Posts Tagged ‘hackney’
When I moved to Hackney ten years ago my local was a Carlsberg/Strongbow/John Smiths/Guiness emphysema pit called the Cock Tavern. Since I wasn’t an old man waiting desperately to die I never went there. Instead I walked down to the only nice pub in the area: the George. To be honest, you were just as likely to die of lung cancer – after the pub quiz your eyes would be red raw – but it had Flowers and Litovel on tap and a brilliant jukebox. As the years went on, it became a bit of a victim of its own success and was usually uncomfortably rammed. When the Pembury Tavern re-opened on my doorstep, I quickly changed my allegiances.
The Pembury is a pub that has gone from strength to strength. It has no music license and when it opened it looked and felt a bit like a youth hostel but if you beer it, they will come. Nothing could compete with its range of Milton and guest beers and over a couple of years it quickly developed from being virtually empty all the time to being full day in day out. The first attempt at the kitchen (modern English) was a bit hit and miss but the second (pizza and basic Italian) is much better. I increasingly have cause to drink elsewhere though.
The Cock has recently re-opened and now offers even more pumps than the Pembury:
15! 21! Essentially this is five cider, five eight bitter, five eight lager but not quite since obviously all the beers are wonderful craft brews from places like my current favourite, Magic Rock Brewery in Huddersfield, and local breweries like Kernel. Again, the bar is the star and the rest is a bit of an after thought. If the Pembury was too big and too white when it opened, the Cock’s problem is that it is too small and two dark. The toilets are also tiny. This obviously means that there is no kitchen but they can do you a pie or similar bar snacks including a vegetarian scotch egg.
Meanwhile, over at the George, Flowers is off the pumps but fresh flowers are on the tables and (under new management) have bowed to the inevitable and put in a kitchen (their nearest rival is now the Prince Arthur). The blackboard is fairly safe but, whilst it clearly doesn’t aspire to be a gastropub like the Arthur, the food I had was very good. Duck is a tricky one to cook and it is the meat that I’ve had the most bad experiences with when eating out but here it was pink, moist and well seasoned. Perhaps more exciting than the main menu was the bar snacks. £2.50 buys you a huge black pudding sausage roll in its own little roasting tin – all the calories of a pint, only two thirds the cost! Nom.
The George has also added London Pale Ale from Meantime (virtually the granddaddy of the UK movement) to their repertoire, as has the relatively new Waterline Bar on the canal. Me and N battled through the torrential rain to get there last weekend and then stood dripping at the bar and waited to get a drink. And waited. And waited. Despite being virtually empty, the man behind the bar completely ignored us and continued collecting glasses to set up for an event. Eventual a woman said she would be with us in a minute. She wasn’t so we left and went round the corner to Duke’s Brew & Que. This is one of the hottest tickets in town but we were told we could have a table if we could wait 45 minutes. To be honest, I can’t imagine anywhere better to spend 45 minutes. In addition to a dozen interesting taps (including several carrying their own Beavertown beers), they had a wonderful fridge from which I sampled a seasonal Sierra Nevada (Tumbler) and the weissen version of Schlenkerla. I actually prefer the standard beers from each brewer but it is good to experiment. I also had a pint of Darkstar’s American Pale Ale which is the best Darkstar I’ve tasted by a mile. I’m so glad everyone has started making APAs!
As for the food, well, it is barbeque and therefore the most dangerous food in existence. Market fish of the day has disappeared offer their menu so if you are a vegetarian, you only have the option of halloumi and portobello burger but for normal people it is meat ahoy. Last time I went out for barbeque (at Bodean’s) I accidentally on purpose ordered a two person platter for myself. This time I stupidly ordered sides of chips, mac & cheese and a pulled pork slider to go with my beef ribs. I know. I’m sure you will be pleased to know I suffered for it. My favourite of the sides was a little dish of battered okra and pickles – absolutely brilliant (though you need to eat them quick whilst they are hot) and deserves to catch on as a bar snack everywhere.
Monday afternoon and once again I find myself in Homerton. Usually this would mean crepes but the missus fancies a proper dinner so we head down to Railroad. It is shut on a Monday. However, as luck would have it, just a couple of hours I had been reading Jay Rayner’s review of Market Cafe, the latest opening on Broadway Market.
If these days the hipster corridor runs straight up Kingsland Road from Shoreditch to Dalston then Broadway Market marks the top of the hipster bypass. Not bypassing the hipsters alas but curving eastwards along Columbia Road to London Fields. Market Cafe sits at the bottom of the market by the canal in the old corner pub that until recently was La Vie En Rose and before that was Little Georgia, now relocated just down the road.
They describe themselves as “a London Italian cafe, bar and dining room serving breakfast, lunch and supper, punches, cups and fizzes, and other quality drinks” which is a bit wanky but is pretty much the only wanky thing about the place. The split is pretty much Italian food with British atmosphere and attitude. The menu is simple but well formed: hot and cold starters, a pair of pasta dishes (veg and non-veg) and then meat and fish mains, including fish of the day. This looks like antipasto, primo and secondo but it isn’t – the pastas are definitely mains.
To start we had a pair of dishes that were reflections of each other. N had the classic of asparagus, poached hen’s egg (slightly overdone) and shaved pecorrino and I had agretti with a fired duck egg. I hadn’t know what agretti was but our lovely, lovely Scottish waiter explained that it was a succulent somewhere between samphire and asparagus. Ooh, yes, please. It came in a sort of tomato and rosemary sauce when I would have preferred to have tried it naked for the first time but the samphire flavour came through nicely and I’d like to see it used more widely.
