Beer Moves

5 Jul

Hackney’s ever-expanding beer waistline.

This time last year there were no breweries in Hackney. As I write today there are four, that I know of, let me know if I miss any here, or if you’re starting one. Exciting times for the borough’s beer lovers or as I like to call them: beerliebers.

The first mover and shaker in Hackney was London Fields Brewery, started in August 2011 they have been on a rapidly rising trajectory ever since. With recent expansion to a larger sized brewery and now occupying four railway arches in London Fields they are going from strength to strength.

Over in De Beauvoir the next brewery to start the beer flowing was Beavertown Brewery, based in a pub/barbecue restaurant called Duke’s Joint. Billed as a “Brew and Que” they brew beer and serve it with American-style barbecue (long smoked not short incinerated) and a lot of rock and roll attitude (in a good way). Hardly surprising as the brew guy, Logan Plant, is the son of Rock God Robert.

Third out of the blocks is the eponymous Hackney Brewery. Started by a couple of Hackney residents with a pedigree of working in some of the best gastropubs around. They are having a meet the brewer event at The Seabright Arms (why not a Hackney pub?) THIS MONDAY (9th July 2012). So you should go, so should I!

Finally we have a brand-spanking new microbrewery and pizzeria called Crate over in Hackney Wick. Not quite open yet, and not actually in Hackney, just Hackney Wick which apparently is in Tower Hamlets…er whatever, it’s beer and that makes it alright. Chill.

London Fields Brewery
www.londonfieldsbrewery.co.uk
 
Beavertown Brewery
www.beavertownbrewery.com
 
Hackney Brewery
www.hackneybrewery.co.uk
 
Crate
www.cratebrewery.com

Chilli Down Me Trousers

22 Jun a jar of hoxton beach chutney

Blog-neglect, childcare and stained trousers.

I’m a terrible blogger, I have been neglecting my blog, I will never do it again, I’m sorry. I do have an excuse; I am the proud father of a new tiny Tommy Rumbles who has put paid to endless hours of flanneurism and bloggology, the little so-and-so!

I was in Clissold Leisure Centre with the baby strapped to me, trying to prevent him waking up. We were waiting for his mum to finish her swim and I was too scared to venture far, cos I’m not equipped to deal with a tummy-rumbling two month old. So I thought I’d venture into the Hoxton Beach Café which is the new(ish) misnomer for the in-centre café.

I like what I found! They bake their own sour-dough bread on the premises, make their own pizza and serve some delicious Lebanese specialities. I had a falafel wrap, it was massive and delicious. Packed with tangy pickles and chilli sauce which I managed to drip all down my trousers and over my shoes, but that was because I was standing up to eat. I was not trying out a new standing-up-eating regime because I was in a leisure centre, but because the little tinker strapped to me kept stirring when I tried to sit down.

Top tip for the Hoxton Beach Café falafel wrap, sit down and enjoy it.

Hoxton Beach Café
in Clissold Leisure Centre
63 Clissold Road
London N16 9EX
www.hoxtonbeach.com

Fred and Frantastic

28 Feb nice coffee

Irresistible culinary creations on Kynaston Road.

This is one of the most beautiful looking cakes I have ever seen. I don’t think the photograph can do it justice but have a look at this Middle Eastern orange cake with pistachio, candied fruit and rose petals. Amazing stuff. You won’t get this anywhere else because its been created on the premises by the proprietor of Fred and Fran. She is a very talented baker indeed. I saw this cake and just had to try it. No choice. It’s made with almond flour so it’s gluten-free (you know, for coeliacs), but don’t let that put you off! It’s as delicious as it looks.

Amazing cake!

Amazing cake!

If you haven’t tried Fred and Fran yet you should. It’s been going less than a year and is far enough from Church Street to have a local, unhurried, not too busy atmosphere (for now), but as word spreads it can only get busier and busier. They are showing others in this vicinity, not least the House café in Clissold Park, how it should be done. Keeping it local, homemade and top-quality.

The place is quite small but well thought-out, so it feels bright and spacious. Lots of nice quirky touches like the crumpled plastic-cup stools and the vintage milk bottles used as water jugs. But what really makes this place a unique experience is the care that goes into every cup and every morsel of food.

Fred and Fran
55 Kynaston Road
London N16 0EB
www.fredandfran.com

Cracking Crackling Captain!

25 Jan

At the heart of Dalston’s boulevard de la renaissance, A Little Of What You Fancy is unpretentious and welcoming.

