Indeed, at Helix & Iris, the surrounding sights are as much a part of the experience as the interior of the restaurant and bar themselves, so design has been kept minimalistic and metallic to complement The Gherkin overall. This cool aesthetic is being wonderfully off-set each Friday night this September with a Sax & DJ Duo from 9.30pm until midnight, tickets to the event (inclusive of cocktail) costing a mere £10.

As a general rule, however, executive chef Daniel Loftin has been brought in (of Peninsula renown), and the emphasis on “sustainability and seasonality” kept fresh in the minds of Helix’s staff. Diners can expect to enjoy quite literally the “Best of British”: Scottish Smoked Salmon from John Ross Jr. (holders of the Queen’s warrant); not just any Welsh lamb, but Rhug Estate Welsh Lamb; Suffolk-sourced chicken, and Goosnargh duck; and South Coast turbot and crab fished off the Dorset coast, mackerel the Cornish.

 

There is both an à la carte menu and a tasting menu. The latter consists of six courses (not for those of a vegetarian leaning) and costs £75 per person; the wine accompaniment for each dish incurs an extra £65 per head.

Head Mixologist Federico Geniale has come up with the cocktail list (though Searcys and champagne fit hand-in-glove usually) and the blended tipples’ names are derived from the locale. Think: The Little White Bird, as in Kensington Gardens in reference to the author J. M. Barrie (Violet liqueur, vanilla vodka, lychee, elderflower, lemon and English sparkling wine); or Talk of the Chinatown, as in Limehouse, the founding area of Chinatown (Goji berry gin, lychee, yuzu, lemon and sugar); or Jack the Ripper, as in Whitechapel, the killer’s murderous stomping ground of 1888 (Mediterranean herbs vodka, beetroot juice, tomato, lemon, Worcester sauce, Mexican sauce).

As an added alcoholic bonus, until the end of September (after 8.30pm) these marvellous cocktails only cost £10. Furthermore, until the end of the month Searcys has teamed up with Perrier-Jouët to offer “brunch dates” at Iris between 11am and 3pm on Saturdays for £45 per person (includes four courses and a glass of P-J champagne). Note that the dress code states “casual elegance”.

Be warned: reservations are crucial.

Essence Cuisine – Vegan Deliciousness One Year On

Nicole T Raleigh

Not so long ago, it was a struggle to find restaurants that catered to the vegan lifestyle. Now, it seems establishments offering a veritable feast free from animal products are popping up every other week. Not to suggest that they are a rapid-fire, passing fancy, mind you. Indeed, Essence Cuisine opened a year ago in the heart of Shoreditch and is still going strong (more than strong); and it’s not hard to see why. One only has to have a mere peek at their Instagram account, and stomachs are sure to rumble in anticipation of making a very early booking.

Founded by Belgian musical genius Bart Roman back in 2014, Essence Cuisine as it now stands happened after collaborating with American raw food chef Matthew Kenney last year (whose involvement in raw and vegan restaurants and cafes now totals 16 globally and is only set to expand!). Furthermore, to highlight the aesthetics of such a wonderfully clean menu, the interior of the Shoreditch premises was designed by Andreas Bozarth Fornell to perfectly minimalist effect. Indeed, the company has seen such a success that it recently launched Essence Express, its “grab-and-go” brand, as well.

A photographic award-worthy, all-day (until 5pm) brunch menu is offered throughout the week at Essence (though it’s closed on Sundays). A veritable oasis of delicious vegan cuisine on the outer bounds of the City of London (94 Leonard Street, to be precise), the dishes sound drool-worthy, to say the least. Select from fashionable Avocado Toast (one of our faves), Seasonal Soup, Garbanzo Scramble, Raw Banana Pancakes, or pick from a trio of Smoothie Bowls (Super Berry, Pitaya Power, or Green Goddess). A seriously healthy start to the day.