The reason I know the pastas were mains is because we both had them and they were big, firmly at the hearty and rustic end of the spectrum. N had ravioli filled with subtly salty ricotta, heavily drizzled in olive olive and scattered with peas and broad beans (good use of seasonal veg throughout the meal). I, on the other hand, wallowed in the lamb ragu. Rayner had this dish and I can’t improve on his description: “The menu makes much of the hand cutting of the tagliatelle. To be honest they may want to go back to getting a machine to do it. It was not the most glorious moment in the history of pasta, but the sauce made up for it. £12 brought a portion so big you could camp in it.” Having camped in it, I ended up feeling like I’d swallowed a sleeping bag. To be honest, my mood and the weather meant that this was pretty much the sensation I was looking for but it could stand to be refined a little and the idea of having pudding afterwards was laughable.
We didn’t look at the wine list because rather than the ubiquitous Peroni they offer a good selection of local craft beers. I am so happy this trend has come to pass and older restaurants could stand to learn a thing or two from new starters on this front. N had a bottle of Hackney Hopster from London Fields Brewery (very hoppy, natch) and I traitorously ordered a pint of Camden Town Pale Ale. We also had a bowl of alarming green and glossy olives which were a bit too redolent of a rockpool for my liking.
£28.50 a head including that lovely, lovely, service.
I think Hackney must be approaching cafe critical mass. Kingsland High Street is lined with Turkish cafes, Church Street has got the yummy mummy market covered, Broadway Market has got a bit of everything crammed in there and at the weekend I read that Chatsworth Road has now reached saturation too. Cafes are also springing up all over the borough in less obvious places. Towpath have managed to carve out a cafe in a tiny bit of frontage on the Regent’s Canal, two have sprung up on Wilton Way and now Mouse & De Lotz have opened up at a slightly stranded location on Shacklewell Lane. It has the ubiquitous grey sign and nice, minimal decor and, to be honest, it stands out like a sore thumb. Fingers crossed it lasts because it is a nice place but it wasn’t exactly busy when I went last Sunday (and, although the service was very friendly, I do question the wisdom of insisting that your customers order at the counter when your cafe is empty).
It has an extremely limited menu, presumably through necessity but very much the opposite end of the spectrum to the Turkish cafes just round corner, so I skipped straight to the lunch section and ordered cheese on toast. This was a massive success: two wodges of sourdough, slathered in mustard, loads of cheese, tomato slices humming with worcester sauce and even a bit of chutney as well. When I’m served something like this it makes me wish all restaurants would hack their menus down and pour their love into a few dishes.
Then again, I am a fickle thing; I do like to rove around a menu and there is precious little chance of that here. Mouse & De Lotz strikes me as much more of a coffee house for composing your novel than a cafe for eating off your hangover. Perhaps it is a bit too sophisticated for me which could also be said of Homa on Church Street where I had breakfast yesterday. In a typical Sunday morning outfit of hoodie and stained trousers, I felt decidedly under-dressed. They welcomed me with open arms nonetheless.
The split-level building used to be a basement bar and pizzeria but they have completely overhauled it and now there is a cafe upstairs and restaurant downstairs. I think, I didn’t go downstairs and there there is a slightly confusing sense that Homa is trying to be all things to all eaters (the website is equally vague). Usually this would be a warning sign but I think they’ve pulled it off. It helps that the refurbisment is absolutely wonderful, mixing contemporary with antique in a way that is easy to get wrong but looks so good when it works. So there are high gloss yellow plastic units and dark wood cabinets as well as reclaimed wooden counter with lots of stools and lots of sockets for the manuscript wrestling coffee drinkers.
This aesthetic and the underlying care taken with it applies to the smaller things too. My tea was served in ex-hotel silver (the teapot came from the Ritz, the milk jug from Claridges) which could have seemed pretentious but actually charmed me completely. It was a also a bargain as the pot was big enough to have served two. I then kept with the hotel vibe by ordering egg Florentine with smoked salmon which was another generous portion and perfectly presented and cooked.
If Homa was just high-end hotel breakfast without the hotel that would be good enough but I suspect it is lots of other things as well. I will have to return for a proper investigation.
In Hackney, perhaps more than anywhere else in Britain, or even Europe, the messy, unruly inner city has become a desirable commodity. Artists and bankers, squatters and politicians, punks and estate agents, in the last ﬁve decades all have moved to Hackney in large numbers, in search of excitement, kindred spirits, aﬀordable property. London’s centre of gravity has shifted accordingly. When I first moved to Hackney 15 years ago, to Stoke Newington, by then a relatively well-known and gentriﬁed bit of the borough, most people I knew in richer parts of London had still never heard of my area. Now most of them live there.
This is from Andy Beckett’s review of Hackney: That Rose-Red Empire by Iain Sinclair. Some how, without really meaning to, I am approaching my sixth year here and I would imagine I will be around at least until the totemic date of 2012. M John Harrison likes to remark that in literary terms Hackney is the new Hampstead. I was never particularly convinced by this but it does chime with another part of Beckett’s review:
And [Sinclair] perceptively suggests that the borough may attract a certain kind of middle-class incomer: “intelligent, focused, aggrieved … conforming in nonconformity”.
I admire Sinclair more for his existence than his actual body of work – I found both Lights Out For The Territory andLondon Orbital hard work – but I will definitely be picking this one up.