The esteemed late American journalist Jim McKay famously once said “there are some very evil things about gentrification.”
As a somewhat nostalgic soul, I’ve always tended to sympathise with his viewpoint, gazing with slight sadness, as expensive wine bars somehow manage to squeeze their way into urban pockets of capitals – as boutique hotels nuzzle up in between a city’s characterful dive bars.
When I first moved to the Big Smoke, 10 whole years ago, Shoreditch seemed like a neighbourhood completely different from the rest of the capital – a twilight zone dropped into East London from the sky. Walking every day to work from a flat on the Kingsland road, through Hoxton to my office off the Old Street round-a-bout, I passed youths in dayglow caps turned to one side, in the skinniest of jeans, all looking just a little bit out of it. Streets were still filled with the debris of the night before and there was not an upmarket cafe or plush cocktail bar in sight.
Instead, I passed an incredibly cheap row of excellent Vietnamese restaurants, clubs just shutting their doors for the morning, original vinyl record shops and proper cafes, serving sizzling fry ups. Silicon Round-A-Bout was in its infancy and my start-up employers, all young graduates themselves, still revelled in an edgy student outlook. This involved a fully stocked office beer fridge – open all hours, and regular after-work films screened on the office projector, with pizza delivered till late.
But as times changed I graduated myself to a plusher West End job in events, leaving Hoxton and Shoreditch fairly much behind me, for the best part of a decade. In my twenties, I preferred the West, to work, earn, party and play. But occasionally I’d drop back to for a birthday and notice with interest how the area was slowly changing. Like Banksy’s Dismaland theme park in reverse, the dynamic cultural quarter of Hoxton was emerging, shiny and new.
Hordes of tourists also seemed to be arriving in this part of London, drawn by the developing street art scene with its giant sculptures and murals, such as ROA’s fascinating example of a three-storey tall crane on Hanbury Street. Galleries with ‘open policies’ attracted fans of the art movement, who could walk in and meet their favourite ‘street artists’ such as Pure Evil. This art tourism boost also had mass appeal to Londoners and those outside the capital, bringing with it a wave of shinier four- and five-star hotels. Even some American outpost sprung up – such as the ACE hotel, arguably most famous for its NYC property. And as all of this was occurring, I found myself often wondering what exactly this would do the soul of the area.
So when an invitation crossed my path to try out Hoxton’s newest dining experience, (interestingly from a connection from the West End events job I moved out of the area for, all those years ago), I was too intrigued to turn it down. The Jones Family Project is the brainchild of the team behind the upscale pizzeria chain Rocket – the original Lancashire Court branch (no longer now there) used to be directly opposite my old office.
The premise of the establishment is a family themed bar, events space and restaurant. The space however remains the right side of quirky, with an idiosyncratic interior uniquely curated, full of objet d’art and original details. Blink and you could easily be sipping a drink in the sitting room of the Royal Tenenbaums.
Continuing the family theme, cocktails are named after different family members – e.g. Grandfather’s drinks are strong – rum or whisky based. Sister’s drinks are sweeter – you get the pitcher (sorry). I tried a ‘Don’t get in a muddle’ – a moreish mix of Hendricks, lime and prosecco. The Ginnie Julep was also a smash – gin, berries, elderflower, grapefruit, mint and sugar perked my friend and I up, after a long day at the office. Commendably (and a first also as I understand it for London) the venue also offers a negroni menu – unique variations on the favoured Italian aperitivo. And even better still is the ‘Eastbound & Round’ – a Fruit Infused sharing negroni, served in a ‘Porthole’ for two. With Plymouth gin, Campari, vermouth infused with pink grapefruit, orange rind and raspberries it’s also gorgeously presented in an aesthetically pleasing circular serving vessel.
Drinks done, we merrily sauntered from the kooky upstairs bar – think massive Palm Springs 1950s prints and an indoor ‘picnic’ area – to the chic downstairs restaurant. The space is divided up by booths and sections, which come in handy when hosting a private dinner or event here. Settled at a corner table with great views of the open kitchen, we were set to feast.
And feast we did. The menu boasts meat from trusted farmers and butchers, with all fish from a sustainable source. We started with Fillet Steak Tartare that was perfectly seasoned and a burrata that was as silky and creamy as rightly it should be. Mains were Fillet Steak – supplied by the Ginger Pig – served with a divine porcini and truffle butter, wilted spinach and truffled mac and cheese. My friend’s Rump Of Spring Lamb, with purple potatoes, truffle vinaigrette, shallots, roasted cherry tomatoes and a red wine jus was also near close to meaty perfection and a perfect autumn dish.
We both also loved the fun ‘potato menu’ with its six variations – including the impossibly delicious sounding Godminster Vintage Cheese Croquettes – another nice Jones’s family touch. Our shared pud was Eton Mess Semifreddo – which featured Langley’s No 8 gin macerated strawberries, strawberry sauce and crushed meringue.
As we rolled home – me with half my fillet steak in a packed lunch for tomorrow – we both agreed this family’s dynamics are spot on. But Mum’s the word – we can’t let too many in on this divine diner.
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By Leila Stocker