It was the 'Mission Chinese' spices on the fried chicken that hooked me in: have only seen Danny Bowien's firecracker Sichuan peppercorn charged spice mix appear in London once, at the peerless Black Axe Mangal in their 'wing spice'. Then a sausage and egg 'McMuffin' with slow cooked egg yolks and kimchi ketchup, appears on the brunch menu. Disciples of Bowien? Sod this, it's around the corner from me on the Wanstead/Forest Gate borders....cover me, I'm going in.
A short walk from Forest Gate and Wanstead Park stations, Arch Rivals occupy one of the arches on Winchelsea Road, and unlikely looking strip already perked up by wine shop and bar Burgess and Hall, and The Wanstead Tap. A couple of visits and I'm a believer: tiny menu of asian accented dishes to smack across the chops, alongside a sharply chosen list of beers, wine and cocktails. Pinot Gris from Mount Difficulty in Otago, New Zealand, is a winner with the food.
Jitterbugging across Asia over six dishes, these are bites falling squarely into the 'booze food' category, full of punch and spice to sustain and revive after a skinful. Sichuan aubergine here, smacked cucumber over there, a rib steak with miso butter and kimchi, XO sauce and Mapo Tofu darting in and out of the evening and brunch menus.
We just miss out on Dan Dan fried rice one evening (pork runs out) but with a swift substitution of kimchi for pork, it reminds me of a raucous evening in the Lower East Side in NYC, and a fried rice dish of salt cod at Bowien's Mission Chinese: oh look, there's a kedgeree fried rice dish with smoked haddock on at brunch. Riffs on Bowien, flashes of David 'Momofuku' Chang – we spot books from both on the shelf, alongside Pok Pok's Andy Ricker – reveal the influences the kitchen enjoy playing with most.
That 'McMuffin' is a gem: free-range pork patty with American cheese, the ooze of slow cooked egg yolk, kick of kimchi ketchup between a particularly good toasted muffin. Mushroom Mapo Tofu with jalapeño cornbread and eggs, hopping with Sichuan peppercorns and black beans – while feeling slightly dusty from the night before – is a most welcome Saturday breakfast.
I'm liking Arch Rivals – a bar with attitude and hutzpah.