Reluctant gentrification: The restaurant clinging onto its cafe roots
In a smart corner of Limehouse called The Mosaic sits an incongruous little business trapped between two worlds. Two doors down is a piano bar where the interior design has been pored over and the drinks are expensive. Diagonally opposite is an upmarket restaurant which commands £30 for a main and boasts full tables. But here, tucked away in the corner of the square, is an eatery having an identity crisis.
A curtain of gentrification meanders all along the Thames, manifesting itself in concierge desks, six-figure salaries and brunches on the balcony. To the east are the steel-and-glass towers of Canary Wharf. To the west are the brick-built testaments to the shipping trade which have come to characterise Wapping. However, in Limehouse you don't have to venture far before you're no longer in the clutches of the curtain. But it’s here that you’ll find La Verde.
The first thing you notice are the A4 posters advertising deals in the window. They look like they came from a printer far past its prime where a click-wheel of planned obsolescence tells you you’re out of ink long before you are. In this case however, it was certainly short of a few vital colours.
Inside is a budget reimagining of an Italian restaurant. Faux leather chairs and unconvincing wooden tables are arrangement uniformly. A wire hangs lazily out the back of a TV mounted to the wall. Meanwhile, large, beige, wave-textured tiles adorn the walls of the single-occupancy bathroom. Somewhat fittingly, it’s reminiscent of a domestic Italian bathroom (albeit an outdated one).
A tapestry of options, the menu features everything you wouldn't expect an Italian restaurant to sell. From cheese burgers to chicken schnitzel, it’s all there - and there are around 150 menu items altogether.
This doesn't include drinks (choose from 10 different bottled lagers) and, tellingly, there’s also a breakfast menu with British classics such as ham, egg and chips.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the menu is the pricing. Almost all the evening meals cost less than £10, a selection of salads are under £4 and a number of sandwiches under £3. It is, without doubt, the cheapest restaurant I’ve been to in London.
Watching a slightly drunk, very overdressed man decide whether this was the restaurant for him and his girlfriend, I was secretly overjoyed to see that he knew good value when he saw it. This, I believe, is the main sell.
That said, there are a number of idiosyncrasies to La Verde. Having finished an evening meal, I was told I’d have to go to the bar to pay by card. It was here that I noticed a regular eating a bacon sandwich and finally realised that all was not what it seemed.
I’ve taken a couple of unwilling participants to this restaurant. The bruschetta, one of them concluded, was “soapy”. The other was less forthcoming with comments, but neither of us were especially impressed by the intensely stringy calamari.
The food isn't great. But unless you're adverse to adventure, it’s definitely worth mining the menu to discover its best offerings. The lobster ravioli, for instance, is delicious.
Clearly, Limehouse is something of a cultural purgatory. There are still more chicken shops than coffee shops and La Verde’s dual identity betrays a certain begrudging gentrification you don't often see.
On the one hand, it’s a restaurant-cum-cafe combo that Frankenstein himself would be proud of. On the other, its ingenious rebrand allows the restaurant to cover both bases. For me, it represents enduring loyalty to its existing customers - and I’ll happily drink a £2.95 bottle of Peroni to that.