Address: 3-5 Rathbone Place, W1T 1HJ
Nearest Station: Tottenham Court Road
Tel.: 020 7323 0860
Good For: Lunchtime fix, Introduction to new foods, Casual dining
Filipino food is unfortunately rather scarce to find in London – not only are there very few Filipino restaurants around, but most pan-Asian places seem to peddle the idea that Asia consists of only China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. Not East Street though. Walking down Rathbone Place one nippy October day from a lunchtime meeting (at a Filipino restaurant, coincidentally), I’d spotted the brightly-coloured signs announcing its presence on this rather non-descript road, and being the curious cat I am when it comes to checking out new Asian restaurants, I took a couple of seconds out of my day to study the menu. Although the menu was packed full of the typical pan-Asian favourites, I was rather impressed that they took the time to note where each dish was from and – oh, what’s this? Chicken adobo?? From the Philippines??? Really?? Is it any good? Methinks I’ll have to swing by another time to try it out…
And so I eventually got the chance to pop in, some weeks later. The first thing that struck me was that this was not a run-down pan-Asian canteen (Chop Chop springs to mind – not that it matters hugely, as I love Chop Chop’s cheap and cheerful offering); in fact, what with the neon ads hanging from the ceilings, the sharing tables, the open-plan kitchen, the food products dotting shelves here and there and the plastic condiment baskets on each table, East Street was definitely going for the hawker centre feel. Only cleaner, better ventilated and with higher-quality fittings. And a more multicultural staff, as befitting a cosmopolitan city like London.
It was like these guys had gone on a gap year (their website does explain that “we’ve travelled all over East Asia to bring back our favourite dishes for you to try”), liked what they saw, brought the idea back to London and sanitised it. They went for a finer feel for their long-established Tampopo restaurants, but for East Street they’ve gone full-blown ‘street food’ and hawker centre. It’s different, it’s kitschy and it’s fun, even if the whole hawker centre atmosphere and pandering to ‘street food’ trends is a bit forced.
Nevertheless, it’s a refreshing take that makes it stand out in my mind. But what impressed me the most were the place mats, which doubled as educational tools – a map of the area with the featured countries highlighted alongside brief explanations of what characterises each country’s cuisine (see the online version of it here). Spreading the knowledge about the multi-faceted face of ‘pan-Asian’ cuisine – now that’s really refreshing to see.
They just need to hire this guy to help out with spreading the good news.
But as a half-Filipino, I decided to try what I like to think I know best – the sole Filipino dish on offer, chicken adobo. On their place mats, East Street defines Filipino food as “Chinese-influenced noodles and spring rolls and Spanish colonial ingredients, often with a tart sharpness to the flavour the dishes”, a description I would say is a good shot but not quite spot-on (I feel there needs to be more of a reference to the fact that three cultures – Chinese, Southeast Asian and Hispanic – mixed and borrowed from each other to create what we know and love today).
And I would probably offer the same judgement on the chicken adobo. It’s an attractive dish, very well-presented with the bright colours of the broccoli, coriander and sweet potato crisps contrasting with the deep brown of the adobo – but it’s not quite there. If you are Filipino, you may have already spotted something a bit different about it – I have never seen coriander garnish adobo; it is not a flavour I associate with the Philippines, although its addition is not a problem for me. And as for the broccoli, yes it’s a great vegetable, but perhaps beans (sitaw), squash (kalabasa), aubergines (talong), kangkong, okra or other more indigenous vegetables may have been a better fit. Oh, and if you are going to serve sweet potato (camote) crisps, it’d be good if they were fresh and crispy.
The adobo itself on the other hand, was flavourful and reminiscent of what adobo should be like. Although on the sweeter side, the soy sauce and vinegar mix was present and pleasing – and there was enough of it to really mix into the rice, the way I like it. The tender chicken was a bonus, ensuring that the adobo sauce was accompanied by substantial meatiness.
But again, it’s a good shot, but not quite spot-on. Hopefully newcomers to Filipino cuisine will find it pleasing enough that their interest will be piqued, so much so that they will either demand more Filipino dishes from East Street, or want to go 5 minutes down the road to the only actual Filipino restaurant in central London and try everything else that las islas Filipinas can offer. However, I do think that East Street merits another visit – so you guys heard me, you’d better make sure your char kway teow and Singapore noodles are up to scratch!
VERDICT – A good place. I like the way that East Street have approached the pan-Asian concept by trying to shed light on the differences between the respective cuisines, and for that I salute them. Their food is not bad either, and I am willing to go back and try something different. Granted, the fact that they even deign to include the Philippines in pan-Asia may be colouring my judgement, but in my books that already suggests a bit of a more thoughtful approach towards the diversity of cuisines in the region.
Currently listening to: Circa Survive – Living Together