A Little Of What You Fancy is a no-sign, ‘underground’ restaurant on a stretch of Kingsland Road officially (yes, officially!) known as The Waste. While this may not sound too inviting, these days you’re more likely to sustain a laughing injury due to the hats, shoes and facial hair of the Haggerston hipsters, than be accosted by the once ubiquitous Crack-fiends that patrolled this area on nights of yore.

A visit here is a pleasure, so much so that it seems churlish to mention the imperfections, such as a slightly over-salted salt and chocolate tart, or a piece of horseradish butter refusing to melt on a well-rested steak. Yeah, I know I just mentioned them, but that was just to get the tommy grumbles out of the way.

The restaurant has an atmosphere that manages to be both ‘different’ and relaxed at the same time.  The room smells of delicious food as soon as you walk in. It makes you think – yes, I want to eat here. I can smell grilled prawns and I want some.

Service combines charm and the sense of ownership and participation that you get from staff in the best places. Our waitress didn’t miss a trick – just saying the words “two jugs of wine” in casual conversation resulted in two jugs of wine being whisked to our table, one white one red. It felt like accidentally bidding on an item at an auction, but then being quite pleased with what you accidentally bought.

When ordering pork belly you are really only thinking about one thing – crackling – and here was a cracking example of one of the finest foodstuffs known to man. This crackling had me salivating like one of our old Crack-head friends smoking Crack in a Crack-house, I’d say this crackling was more addictive than Crack. Give me good crackling and I’ll forgive whatever rough edges you want to try me with. Salted caramel ice cream can do the same thing. So what’s so underground? Well, I did mention there’s no sign. If you want to find this place just look for the vacant-eyed, zombified crackling-fiends that now wander this stretch of The Waste.

(Sorry no photos, just wanted to eat, also too dark in here)

A Little Of What You Fancy
464 Kingsland Road, London E8 4AE
fancyfood464@gmail.com
020 7275 0060

Isn’t That a Pip!

12 Jan

The Russet, tucked away in Hackney Downs, is doin’ it and doin’ it and doing it well.

Scary Ginnel 1

Scary Ginnel 1

Hells yes! The Russet is one of those places that gets it right on every level. First of all it’s a discovery, you have to search it out, it is tucked away on Amhurst Terrace amidst the newly established Hackney Downs Studios. Whichever way you approach the place you have to walk down a scary ginnel to get there. The exterior is in contrast to the surrounding buildings and appears like a oasis in a desert of unloved industrial units. The Russet is also in an industrial building but they’ve given it a handmade facelift with a beautiful arch made of scaffold boards.

Inside more imaginitive and creative space design, a corridor formed of old joists allows you to see into the café space but leads you to the counter, where the first thing you see is a nice, shiny La Marzocco coffee machine. The next thing you see is how big this place is. Unlike a lot of new startup coffee places this is spacious, it’s still comfortable and cosy even, but it’s in no way cramped.

La Marzocco at the Russet

La Marzocco at the Russet

I ordered a long black, not too long. The difference between a long black and an Americano, as any fule kno (RIP Ronald Searle), is the order that the water goes in. For long black the water is already in the cup to which the espresso shots are added. The trainee barista didn’t seem to know this (clearly no fool), but his trainer put him straight, and also told him that the first thing we need to hear after a coffee order is the grinder. Fresh.

Front of The Russet

Front of The Russet

I was happy with my coffee, they use Union beans, which (whisper it) I happen to use at Tommy Towers, so it was a pleasingly familiar taste, served in a nice simple cup with saucer and a cool little spoon. There’s a sandwich menu, cakes and pastries too. The Russet is serious about local produce and seasonality, they do their own chutney, cakes are made with what’s in season, so there was the smell of mandarins in the air. They have plans to grow their own produce too in a garden area at the back! Oh yes, and get this, they make their own cola!!! Yes I said it. I just had to get some of that, takeaway though cos coffee and cola is too much even for me. I can’t wait to crack it open.

Homemade cola and ginger beer

Homemade cola and ginger beer

Saturday at The Russet is the Cider Sessions, where they have live music, real cider, local London Fields ale and a big old party.

There’s so much to say about this place, from the music, to the space, the design, the name (if you’ve been paying attention to my blog you’ll know that russets are my favourite apples), the care and attention to detail. They’ve only just opened but it looks like they’ll go from strength to strength. Seek it out, it’s literally. Off. The. Shizwang.

Scary Ginnel 2

Scary Ginnel 2

The Russet, Hackney Downs Studios, Amhurst Terrace, E8 2BT.
www.therusset.co.uk

House about that then?

