I’m not a kiss and tell kind of blogger. Having worked in kitchens and behind bars for a fair whack of my adult life, I appreciate that protest should be levelled on the front line first and foremost. Hospitality types usually appreciate the honesty, so I was surprised to find that a recent visit to Shoreditch’s latest hipster magnet, Far Rockaway, proved an exception to the rule. And it’s shame that my first London-based review in a few years has to be overwhelmingly negative.
By way of a disclaimer, it’s worth noting that Far Rockaway is a recent (but not new anymore) opening. Some growing pains are still to be expected, but what’s less excusable is the shoulder shrugging with which criticism was received. It was, in short, the kind of indifference generally reserved for rapists and pedophiles sitting on death row. Whoever is behind the establishment’s social media , for one, needs a crash course in customer interaction as a pair of Tweets sent enquiring about the availability of NFL matches weren’t responded to ahead of our visit. How much effort does a simple “yes” or “no” take?
On the night itself, certain waitresses weren’t allowed to take orders, with drinks subsequently needing nearly half an hour to arrive. A division of labour? Perhaps, but also bloody stupid given it was busy. The food, which is another attempt to capitalise on the UK’s fetish for all things American, reads like a dream on paper: crab cakes, Buffalo wings, popcorn shrimp, ribs, NY-style pizza. However, while delivery wasn’t a problem in this case, the food that arrived was often only a vague appropriation of the menu descriptions.
Popcorn shrimp was a gentrified take on the classic bar snack and, while highly edible, suffered from being severely overpriced – £1 a piece is Kensington raw bar prices, not the sort of tag you expect at a drinking den. The accompanying “chipotle ketchup” was flavourful enough, but had a slightly odd texture, a bit bready in the style of a Romesco sauce.
Things got worse with the “Buffalo wings,” which were simply nothing of the sort. Instead, they constituted BBQ wings – of a decent enough standard – limply drizzled with some hot sauce or other and resulting in a major flavour clash. Buffalo wings are one of those things that should have legally protected status, but when I noted the discrepancy to the staff, they couldn’t seem to fathom that this might be a problem. Some one in the food chain had clearly failed to do their homework on a couple of fronts.
There were high points, though. The mac and cheese spring rolls are definitely worth a try if you’re in the area and fancy a snack. Crisp on the outside, gooey on the inside, it was a bastardisation of deep fried mac and cheese that I could stomach because it was so well executed. Only the £7 a piece price tag stood as a bone of contention.
As a venue, Far Rockaway isn’t without promise. It’s kind of cynically affected in parts, with its bumper crop of neon signs and extensive comic book collection, but it’s also genuinely comfortable and some of the art is intriguing. Still, some things need smoothing over. If you have nine bloody TV screens, why would you refuse to put the sound on for a Man Utd/Arsenal match? It’s not like we’re talking about Simpson’s in the Stand here. When asked about the policy for audio, the staff again didn’t seem to know – or care enough about the punter to figure it out.
Based on my experience, Far Rockaway is a restaurant and venue still in soft launch mode, which wouldn’t be a problem if it owned up to its shortcomings by doing the usual thing and charging a reduced fare. A US-inspired joint positioned in the heart of Tech City has pretty much everything going for it, which means it also has a lot to lose. If it replicates the kind of shambolism I encountered, the scoreline will tell its own story sooner rather than later.