By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
For as long as there have been restaurants, there have been the most outrageous of restaurant trends. Let’s face it; London is full of annoying impositions that surround our most social expeditions for something to eat. All too often we have to pretend to enjoy scraping sauce from materials more fit to tile a bathroom floor. It’s got to the stage where us city dwellers have to pretend that it’s enjoyable to shout at one another just to cut through the cacophonous noise storm that surrounds us slurping from giant bowls of bone broth – all in the name of staying on-trend.
One craze that continues to divide Londoners, however, is the notion of small plates and sharing – we all have that one friend who’s incapable of sharing, even when they’re not even paying for their own meal. Nonetheless, sharing is something that I’ve grown very fond of when it comes to eating out. Maybe it’s something to do with the fact that we’re all sociable beings, and there’s something quite special about being able to exchange opinions based on first hand experience. Or perhaps it’s because us food writers are generally encouraged to be adventurous and bow to the altar of outlandish signature dishes that use discordant ingredients. Some creations are good but quite often these eccentric concoctions are best left to the dustbin. So it always comes with great pleasure to seek comfort in half of a less adventurous companion’s ‘safe choice’ and to share the burden of your own unfortunate choice.
Fortunately, the food at The Hungry Donkey is all very good, some of it is so good, in fact, that I’m not too keen on sharing with my three dining companions during a recent visit. Opened earlier this year, just minutes from Spitalfields and the city, the restaurant is far less like a British chain pub than its name would suggest. There’s no sub-par Sunday roasts for £10 or self-proclaimed “perfect puds” (read: sugary, frozen cakes) here. Instead, the menu focuses on incredible Greek street food dishes served with flair of modernity to match the trendy industrial décor and swathes of young people, and just in case nobody’s already mentioned, there’s a real focus on sharing plates.
To begin, fried cheese balls of manouri and ladotyri are far too good to share, a dish of Papoutsakia that features roasted aubergine is also impressive (this is high praise given that the vegetable’s texture is one of my least favourites), a large helping of Greek salad is as one would expect, albeit served with a very generous helping of oregano seasoned feta. Saganaki (pan-fried graviera cheese) tastes exactly like cheese on toast, not a bad thing but a little overpowering when matched up against the more delicate, fresh flavours on offer, and the Spanakopita (spinach pie) features layers upon layers of crispy filo but not quite enough filling to make this version of my favourite dish the best I’ve ever eaten.
As far as the main dishes are concerned, there’s a very strong focus on Greek street food stalwart Souvlaki – although traditional dishes such as Moussaka and Fasolakia are also present. It’s the ‘grab plates’, though, that boast the best value Souvlaki. Either chicken, sausage or lamb are available, each served with hand-cut chips, tomatoes and homemade tzatziki. Let’s not forget that the humble pita bread is also homemade, and it’s all the better for it. The Greek sausage is accompanied by sharp tangy mustard, which brings out the delicious flavour, but the lamb option is tonight’s unanimous vote – grilled superbly, working especially well alongside the tzatziki and the thick fava bean dip that’s also on offer as an additional side.
As the end of the meal approaches, we’re all too full to order anything substantial by means of dessert, so a small plate of Galaktoboureko provides a welcome finish – thick custard is sandwiched between sheets of filo pastry, almost like a Greek version of the classic Portuguese custard tart, albeit sprinkled with a heavy handed dose of cinnamon. The ‘H’ word may be present within the title of this new opening, but it’s almost guaranteed that it’s the absolute last sensation that diners will experience following a trip to The Hungry Donkey.
The Hungry Donkey can be found at 56 Wentworth St, London, E1 7AL.