The press release for Market Cafe read like a dream to me; a London-Italian cafe, bar and restaurant inspired by the Italian Formica cafes of the 50′s but brought to life back here in East London. What really caught my attention was the ‘no airs or graces’ policy along with the sound of the simple, seasonal menu; TRUFFLED RAREBIT. DOUGHNUTS. This, backed up with a drinks list that boasts locally roasted coffee (gotta be Climpson & Sons), craft beers, punches, cups, fizzes and a good value wine list; er hello!
I skipped along happily to their ‘hard hat’ preview with keen anticipation, held just a few days ahead of the official opening, it offered a chance to have a nose around and a taste of some of the food. Located at the very beginning of Broadway Market, the restaurant was still very much in it’s conception; actual unintended raw lights, white washed windows, building equipment and dust sheets adorned dusty corners almost as modern art installations, and *whisper* I actually rather like the unfinished look. The space is divided into a 45 seated casual dining and bar area with more formal, intimate dining rooms towards the back; the walls of these additional rooms are papered with consciously twee print, whilst sweet lights and an eclectic mix of furnishings lend a kitsch living room feel for 60 odd diners.
An assortment of bloggers and locals turned up to more hipster than intended, but quite fitting to the area, surroundings. Drinks were limited to just a couple of cocktails on that evening; aperol spritz and a London cup. Naturally I had one of each, but neither are favourites; I tend to prefer a less diluted drink so stuck to wine on this occasion. I did however get the chance to quiz ace barman Ian on the forthcoming cocktail list, which excited me enough to have me plotting a hasty return. Food drifted past in the form of three small plates that between us we managed to try two; a tasty enough rotolo, and a very good, creamy mozzarella dish that was spiked with a tangy dressing, we sadly missed out on handcut tagliatelle with meat sauce that was also doing the rounds. It was a giant sharing plate brought out as a main that really hit the spot however; a satisfyingly meaty dish of braised beef shin in Chianti with wet polenta that was intensely rich and unctuous with a depth of flavour that befits it’s slow cooking, sauce oozing into receptive polenta. Proper comfort food. Dessert turned up looking delightfully jaunty, colours so pleasing to the eye and quite possibly the cutest thing I’ll eat this year; a whole candied lemon shell is scooped out and filled with a refreshing and light Amalfi sorbet, we delight on chewing on the sweet little ‘hat’.
Keen to see the joint in it’s final incarnation, I hop it down the following week and am pleased to see that it hasn’t lost many of it’s rough finishes; there remains an unpolished feel about the place that makes me happy. The light fixtures at the bar that seemed all too redolent of the likes of Mishkins had me concerned this could be a mere carbon copy of those popular institutions but I’m mollified on entering Market Cafe on it’s first Sunday of trading that this is definitely not the case; with paint barely dry, the cafe seems already to have gathered quite a crowd of curious locals keen to offer their support, a buzzy atmosphere is enhanced with low lighting. My immediate impression on walking through the door is that of a relaxed and friendly neighbourhood restaurant, In fact funnily enough, it has a very similar feeling to that of the wonderful Tina We Salute You, featured on my last post. Speaking to owner Hugo Warner, previously of Benugo and a Hackney resident himself, confirms this; it seems the area has embraced this new establishment, local businesses and individuals alike rallying around to offer support whilst equally interested in garnering inside information.
I’m dining solo as I often do and it cheers me greatly to see that the dark little nooks have remained that way, the exposed bunch of lights haven’t been dressed yet (although Hugo threatens that’s just a matter of time) and I can hunker down in a candle lit corner at a quirky little vintage table and chair whilst I observe the rest of the room. After all the talk recently prompted by Bitter and Twisted about the Martinez; it’s history, current incarnation, and a quizzing of Ian on the preview evening, I’m happy to see the classic on the current menu. And it’s an exceptional specimen, expertly made, as I have to say is each of the subsequent cocktails I imbibe. Ian is an absolute asset to the team here and one of the best bartenders I’ve met, I thoroughly enjoy getting stuck into some quite geeky discussions with him. He presides over his bar with confidence, offering a succinct menu that he promises is likely to grow over the coming weeks following a delivery of some new spirits for him to work his magic with.
As I’m on my own Hugo pops over to have a chat and I have to say he comes across remarkably well, I hate to use the term passionate but he emits it with earnesty and I believe he’s really put his heart and soul into this project. I’ve been quick to order the truffled rarebit, the dish that initially caught my attention, and it turns up looking perfectly executed; gorgeous hackney wild sourdough, a melange of cheeses, impressive grill scorching…but no truffle godammit. Sat with the owner opposite me, I’m careful to hide my dissapointment as you do, and mumble pleased noises about the lovely bread. Fair play to Hugo who sees through my acting (I think it’s more likely that he’s used to seeing a far more enthusiastic reaction to this particular dish) and goes to kitchen to investigate, it appears that they’ve run out of truffle oil or something to that effect, and he approaches me later at the bar full of apologies. Oh well. It WAS good, but it’ll be even better fully truffle pimped, I’ll just have to come back!
I find myself drawn to the porchetta with braised fennel, it’s not often I can resist the aniseedy vegetable, and I’m served an utterly fabulous plate of food; a beautifully cooked thick slice of rolled pork, rich with a vein of fat and fennel seeds, that addictive flavour echoed in accompanying buttery braised fennel, the crisp crackling contrasting quite phenomenally. Just as I’m savouring this moment with an incredible Negroni, the lights go down. An unlucky power failure means an end to any further kitchen action but Ian knows his bar well so I join him while he makes me an intriguing, cucumber heavy Hendricks sour that is wonderfully refreshing as we wait for a resurgence of power. However this isn’t to be and I’m forced to leave, Hugo generously waving off my promise to settle the bill another time in return for some nice Tweets, and I wend my way back to my side of London.
I very much want to return soon for a spot of brunch, eager to get some of their doughnuts into my face and try the coffee (and that truffled rarebit again). Market Cafe has managed to secure a late licence and Hugo revealed to me his desire to at some point have the bar serving a special late night menu including such alcohol sozzled favourites as burgers and hot dogs, in true New York cafe style.
I find Market Cafe manages to embody a real charm and honesty that will hopefully be fully embraced by the community and become a real neighbourhood gem, I’m once again left wishing that it was my neighbourhood….