Perfectly in keeping with Shoreditch's cultural schizophrenia of cutting-edge and vintage, Bethnal Green Road's new-ish establishment taps into this desire for something wholesome, old fashioned and familiar with a trendy edge in the creation of their dining menu.
Mason and Taylor's approach is a kind of British tapas, perfect for the indecisive or the not-too-peckish. Their menu is a single side of A4, counterpointed by the full A3 listing of beers alone (although a good, well-priced wine list including British "champagne" and wines with excellent names such as "optimist" and "largesse" is also available). While there's very little to satiate a vegetarian, omnivores and offalophiles will find much to whet their appetites and cushion a night on the beer.
The staff are incredibly friendly and well briefed — a definite bonus for Shoreditch— and while the bright lights and large windows might make you feel like you're in a human aquarium, the widely varied array of dishes on offer should prove more than enough distraction. A superficially intriguing order of English "rabbit" (£3.50 — their quotation marks, not ours) was explained by our waitress to actually be cheese on toast. Maybe this is something best left to the Welsh though, since the under-seasoned and slightly soggy offering was only really saved by some sharply pickled gherkin garnish.
The kitchen smartened up their act with the breaded whitebait (£4), which was crisply battered, and served in a portion which it seemed almost a challenge to finish. Smoked salmon (£5) was served plainly on toast with a horseradish cream that didn't overwhelm the flavour of the fish, whilst a selection of bread (£2.50) was good quality but omnipresent (partially our fault).
At £6, cured venison is the most expensive single dish on the menu, and although the flavour was delicately woody and sharply contrasted with a serving of rocket and redcurrants, the cut was such that it was difficult to enjoy the texture of the flesh. But they saved the best for last — a meekly titled "chocolate pudding" (£4.50) was half sponge, half fondant, with all the resplendent gooeyness which lingers in between.
This is the perfect place for a night out for "a few quiet drinks" since, if it turns into several loud ones, you can eat sociably without a full meal getting in the way. Come for the beer, stay for the scotch eggs, but avoid the rarebit, and you're guaranteed a good evening.
Mason & Taylor is at 51-55 Bethnal Green Road, E1 6LA.