Ever been out to eat somewhere where the clientele make you feel as though you’ve hurtled into a timewarp? This was the bizarre experience I had when three friends and I went for dinner at Village East, a New York-style bar and restaurant on Bermondsey Street, South London, on Saturday night.
I thought I had Village East sussed out in advance: I used to work in the office directly opposite. I had occasionally gone for after-work drinks there and coveted the distressed leather sofas and retro lamps. It seemed like a cool and buzzy place, with a mixed clientele of people from the local offices and shops. Nothing too dressy or intimidating.
But how the weekend changes everything! The clientele were totally different, and this made the experience quite strange – and tres amusant! We didn’t notice anything awry at first, since we were plentifully distracted by the delicious cocktails and the megawatt enthusiasm of our Kiwi waitress. However, the penny began to drop as the restaurant area became packed out during our meal. I noticed most women were dripping in Very Grown Up glamorous dresses and uber-heavy makeup, drenched in heavy perfume. Lots of designer handbaggage. The men all looked as though they’d come straight from the office – suit jackets (some with sleeves rolled up!) stripy shirts, chinos, loafers. (Sorry, but in my book, chinos are pretty much unforgiveable unless you happen to be Prince Harry and chums hanging about in Mahiki). I got a few sideways looks from the ladies at our neighbouring table as they flexed their manicured talons and gave my Top Shop outfit snooty glances. Don’t get me wrong – I love a bit of gloss and a sense of occasion, but when things are, shall we say, in-your-face, I tend to feel a bit freaked. Nonetheless, I didn’t let this deter me too much (I actually got a kick out of being scruffier than them) and our dinner went with a bang.
The food was excellent – and that is the most important thing. Village East excels with its gutsy Modern British-style of cooking, a style that I love, with robust flavours and exciting combinations.
I had king prawns, clams and spaghettini to start:
Baked sea bream with chips for main course:
And a sensational coffee Martini for pudding:
Several cocktails and a pair of wine bottles later, my friends and I clearly hadn’t had enough to drink, so we waddled to the bar area. I was listing like the Marie Celeste. As I queued up to place my order, it was then that I felt really out of place. Not to mention the wrong decade. The guy in front of me was wearing – I kid you not – a sleeveless body warmer over a stripy shirt, chinos and a cashmere scarf draped around his neck. I half expected him to have his Ferrari parked up on the kerb and a massive brick-shaped mobile phone wedged under his chin to yap into about market shares. Buckets of champagne were being passed willy-nilly over people’s heads; there was a heady atmosphere of money and excess, as though we had travelled back into that rare time in history: pre the Eighties recession. Never mind the current recession! I felt like an interloper at an Account Director’s yuppie convention. And where was Gordon Gekko shouting out “Greed is good“? I was rudely shoved out of the way at the bar by two ladies with Power Hair and frosted eyeshadow, but I was too tipsy to care too much…and the nice bartender spotted this and served me before them anyway. Hah.
I’d definitely recommend Village East for the quality of its food and drink – and the staff really go the extra mile to ensure you have a good time. But I’d advise going during the week instead to avoid this kind of crowd. If you’re going on a Saturday, though, perhaps dig out your shoulderpads and take a very large mobile phone with you – you might need to whack someone over the head with it!
Address: Village East, 171 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1
Tel: 020 7357 6082