American chain restaurants have always played a big part in the Going Into Town Experience. As a kid you’d plead for a Happy Meal, tug and point at TGI Fridays, hopelessly try and pet the animatronic alligator at the Rainforest Cafe. These places were exciting and movie-like, and you could put ketchup on your ice cream if you wanted to.
Covent Garden’s latest American import - a vegan fast-casual place - is not like this. If those other chains feel like the movies, By Chloe feels like school. You’ll find queues, catchphrases, names being shouted, people being judged, and awful food being served. Is anything being taught here? Sure there is. This is a lesson in how to turn a vegan lifestyle into Instagram-bait, kids.
But, you know, as they say on the menu here, ‘chili out’. Because this is a school of British culture commodification, not veganism. The American-born menu has been adjusted for a London audience, and it’s seamless. Like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. There are multi-coloured Union Jacks intermingled with vegetables, crowns, and those funny men with furry hats. Fancy a cuppa chia guv’nor?
Food-wise it’s old canteen favourites under the guise of ‘London by Chloe’: fish and chips, shepherds pie, and sticky toffee pudding. Like in school, you’ll spend fifteen minutes queuing, ten minutes looking for a seat, and one minute half-eating the actual stuff before shoving most of it in the bin.
Don’t get us wrong, this food doesn’t look like school dinners. The fish and chips is ingenious in its assembly. A slab of tofu, a layer of seaweed, and a crispy batter. It looks like fish and chips. It just doesn’t taste like it. It doesn’t taste of anything. The same goes for the classic burger - a tempeh-lentil-chia-walnut creation in a potato bun. Appearance-wise, it’s a perfectly formed Ronald McDonald piece of engineering. But once given physical attention, it crumbles faster than a teenager talking to a crush. It’s a nervous, quivering, tasteless wreck of a burger. It looks the part though. A 50 liker at least. 100 if you get the pink neon ‘Guac Save The Queen’ sign in the background.
Not everything is hopeless. The spicy Thai-style salad is like the kid who’s genuinely not trying to be anyone or anything else. There’s crunchy raw kale, some sriracha glazed tempeh, and baked wonton things. It tastes good. It’s huge. It’s not pretending to be an animal or fish. And it’s all the better for it.
At the end of the day, this is a question of why you go to a restaurant. Is it for the food or the followers? If it’s the former, don’t bother. Like the worst days at school, you’ll leave By Chloe feeling like the joke’s on you.
There are around 10,500 fish and chip shops in the UK, according to the National Federation of Fish Friers. None of them would be happy serving this.
This is classic in the same way that Robbie William’s rap album Rudebox is a classic.
As with everything else, this looks the part. But that’s it. The sweet potato and cashew sauce doesn’t taste of much. And burnt mushroom doesn’t taste like bacon. It tastes like burnt mushroom.
This salad is what it is. It isn’t trying to be anything other than kale, lettuce, some nuts, and tempeh. And you know what? It’s decent. There’s a nice crunch, and the tempeh is sweet and spicy.
These little condiments could be overlooked but they shouldn’t. Both the ketchup and mayo make a lot of bad things bearable, from chips to patties.
It’s not really sticky, and it doesn’t really taste like toffee. But it’s edible.
A bit dry and a lot nothingy.