It seems the boys from Berber and Q in Haggerston can do no wrong. We’ve visited their railway arch on multiple occasions and after meeting a bunch of new Londoners in Australia a few weeks ago at my brother’s wedding they have been in touch and want a London catchup to happen at the Turkish joint in a few weeks time – such is the praise we lay at their feet.
I was able to temp Writing Helen over to Hackney Wick this weekend for her first visit and we came trumps up. Surrounding a car park in an industrial estate we suggest firstly heading to Howling Hops Tank Bar (the UK’s first) where you have a choice of 12 tanks to get the freshest beer poured directly into your glass. This was my second visit and like my first, the team is more than happy to explain each of the beers and how many you might be tackling in order to find the best match for your palette and order to drink them. There’s a science to it.
The crawl can then continue to Crate Brewery down the end of the carpark. It’s a different setup, they have their own beers plus a few guest beers plus they’re right on the canal (perfect for summer, not so much in winter). I prefer Howling Hops as the space in Crate feels a little disjointed and less communal. But they make a few damn good beers so do yourself a favour.
And when you get peckish? Mick’s Garage is a Middle Eastern smokehouse that has just been installed in when looks to be Crate Brewery’s packing and delivery warehouse. You’ll find it directly across Queen’s Square from Howling Hops and the place is pumping.
So what’s it all about? The space used to be (obviously) a mechanic’s shop but has been turned into a 500 person capacity multifunctional warehouse. At the moment it’s only Berber and Q who have set up Shuk Shuk at one end of the room but in the near future you’ll also be able to find Jarr Bar – London’s first Kombucha Bar tea bar. There’s also a DJ on the roof of the Shuk Shuk pumping out some amazing tunes which makes sense as decent music is such an important part to the overall Berber and Q experience.
We went on the first night – and the first Friday of the cold snap – so there weren’t as many people as there would usually be. The menu makes you start to drool as you savour the many options you have to build your tray of beautifully cooked meats. A choice of smoked merguez, swarm chicken, brisket and lamb mechoui can be matched with sides such as saffron potato salad, tahini slaw and a selection of pickles.
Chef Josh Katz and FOH partner Mattia Bianchi, both ex Ottolenghi, have envisioned Shuk Shuk to function like those American barbecue joints that you always hear about. A massive line of people waiting, you get to the counter, you place your order and as the kitchen works in perfect tandem you don’t leave until you get your tray in your hands – then the net person behind repeats the process. Except they’ve realised we’re Londoners. Everyone puts in their order and spots the bar, heads over to order a drink and the team wonders where the hell the people who have paid for food have disappeared to. I’m sure we’ll eventually learn.
We decided on the great value 2-meat plate and combined the sumac and allspice smoked brisket with lamb mechoui (pulled shoulder) with tahini slaw, kashikaval mac n’cheese and pumpkin & lentils for the all in cost of £21. We dug in. We had a moment of clarity. This is the food we would be happy eating for the rest of our lives. There’s not many places you go where yo can honestly say that.
Every single element of food on the tray works perfectly in tandem with each there that there’s unlimited combinations depending on how much food your fork can hold. The meat is all perfectly cooked, the bread underneath fresh and warm, the sides – we just couldn’t get enough of them. Each so tasty yet balanced and working in tandem. Jesus I sound like an olympic diving commentator. Enough food for 2 people, we just sat content in the communal mess-hall watching a few groups dance while playing ping pong.
If you haven’t tried Berber and Q and don’t want to fight the no reservation crowds – there’s no better place to use as a testing ground to see if you jive with the food these guys cook up. Two brews and amazing food at your fingertips – this could be the perfect square to base yourself from while catching up with a bunch of friends.