Weekend in Shoreditch + Pop-Up Dinner at Violet

The streets of Shoreditch (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

For a while, Josh and I started all our sentences with: “When I move to Shoreditch…” Like, “When I move to Shoreditch, I’m going to floor-to-ceiling stuff my flat with all these gorgeous plants from Columbia Road,” or “When I move to Shoreditch, I’m going to have breakfast at St. John every day – at the very least regularly pop in for fresh jelly donuts,” or “When I move to Shoreditch, I’m going to finally buy myself a decent black coat and nice shoes.” This was just me, though, because Josh always looked good.

To cap off our month of working together, Josh and I flew to London, where we met with DeVonn Francis of Yardy to put on a pop-up dinner at Violet, a lovely little bakery in Dalston. The dinner was the culmination of a crisscrossed web of collaborations. DeVonn had guest-edited the latest issue of Counter Service (#12 Guts), and Josh had taken the editorial break to spend the month in Berlin putting on a writing workshop with me. Josh and I had, independently of each other, recently discovered Shoreditch and were both hankering to go back and lay down roots of some sort (after all, when we move to Shoreditch, we’d like to be known) – and so it seemed like the right place to go.

Pilgrimage to St. John (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I landed a few hours earlier than Josh, and had some time to wander through my new home on my own. Shoreditch seemed so very clean, so quaint, compared to Berlin, and everyone in it so very put-together. There were little pubs on every corner with austerely painted wooden detailing on their facades and shops with five artfully arranged things in them and soft yellow lighting. The buildings all seemed politely small, just like the tube – and as a less tall person, it made me feel a little like Goldilocks finding her proverbial just right. There were the vintage shops bursting with color (colour!) in Brick Lane, the bustling pedestrians and traffic whisking up and down Commercial Street, the shaded patches of green hidden in small side streets that felt just so very English.

Brick Lane (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
London skyline (photo courtesy of Counter Service)
In Bethnal Green (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Commercial Street, London (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I like walking through a city on my own. Your mind is all you have for company, and without an errand to run or an aim in mind, it takes some getting used to to play the flâneur. You have to consciously slow down, actively dally. This is perhaps easier for some than others, but I have never been a dawdler, and unstructured aimlessness is a pleasant challenge. Even so, after hours of meandering, I was thirsty and tired, and after all, the greatest challenge of all is to go out for a drink by yourself.

I ended up at Kill the Cat, a small craft beer shop with an even smaller bar not far from our first night’s hotel stay on Brick Lane. Beer people are the best people, I decided, not long after sitting at the five-seat bar and finding myself drawn into a conversation with the bartender and the Norwegian barber-in-training sitting beside me. The people who popped into the shop all seemed to know each other and shared such an enthusiasm for new brews and beer arcana, I felt like I was already home. When I move to Shoreditch, I thought, I’ll come here all the time.

Butcher Shop, Bethnal Green (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

When Josh’s severely-delayed flight finally disgorged him in Heathrow, he found me knee-deep in conversation and halfway through a coffee stout. We shared the rest, complained about air transit, then strolled together through a brisk London night to meet DeVonn for dinner at som saa, where we must have ordered half the menu to share and each, in turn, had a private moment of torture with a chili popped casually, foolishly between the teeth. Bellies full, we finished the night with a pint at The Carpenter’s Arms.

Josh and I had decided in advance to spend the whole weekend in our new home Shoreditch, with brief forays into neighboring (neighbouring!) Bethnal Green and Dalston, of course, where Violet is. When you keep your circle small, it almost feels as if you are already home – living life like you might in the place where you do: the habitual café around the corner for your morning coffee, the same grocery stores and streets and walking patterns. But we wondered, if we really lived in Shoreditch, if we’d do all the things we were doing now – breakfasting on kipper and a warm blueberry jelly donut at St. John, warming up at The Royal Oak with a Guinness after the Sunday flower market, a quick counter lunch with wine at Lyle’s, hopping from a charcuterie plate and a bottle of natural wine at SAGER + WILDE to cocktails at Coupette and a nightcap at Satan’s Whiskers – the hip-hop bar where, apparently, oddly, no one dances. It felt glamorous, luxurious, leisurely, and wild – and then again, even a city as thrilling as Berlin has for me become a city of quiet, comfortable habits.

Pop-up dinner at Violet (poster courtesy of Yardy)

But of all the wonderful things we did, one of the most special also happened to be the real reason for our trip. DeVonn and Josh and I spent Saturday morning in and out of markets and butcher shops getting ready for our pop-up, and the afternoon doing prep work in our Airbnb, infusing the kitchen with the heady smell of oxtail seared in fish sauce (which I’m sure our host appreciated) and plucking feathery strips of cilantro until our fingers shriveled with wet.

DeVonn at work (photo courtesy Counter Service)
Liver panzanella at Violet Pop-up (photo courtesy of Counter Service)

We arrived at Violet just as the bakery was closing, but as soon as the shades were down, we got to work, lining the upstairs tables with paper and lighting candles, putting out plates and organizing our kitchen workstations. DeVonn set up shop behind the stove, and soon the dusted sweet smell of the bakery was superseded by the smoke of liver seared in cognac.

Garnishing the oxtail (photo courtesy of Counter Service)
Pickled beetroot and kohlrabi (photo courtesy of Counter Service)
Fruit for dessert (photo courtesy of Counter Service)

The night’s menu was an homage to the collaborative time spent in Berlin as well as to guts – both metaphorical and literal. A quick, fresh amuse of flash-pickled beetroot and kohlrabi was a nod to two of Berlin’s fall/winter staples, while the first course of panzanella-style salad with seared chicken liver and charred red pepper gastrique reflected guts at their most literal. The main course, braised oxtail in red wine with white beans and seared broccoli stems, was representative of DeVonn’s own culinary journey, and the bravery in letting his Jamaican roots honestly and powerfully shape his personal approach to fine dining. For dessert, cake soaked in apple core syrup and topped with cream brought the meal full circle back to Germany.

Finishing the panzanella with seared liver (photo courtesy of Counter Service)
Finishing touches on the amuse (photo courtesy of Counter Service)
Plating for pop-up at Violet Bakery, London (photo courtesy of Counter Service)
Chef DeVonn Francis of Yardy, NYC (photo courtesy of Counter Service)

For me, that evening was what the whole month had been about – bringing people and projects together, giving physical shape to ideas, bridging distances both cultural and geographical. Each time I walked upstairs to the tables we’d set up, filled with food we’d made, to see strangers talking and laughing and feeling comfortable in an environment we’d created, I thought, yes, this is why we do this, this is why we put up with the stress of publicity, the stress of logistics and carrying groceries, and walking across the whole city just to find pretty herbs. We do it because no matter where in the world we find ourselves, we make that place, just for that night, our home.

Josh, Lyz, and DeVonn (photo courtesy of Counter Service)

Thanks to Counter Service and Yardy for providing some of the photography/images used in this post.

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