Review: Hoi Polloi, London


Pablo Flack and David Waddington’s new London restaurant Hoi Polloi will make or break the credibility of Ace Hotel London. Mark C.O’Flaherty enjoys the food, loves the room and hates the guests at the table behind him

Hoi Polloi restaurant Ace Hotel London

Hoi Polloi, Ace Hotel London by Ed Reeve

The sound of a child screaming doesn’t just spoil a restaurant’s ambience – it gets it drunk, bends it over a pinball machine and take turns with it against its will. I recently experienced something during a lunch at Asia de Cuba in London that made me want to offer another human being violence. A woman who looked a little like Daisy Lowe – in the way that every twentysomething woman from W11 looks a little like Daisy Lowe –­ had taken to chasing The Worst Children in the Known Universe around their table with an inflatable parrot. Yes. A parrot. They were shrieking. They were running up and down. They were leaping from the tops of staircases, directly into the path of waiting staff ferrying hot dishes to tables. They may still be doing it now because I left in a hurry, never to return.

Then there was the waiter at Electric House in Notting Hill whose eyes went on safari to the back of his head when I complained about the feral children running riot in new season Burberry. “I’ve already approached the parents,” he sighed. “They said their children wouldn’t listen to them and maybe I could discipline them.” I could go on and on, and I would be digressing. That is, if I’d actually started this story with mention of Hoi Polloi, the new restaurant from Pablo Flack and David Waddington.

But… we couldn’t enjoy any of this because of the pop up crèche at the table behind me. The screaming reached crescendo after crescendo as I gripped the edge of my table as if reaching the top of the initial climb on a rollercoaster

The team behind Ace Hotel could really have picked no one better to take over the restaurant at their long awaited London outpost. Flack and Waddington are the duo that brought credible dining to East London, before East London was colonised by… twentysomething women from W11 who look a little like Daisy Lowe. They used to run the Bricklayers Arms on Rivington Street, a pub so fabulous – way back when Hoxton was just beginning to happen – that just to type its name brings a tear of nostalgia to my eye. Then they opened Bistrotheque, had huge success with seasonal pop ups in car parks off Brick Lane (paving the way for the cliché that this sounds like today), and triumphed with Shrimpy’s in Kings Cross. They are the Keith McNallys of E2, and an integral part of a scene that started back when much of Shoreditch represented the badlands of town, long before the Joiner’s Arms started serving prosecco on draft and charging for entry.

When I interviewed Ace Hotel’s Alex Calderwood in 2012, I asked him which area he’d consider in London to open up in, pointing out that Shoreditch – or “Jersey Shoreditch” as many call it now, given the hordes of All Saints-clad suburban flotsam and jetsam that clog it at weekends – was done and dusted. Even Dalston was passé, surely? His answer was “stay tuned”, but of course the deal had already been done on the old Crowne Plaza on Shoreditch High Street – a property that was always an opportunity waiting to happen.

And so it is that Flack and Waddington’s new venture isn’t in Clapton – where it surely would be if it weren’t for Ace Hotel playing it safe commercially – but here. And, as you’d expect, it looks the part: with its expensive blacked-up Ercol Classics and wood strip paneling and leather banquette seating, it’s a handsome British canteen twist on an American diner. It reminds me a little of RK Stanley’s, the long defunct sausage and mash café on Little Portland Street, which predated all of the jazzed-up lo-fi food that we’re so sick to the back teeth of now.

The staff at Hoi Polloi are all very lovely indeed. Refreshingly, there isn’t the “of the moment” style of service that’s been fed through several filters of irony and the cod bonhomie of neighbourhood bars situated within two blocks of any L train stop in Brooklyn. (On a recent evening at Smokehouse in Canonbury I ordered a negroni and the waxed moustache and braces serving me was in raptures: “Yeaaah… you know the score!” I didn’t: I just like negronis). Similarly, the menu at Hoi Polloi is all things to all people, without going down the route of twelve kinds of spendy burger. It’s a modern brasserie with posh, contemporary comfort food: crab salad with radish and toast; salt beef sandwiches; root veg soup with crispy beef and chilli; and a variety of afternoon teas. Everything I ate at Hoi Polloi was excellent – braised rabbit, served off the bone on a bed of buckwheat, with girolles, was ideal on a grey London afternoon. My companion’s pork cheeks were credible in portion size, and the correct soft texture (although she hadn’t been alerted to the mash they’d be served on, so her order of chips was superfluous). A side of broccoli came with dehydrated anchovy and breadcrumbs, giving it a nice salty tang.

But… we couldn’t enjoy any of this because of the pop up crèche at the table behind me. The screaming reached crescendo after crescendo as I gripped the edge of my table as if reaching the top of the initial climb on a rollercoaster. When it all got too much, I became typically, self-defeatingly English: I turned and glared.

We were an inflatable parrot away from jumping ship, when les enfant terribles left. So we had another glass of wine, took a deep breath and looked again at the menu. We were both drawn to the “fancies” on the Afternoon Tea menu (specifically the pistachio and olive cake and a salted caramel tart with popcorn), though it would not, apparently, be possible to have them in lieu of any of the other puddings until Afternoon Tea began at 3pm, a full 13 minutes away. The waiter decided to be lenient: “That’s kind of how long the puddings would take to come anyway.” Then I had words about the Children of the Damned who had ruined lunch. “It’s… difficult,” said our waiter, with genuine empathy. And he’s right: what do you do? I was in a very fancy restaurant in Edinburgh one evening, at a large table, when a friend of mine had gone two stops past tipsy and become potty-mouthed. The manager came over and politely requested he shut the f––k up – and that’s right and proper. (Actually, a clip round the ear would not have been out of order.) But parents are so touchy about someone drawing attention to their inability to parent effectively, or even to just be decent human beings and realise that if someone is dropping a ton or more on lunch, they don’t want it to be accompanied by what sounds like something being torn apart by hyenas.

I’ll be back at Hoi Polloi very shortly. It covers every mealtime from breakfast to late supper, and you can pop in for coffee or a cocktail on a whim. And as much as you might pull a face about the cool factor, it’s a slick and very pleasing operation: Flack and Waddington haven’t put a foot wrong. If the intention was to create an East London answer to The Wolseley or The Delaunay, then this is as close to perfection as you’ll get. I’ll be going back on a Wednesday or Thursday evening to get roaring drunk, after Daisy Lowe has put her children to bed, and before the estate agents, the Penge contingent and yer actual hoi polloi arrive. C


Hoi Polloi at Ace Hotel, 100 Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6JQ
020 880 6100;

Mark C.O’Flaherty is from Penge