If 2017 will be remembered for bringing any colour to London’s culinary complexion, it’ll be the rosy red of infantilised culture. From the backstreets of Kingsland Road to the underpasses of Rye Lane, every week saw the opening of another AmDram-fuelled pop-up, projection ping-pong pub or Fidget-Spinning Coliseum laced with opportunities to tease diabetes with freak shakes.
But there’s one place that’s pipped them all, gaudily gurning through its gigantic Curtain Road window – Shoreditch’s adult ball pit Ballie Ballerson. It’s been doing so well that they’ve bought out next door and transformed it into a restaurant named Rascals. Curious, I headed down on a Wednesday to spend an evening in a “millennial paradise” designed for “audacious chit chat, steam release and mega indulgence”. They also claim to have the world’s first waterproof dining rooms. About time!
The first thing I see is an Angel Delight colour scheme and spongy, egg-shaped furniture that wouldn’t look out of place in a nursery. Anticipating an evening of thoroughly stupid gimmick food, I plant myself on the large sofas, not far from the private room (designed specifically for water fights), and take a look at the cocktail menu. The concoctions themselves are unpredictable, so you have to take both the pungent (Sherbet Lines, Yuzu Pretty) with the genuinely delicious (Tonka The Plonka, Kiss From A Rose).
All the love, care, finely-fermented sakes, nitro-muddled rose petals and reposado tequila aside, it’s almost impossible to order without bursting an artery. The Europop from next door’s ball pit is pumped out of speakers at such a volume, it’s like being sat in Tiger Tiger on a weekday afternoon, the owners desperately trying fill the gigantic space with noise.
Despite being marketed as some sort of woke tapas, the food is surprisingly simple. When you order wasabi noodles at Rascals, you’re expecting a pile of silly string, seasoned with confetti, that you must eat with paintbrush chopsticks. The noodles you’re actually served are better and fresher than any you’ve ever overpaid for on a Tinder date. What’s more, a lot of the plates – the burrata surprise, the wild mushroom risotto – are so nuanced, they make you feel a little stupid. Quite simply, the food at Rascals is as good as anywhere in the area, and reasonably priced too.
It’s hard to focus on that, however, when the rest of the place looks like a rejected Art Attack intro. Even the toilets, with their neon lights and vague decorations, are difficult to use without getting a headache. Clearly, considering their waterproof private room designed with aquatic frolics in mind, there’s plenty of admirable attention to detail here, but their vision of millennials as sugared-up tots clashes with the basic need to chow down in a tolerable environment.
And though the fun scratch cards all customers are handed during their meals conjure up a endless possibilities – your night can take you on a journey of free Espresso Martinis and tequilas – somehow it’s simply not worth the risk when there’s a very real chance that all you’ll win is what I did: free entry to Ballie Ballerson.