The evolution of dining in Shoreditch and other similarly trendy E-postcode areas is closely linked with meat consumption. Revellers can have a “dirty” burger here, some artisanal pulled pork there, and top it all off with a post-midnight kebab (it is still London after all.) But a new Shoreditch haunt, Cook Daily, bucks the trend – all the food served is 100% vegan. ‘No blood, no bones’ as the slogan goes.
Boxpark, the shipping container-based Panopticon of brands that juts out at you as soon as you exit Shoreditch High Street station, is the home of Cook Daily (or #cookdaily, to use the Boxpark argot.) Regular attendees include those from the upper echelon of the grime circuit – JME, Mercury Prize winner Skepta, and mainstreamers like Professor Green and Emeli Sandé are all said to stop in regularly.
Cook Daily embraces the fact that it is housed in a 40ft x 8ft metal box far more than many of its neighbours. The interior is gleaming chrome, like a welcoming industrial freezer, and then spruced up with the likes of the plastic scroll-like menu display on the right, and an impressively large number of bananas on the left. That it has the feel of a casual kiosk in a less well-appointed location is to its credit, and the staff are hugely friendly – with the presence of head chef King’s young child running around behind the counter only adding to the feeling of community.
The main menu on the wall lays out the crux of what’s served: lots of hearty bowls, mostly served over their 50/50 mix of brown rice and quinoa, all running at £9 each. The portions are easily generous enough to mean you don’t need a side to feel full. Torn for a few minutes whilst I decided whether it was worth ordering the dish with the most entertaining name (green curry Da Infamous!! just edges it) I eventually went with the High Grade, with the meat substitute ‘Chickn’ instead of tofu or chickpeas. My girlfriend, the vegan of us both, was more interested in browsing the optional extras (cashew nuts and dehydrated banana are amongst the offerings) than the names. She opted for the Hard Bowl, and a strange iced tea thing which changed colour and was apparently high in antioxidants (they also serve beer.) We ordered a side of plantain fries too.
The High Grade is named for its sauce, which is a sweet-and-sour BBQ sauce modelled on the pungency and latent sweetness of marijuana. Assorted veg are in the mix – but the weed theme is continued with its toppings – green herb crumble and actual hemp seeds themselves. Rather than smelling like a university hallway, or perhaps Snoop Dogg’s car, the aroma is one of earthy vegetables cooked and sauced to perfection, and this is borne out on the first bite. The ‘Chickn’ absorbs the sauce incredibly, and is a joy to eat. Its fibrousness and flavour is very very close to chicken, but that hardly seems the point when it’s combined with such a deeply tasty sauce, which gives you a tang of sweetness (nowhere near the goopy saccharinity of some BBQ) but mostly pure, umami notes. The courgette and broccoli are also a great pair texturally and with the sauce (which is also sold separately in bottles.) The whole bowl feels like a perfect vegan grab-bag, just dig in and savour.
The Hard Bowl comes with sprigs of thyme sitting on the top, and this rounds out the scotch bonnet sauce really well – practice caution with the actual scotch bonnet chilli itself though, even “occasionally putting my fork in it” was enough heat for my comrade. The trick with this dish is the inclusion of steamed plantain, yams, and wholemeal dumplings – home-cooked Jamaican ‘hard food’ in this street-food style is a brilliant idea, vegan or not – comforting, but with that kick. There was even some okra in there, cooked with precision (chef King has worked in high-end kitchens including the Michelin-starred Vanilla Black, and even under Gordon Ramsay) and the plantain is caramel-y sweet and moreish.
There are a couple of points, to consider before making a trip up the Boxpark stairs; more quibbles than downsides. Mainly that it’s so nerve-janglingly loud to eat inside/just outside the restaurant – if you’re on a date, it’s well worth taking your bowls to the picnic-style seating areas nearby. If, like us, you’re more than happy to trade 45 minutes of conversation for a bowl of good food, then the only other negative is that the display bananas previously mentioned, combined with the bin outside, means there may be fruit flies to battle with over your meal on a hot day.
However these were far from mind whilst we strolled towards the bus stop. On the way, we tucked in to the plantain fries, which we had squirrelled away for later (only about 10 minutes later, as it turned out.) They were like Cook Daily itself: supremely tasty, surprising (despite the spring onions, they almost had a dessert feel) and with lots to recommend. Whether you’re a Mercury Prize-winning grime supremo or just a grumpy passing commuter, Cook Daily is well worth the stop.
Unit 55, Boxpark
2-10 Bethnal Green Rd,