Sunday, 28 March 2010

Broken Biscuits - Pop-up restaurant where art and food meet

Broken Biscuits?

A culinary adventure in memory of London’s most notorious slum.

Take your tastebuds on a gastrogeographical journey to explore one of the most fascinating corners of Shoreditch. Part art, part archaeology, part gastronomic feast, on the ruins of the most infamous of all of London’s slums.

In the1880’s, the Old Nichol housed a population of 5700 in its rotting streets; its death rate was over twice the London average. It became a byword for squalor, deprivation and crime, with young and old securing their day-to-day survival by fair means or foul. A site of controversy and the focus for the social debates and revolutionary foment of the late 19th Century, it was a test case for Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx’s theories of class struggle, was picked over by researchers,

statisticians, social crusaders and commentators of every stripe, and brought vividly to life in fictional form by Arthur Morrison’s ‘A Child of the Jago’.

The Old Nichol Rookery was demolished in the late 1800’s. In its place now stands The Boundary Estate, the world’s first social housing scheme. Broken Biscuits? evokes the ghosts of the children who populated these dark streets, living cheek by jowl with the donkeys, cows, geese and rabbits kept for sustenance or trade.

The past will be brought to life by food. Your map is a menu. Six courses guide you through time and place in the Old Nichol.

Collect your map and bag of broken savoury biscuits

from the Owl and Pussycat on Redchurch Street.

Shops discounted much of their bakery produce for hungry locals, and large bags of broken biscuits could be bought for a halfpenny.

Pick your apple from the fields of Albion.

In the windows of Leila’s, a fantastical display of cakes.

Dare you ask for one?

“Regardless of the shopkeepers’ real line of business, many shops had sweet foodstuffs – confectionary, small open tarts, sugar butties, a suet and plum pudding called Baby’s Head – on display in the windows to tempt children in... in some instances [with] the sinister purpose of luring [them] in with a view to encouraging them to pilfer for the shopkeeper, who would fence the stolen goods.” (The Blackest Streets, Sarah Wise)

Zubrówka Vodka at Arnold Circus,

served with blinis, smoked salmon and sour cream.

The mound at Arnold Circus was built on the demolition rubble of the Old Nichol. Let’s raise a glass to the slum that inspired the October Revolution!

We reach a secret doorway at Rochelle Canteen and enter.

A feast awaits us.

Hare pâté and pigeon terrine studded with juniper berries

served with St. John’s bread, green parsley liquor

and a shot of Jensen’s Bermondsey Gin.

Pigeons, songbirds, white mice, parrots and rabbits were kept in the cellars and sold in the bird and animal market at Club Row.

Shot of watercress soup.

The area was originally built on watercress fields.

Venison stew marinated for 7 days,

accompanied by buttered Savoy cabbage, carrots and potatoes.

Every 7 days the Duke of Bedford would send two deer to the Old Nichol

mission to be made into venison stew for free children’s dinners.

Spotted Dick ice cream

with Oloroso soaked sultanas,

served with a glass of Oloroso sherry.


The menu is paired with spirits and wines matched by Stefan Batfield at The City Beverage Company in Old Street. Meat supplied by Theobald’s.