If that doesn’t tickle the fancy of your taste buds, then the à la carte menu most certainly should (served from 5.30pm Tuesdays through Thursday; from 11.30am on Fridays and Saturdays). Red Smoked Hummus, Caesar Salad (dairy-free, of course), or a Spicy Carrot Sushi Roll are some of the choices to start with (and very much whet the appetite). Those are followed by Carrot Ginger Kelp Noodles, Raw Pad Thai, Heirloom Tomato Lasagne, or the Caccio & Pepe for a main.

All this deliciousness can be finished off (for those with a sweet tooth, and even for those who usually refrain) with such temptations as Hibiscus Strawberry Cheesecake or a Chocolate Caramel Brownie. But what’s truly brilliant is that Essence offers its Signature Nut Cheese Board, for those of more savoury a palate (and those who’ve discovered they have a dairy intolerance and really, really miss cheese). Yum.

Even the drinks list extends into the cruelty-free zone, with Intense (Essence’s own “organic, non-hpp, cold-pressed juices and nut milks” brand) being the beverage of choice for the majority of the restaurant’s patrons. Choose from Fresh, Green, Orange, Roots or Cacao. If something a little stronger (or read, “naughtier”) is what you desire, then rest assured even the wine is vegan (not to mention organic and biodynamic to boot). Cheers, and a happy first anniversary to Essence Cuisine!

Japanese Innovative Sound Comes to a Close at The Barbican with Percussion + Datamatics

Nicole T Raleigh

If you like your electronic music with a digital twist, then be sure not to miss Ryoji Ikeda’s music for percussion + datamatics [ver. 2.0] on Sunday 30th September at The Barbican. The closing part of the Japanese Innovators: Pioneers in Experimental Sound season that began on 20th June this year, this series of live performances looked at the development of the underground music scene in Japan from the 1950s to today, exploring (amongst others) the sound of the ground-breaking Yellow Magic Orchestra and quirkier Pop of Mariah. Ryoji Ikeda’s show – based on his ongoing art project begun in 2006 – really is something else, though.

Japanese Innovators has taken listeners on a journey through Japan’s underground music scene of the last 40 years, exploring the vastly interesting musical innovation undertaken over that time. And the developmental and ever-developing sound discovered was quite a different entity to the globally acknowledged J-Pop that occasionally plays on western radio waves today.

From musique concrète foundations inspired by Zen Buddhism, through its almost anarchic circular scores (and happily back to the normal format), to the influence of America on the during the 50s and 60s (which was substantial), the influx of specific rock and jazz inspiration in the 70s further led to a later blurring of lines between the former style and punk in the land of the rising sun.

By the 80s this musical “underground” had very much become an “experimental” auditory scene that incorporated the emergence of the then contemporary new wave electronic and synthesiser predilection, so that by the 90s Shibuya-kei played free and wild (a happy blend of French pop, British indie-pop, and 60s movie soundtracks). Since then, a full circle has been completed and these experimental sounds are once more firmly situated in the underground.

Since June, Japanese Innovators has brought to visitors’ ears the work of electronic musician Alva Noto and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto (blending minimalist piano and glitch beats in TWO), the music of Haruomi Hosono (supported by Acetone and Willie Thrasher with the help of Light in the Attic Records), and the four-channel surround sound performance of composer and aural experimenter Yasuaki Shimizu together with “live computer music pioneer” Carl Stone. It is this last that Ryoji Ikeda most aptly follows.

A show in two parts, the first (music for percussion) focuses on the “purity” of sound at its very core and will be acoustic in nature, performed in collaboration with four-piece Swiss collective Eklekto; the second (datamatics [ver. 2.0]) promises to be an audio-visual transmutation of the world’s data into sound. The Barbican website promotes it best:

“From sequences of patterns derived from hard drive errors, the imagery transforms into dramatic rotating views of the universe in 3D. The hypnotic soundtrack mirrors the imagery, meshing bleeps, crescendos and bass into a kaleidoscopic soundscape.”

Ryoji Ikeda’s concert takes place on Sunday 30th September in the Barbican Hall at 7.30pm. Tickets between £15 and £25. Please note there will be strobe lighting.