Hammer And Tongs Review: A Very Confused South African Restaurant
At the risk of offending all South African readers with one sentence, we can’t work out if South African food is underrepresented in London, or if it’s just not very good. Will it ever be one of the world’s great cuisines? No, but surely there must be something to enjoy beyond biltong and slinging vast amounts of protein on the braai?
Sadly, we didn’t find the answer at Hammer and Tongs, a South African restaurant in Farringdon which claims to own the “largest wood fired braai in London,” a statement which must be based on terminological technicality — both Temper and Pitt Cue have bigger wood burning grills, don't they? A braai is just a BBQ is just a grill, right?
This isn’t the only point of confusion at Hammer and Tongs, as a look at the menu will tell you. A few South African dishes like boerewors (sausage) and stews cooked in a potjie (pot) are sold alongside a selection of ‘sharing plates’, which seem to represent a culinary free for all, with Reblochon (an Alpine cheese), padron peppers (Spanish) and an Argentinian salad all making an appearance.
Ordering turns into a flustered affair, as we ask for advice and are told to over order, spectacularly. Six dishes arrive, many of them enough for one person, with the exception of ‘blackened lamb’, which is a rip off at £8 for three pieces of skewered lamb and plums. ‘From the potjie’ we choose oxtail, the potjie being a traditional cast iron, three-legged pot. The stew itself is rather good, the oxtail tender and the sauce well reduced, but why not serve the dish in its pot? This would make sense. As it stands, it’s just a stew with an unfamiliar name.
The boerewors is a little dry and over-flavoured with juniper (the less said about the dried apricot accompaniment, the better) while a cous cous salad is just bizarre. A jumble of ingredients from varying seasons — avocado, butternut squash, unripe tomatoes, rocket. We’re served venison ‘from the chef’ despite telling the waiter one of us doesn’t like it. The prawns we request never arrive.
The room is empty, but this is the day of a tube strike. We do wonder how they will ever fill both floors, however. The downstairs is reminiscent of a nightclub with its bar and fancy ice chipper. That money would’ve been better spent fitting out the upstairs, which boasts wobbly tabletops, tatty clipboard menus and canteen vibes.
There’s no pleasure to be gained from such a negative review, but it seems fair to warn you away from a restaurant that feels overwhelmingly cynical. We bail before dessert (one option: dark chocolate parfait) and head over the road to Quality Chop House for a soothing glass of good wine and a bowl of confit potatoes. We strongly suggest that you do the same.
Hammer and Tongs, 171 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3AL. Londonist was invited to a preview of Hammer and Tongs.
Last Updated 01 March 2017