Sometimes, you can be in a room and know that you’ve been there before. So it was on Wednesday night when out for Japanese food at Apothecary in Shoreditch. I used to work close by on Leonard Street and years back got taken for lunch in the site that Apothecary now occupies. My boss at the time had wanted to impress a potential hire and a group of us went for steaks and wine on a scorching day.
Having lived in and worked in east London for much of my twenties, Shoreditch is full of memories. Some are good, many are bad and being back there these days feels different. There are buildings where there weren’t before, new road markings and restaurants that I’ve yet to eat at. On the plus side, I no longer have such fear about who I might bump or the awkward conversation that I’d feel obliged to make. The cocktail bars that I used to work and drink in have long closed and the people I knew from then have scattered, replaced by younger people that I no longer resemble. Being back in Shoreditch made me realise that I’m different, my life is too and that I don’t miss the past.
On Wednesday night, London was hot and I was feeling uncomfortable, never knowing how to dress for work in any season other than winter. I kept thinking that I should move to a place that’s permanently cold, so I could wear scarves and Chelsea boots year round.
After work, our group of colleagues and clients walked from Spitalfields to have drinks at the Bricklayer’s Arms. The surrounding streets were busy and the crowd outside the pub were a mix of mostly young people, drinking at the end of a day working for an agency. Inside, the pub was quiet and the barmaid serving us wore dark sunglasses, whilst pouring beers. Back outside with pints, we drank in the fading sunshine and I watched as cyclists and pedestrians powered past each other, almost colliding.
After a couple of beers, we made the short walk down to Apothecary and we were seated in a back corner of the restaurant near to the open kitchen. I always like to eat at places with open kitchens because you get to see the people that put your food together and you’re closer to the action.
I remembered from my previous visit that the toilets at Apothecary were accessed via a labyrinth of stairs and corridors and although they didn’t smell great, the hand soap was excellent.
Back at the table, we were at the tail end of happy hour and started with a cocktail each. I ordered the Poor Man’s Dreams, smiling at how such a name might have annoyed me when I was making cocktails for a living. The drink was a mix of Cognac, Yellow Chartreuse, dry Vermouth and lemon. I thought it tasted like a Sidecar and was a perfect palette cleanser after a couple of pints of pale ale. The cocktail was excellent but I could only have one and switched to water with dinner and gin soda afterwards.
The food menu was a mix of Japanese small plates and we ordered a selection of things to share, as well as some dishes for ourselves. We each had a bao bun and I went for the slow roasted pork belly. Inside the bun was a mix of pickles, lettuce, slow roasted pork belly and a citrusy mayo. The citrus balanced the fattiness of the pork beautifully and the bun was light and soft. I could live off bao buns and got envious of the others for ordering ones filled with fried chicken.
Other highlights from the menu included the Cornish crab sushi rolls, the pork belly skewers and sweet potato skews and the blackened salmon. The highlight of the meal was the beef short rib, easily the most buttery cut of beef I’ve ever eaten. The texture of the meat and the abundance of sauce was heavenly and we ordered three portions for the table.
Everything that we ate and drank at Apothecary was excellent and an honourable mention goes to the tenderstem broccoli, that was lightly steamed and then drizzled with sesame sauce. It’s important to get your greens.
Along with the food and drinks, the service at Apothecary was friendly and non-intrusive and the atmosphere relaxed. There were plenty of other tables in for dinner but the restaurant never seemed hectic or rushed. There was a confidence about Apothecary that was clear in everything they did.
After dinner, some of the group went back to the pub and then out, whilst I walked to Old Street to begin the journey back down the coast. I was glad I left because the trains were a disaster and because I’m not so young these days. Ending the night at 9 and is the clearest indication yet that times have changed and that I’ve grown up.