The Social Distortion, Hull: A superb return for a restaurant with a unique style

There’s a new beginning and a fresh location for The SocialDistortion in Hull, once the city’s most fashionable eaterie.Dave Lee hails a superb return for a restaurant with a unique style.

The last time the Social Distortion opened in Hull, it proved to be easily the coolest eatery on the coolest street in the city. Chef Mark Hill returned to his hometown after success with Cleaver in York to open in a prime spot on Prinny Ave to much acclaim and heaps of enthusiastic custom.

His brand of Asian-inspired street food served with punk panache proved irresistible to the city’s discerning diners and the place seemed to be jam-packed every night. All was well and, the handful of times I ate there, the food, booze and atmos got better and better. Then the cost-of-living crisis hit.

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When the price of energy, ingredients and almost everything else increased sharply in 2022, Mark decided the pressure on his restaurant’s finances demanded too great a reduction in quality for his liking, so he took the difficult decision to shut up shop until things improved.

Social Distortion in HullSocial Distortion in Hull
Social Distortion in Hull

Hull lost one its most innovative and exciting restaurants and who knew when it may return.

Well, less than two years later, it returns. Surprising many, the Social Distortion has moved into the distinctly uncool Fruit Market and is back serving Asian street food with much the same insouciant attitude as before but in a refreshed and much more satisfying manner.

Retained, though, is a distinct remove between diner and crew unusual in the restaurant trade. It’s not that the staff and – in particular – the chefs don’t care, it’s that they don’t seem to care if you care that they care. If that makes sense.

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The new SD is a single room split almost exactly in two. Half is table and counter seating and half is an open kitchen, where you can watch in quiet awe as a couple or three chefs go like the clappers to create your dishes right in front of you. I’d make for these counter stools if you’re visiting. The scene played out before you makes for a hugely satisfying culinary adventure.

Jackfruit liver pate, burmese curry paste, miso prik laap and milk bunJackfruit liver pate, burmese curry paste, miso prik laap and milk bun
Jackfruit liver pate, burmese curry paste, miso prik laap and milk bun

There are different menus on different days (small plates or tasting menu) and the dishes change so swiftly you’ll almost certainly face entirely different food to that which I sampled. I can only offer up my experience, though, so pay attention while I whip through some dishes you will probably never eat.

We ate on a day when the small plates were on offer, they spilt (roughly) into small plates, large plates and desserts. Five, three and two offerings respectively under each category. They arrived when they were ready so, at one point, we had five different dishes in front of us. A dizzying selection of tastes and textures that just keep arriving.

The chicken laap bun is a meat salad made - on this occasion - with chicken mince and multiple spices and herbs, stuffed into a bao bun. It was hot, sweet and oily (in a good way) with a surprisingly sour hit.

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I should point out that the number of ingredients used in all these dishes is incredible and I couldn’t hope to identify them all. Mad to try. That said, Thai caramel chicken seemed a little less complex. Just a generous chicken thigh caramelised in fish sauce, served with lime leaf and chilli. Simpler than other dishes it may. Be, but it’s no less delicious.

Crispy bottom sticky rice, glazed oyster mushroom, spun potato and chivesCrispy bottom sticky rice, glazed oyster mushroom, spun potato and chives
Crispy bottom sticky rice, glazed oyster mushroom, spun potato and chives

I’ve had a good run lately with veggie dishes. While it’s still a surprise when I prefer them to a meat option, it’s becoming less so. Maybe I’m slowly turning away from my carnivorous tendencies. The red curry of roasted beetroot was the first veggie option to steal my heart. The curry – featuring shallots, lime leaf and coconut cream – boosted the sweetness of the beetroot but didn’t inhibit the earthier tones.

Better still was jackfruit liver pate. Made with Burmese curry paste and a prik laap spice mix, the pate has an amazingly intense umami taste.

The accompanying milk bun, to me, actually had something of the texture of a Hull patty. I found myself wondering if this was a veiled pun - pate and patty. Probably not. Topped with a tongue-thumping chilli salt, it’s the dish that stood out amongst a table covered in standouts.

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Large plates brought a beef tartare made with Thai crumb, shallots, lemongrass, fermented chilli and more herbs which was served in betel leaf wraps. Once again, the balance of flavours was absolutely perfect, with a fresh, hedgerow taste added by the leaves.

Finishing the savouries was a laap spiced barbecued pork chop which was eaten in lettuce wraps with mustard greens, coconut crumb oil and a nam jim dipping sauce. The real treat here was picking out the coconut flavour amongst so many distinct tastes.

Once I found it, I was delighted and surprised at how well it worked. I’ll be adding coconut to my bacon sandwiches from now on.

The two desserts on offer - Thai caramel and toasted rice crème coconut - weren’t substantial offerings, more like refreshing palate cleansers at the end of a taste bud battering. Both were, as you’d expect, excellent but not so much a pudding, more like something to return your dizzied senses to factory settings before heading out the door.

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And heading back through that door I will, and very soon. I find it incredibly difficult to offer any negative or even harshly-critical comments about the Social Distortion. It’s just superb.

Some, I suppose, may not like the darkness of the walls (they’re almost entirely black, aside from a few pictures and punky ephemera) and others may find the attitude a bit too-cool-for-school but I’d firmly recommend you park your concerns and dive into the grub.

I’ve never eaten anything quite like it and I seriously doubt anything quite like it has ever been served up before. Certainly not in Hull. This distortion is distinct and only the truly anti-social will disapprove.

Welcome 4/5

Food 5/5

Atmosphere 5/5

Prices 5/5

The Social Distortion, 25 Humber Street, Hull, HU1 1TU,

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