22 September 2014

The Hackney Pearl

Hackney has been London's darling for a while now. Restaurants, shops, markets, classes - you'd be hard-pressed to find it lacking anything you really need, which is why there's something pretty good round every corner. There's a small corner of Hackney that's a little less known (unless you're an East Londoner), although no less loved, which is great for balmy evenings spent by the canal or just round the corner from it in The Hackney Pearl.

There's very much a cafe vibe to the place. Lots of benches for outside seating, mismatched furniture and bare walls inside, an open kitchen and tables that you imagine were salvaged from somewhere hugely in need of an overhaul. But it's charming. And welcoming. And open all day and night, so whether you're in for a lunchtime coffee or in the late night long haul like us, it's a great find.

We started with a pint of Meantime London Lager for him and a fittingly feminine drink for me that involved prosecco, vodka, limoncello, basil and berries and was possibly one of the nicest concoctions I've had in a while. And of course, it'd have been rude to not look at the wine list. I chose a bottle of 1997 Decenio Rioja that was syrupy smooth and perfectly on the edge of unadulterated bliss. First decisions aside, it was now down to the food.

Whilst being terribly indecisive, we shared the homemade focaccia that was brought to the table salted and with olive oil for dipping, then chose what to begin with. He had roasted fennel with milano salami and sumac aioli - deliciously simple but a nice trio of ingredients that brought sweetness to the saltiness of the meat and a bite of tartness. I went for the smoked mackerel pate and toast - it came smoother than I was expecting but well seasoned and even good enough to make the the non-fish fan across the table appreciate it.

From there, we had the onglet steak (£16) which came with huge skin-on chunky chips and garlic butter. Perfectly pink (they serve it rare) it was melt in the mouth good and a massively generous portion that was swiftly demolished? Did it need a sauce? Perhaps but we were too busy devouring everything to really mind. I had the roasted seabass fillet with roasted tomatoes (so sweet they were almost sunblushed), aubergine and courgette which blew me out of the water. Too often these vegetables when roasted lose flavour and form to become an unappetising mush but their firm sweetness was really impressive and complemented the crisp skin of the bass and the soft flesh beneath.

Another bottle of red in and we were ready for dessert. The menu here is a little disappointing and harks more to its cafe roots than offering restaurant-ready puddings. Nevertheless, we chose the vanilla and brownie ice cream and the affogato to cleanse our palates but I left dreaming of cake or something a bit more decadent.

The service was some of the friendliest I've had in London; attentive enough but laidback enough to be able to share a joke and have a conversation with. No stark uniforms here but shorts and smiles instead. And the atmosphere? We were there quite a while and people drifted in for drinks, for dinner, to use the wifi, to eat cake and bring different types of conversation to the table.  Music was good too and despite being the last ones to leave, we could have stayed all night. Nice.

There's a contrived statement in here about Hackney and pearls so I won't labour the point but it gets four and a half out of five from me.

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