4 Jan

Clissold Park House opens with upmarket café.

Oh I forgot! In all the wind, rain, fare increases and back to work malaise of yesterday I forgot that Clissold House café opened its doors for the first time in it’s new guise. I happened to be passing this morning and saw the tables set up on the west terrace which jogged my memory. I didn’t have time for a full reccy but there’s always time for a double espresso.

The House logo

The House logo

The house and the whole of Clissold Park have been undergoing refurbishment for well over a year now and things are starting to take shape. The contract to run the café in the house was awarded (with some controversy, but not much) to Company of Cooks, who run the hospitality concessions at some of London’s most glamourous locations including The Royal Opera House, Kensington Gardens, Kenwood, Regent’s Park, Hyde Park etc. The controversy was that local providers were effectively excluded by the council as they only opened the tendering process to organisations with turnover of £1million+.

Anyhoo they’re in now so let’s see what they got. The coffee menu (printed on an ‘A’ board outside) is old school. No flat white, long black, pour-overs or aeropress, they do offer a ‘three cup cafetiere’ alongside the usual americano, espresso, cappuccino and latte. Prices, despite the grandeur of the venue, are reasonable: £1.65 for a double espresso, £2.10 for cappucino or latte.

The House west terrace

The House west terrace

The door on the west side of the building is a bit on the sticky side, so I wasn’t sure if they were open or not. A very friendly waiter opened up and told me this door was only for take away, or seating on the terrace. Fine, I was pushed for time, so I ordered my double espresso and took a chilly al fresco seat. When the drink arrived I was very impressed. What a crema! It was a thing of beauty, and served in a nice chunky espresso cup without the faff of a saucer. Great. Drinking it was a little dissapointing, but only a little. It was a very smooth and tasty cup, but not strong enough for my taste. It just lacked body. The flavour that was there was pleasant and lingered nicely too. For £1.65 delivered to the table this was very, very good. I will definitely be back. Next time I’ll go in the front door, I didn’t realise that the main entrance is on the front of the house (duh!), and try the food too.

According the the Company of Cooks and Hackney Council press release we should look forward to seasonal menus including local produce. I’ll be very interested to see on my next visit how much of the food on offer is being sourced in Hackney.

The House, Clissold Park, London N16
 
Nice crema!

Nice crema!

Stokey Smokie is Okey Dokie

24 Dec Hansen & Lydersen front door

Stoke Newington smoked salmon in the Norwegian style.

Buying fish on Twitter is a first for me. A week ago I took advantage of the generous offer that Hansen and Lydersen posted on Twitter; 20% off for Tweeted orders picked up from the smokery. Perfect. I get money off and a chance to visit a smokehouse producing famously great smoked salmon 10 minutes walk from my house! This is Tommy Rumbles territory. Big style.

So yesterday I set off to pick up my side of Norwegian-style smoked salmon. I got to Shelford Place N16 and wandered down past a ramshackle collection of artist studio spaces. At the end of the lane I started to get a whiff of fragrant smoke and a hand-written sign directed me round to the left. This place is well tucked away, it feels like you’re discovering a secret lair. Under a fire-escape staircase is an unassuming red door stencilled with a salmon. I’d arrived.

Inside the scene was a little chaotic. White tiled walls covered in red marker pen with numbers and calculations like the scrawlings of a mad professor, sides of salmon wrapped in paper being loaded into boxes and lists ticked off. It was Christmas order day in full swing. Clearly they are selling a lot of salmon and the logistics of getting them out on time are not controlled by Microsoft handheld stock check machines, but by humans. Imagine the elves in Santa’s grotto on 24th December, that scene recreated so many times in Disneyesque Christmas films, but instead of toys think beautiful blushing pink salmon. In the corner of the room a wood-burning stove was connected to a flue which led out to a dark and smoky room just beyond. And the smell was amazing.

Salmon smoking

Salmon smoking

At the centre of the activity was a tall, blond-haired chap in wellies and an apron. The smokemaster; Ole Hanson, conducting operations with a steely scandinavian calm. As the delivery driver left with his box of orders the atmosphere relaxed a bit and focus shifted to getting queueing customers supplied. All were welcome to step through the rough-hewn portal at the back of the room for a tour of the smoke-room. Everything has an artisan quality, functional but also beautiful, from the chopping block fashioned from a log, to the smoke-room and cold storage areas where the delicately coloured fish hang like Christmas baubles. This is a guerilla salmon smoking operation and all the better for it.

I can’t wait to try the salmon I bought (saving it for Christmas day), but I also couldn’t wait to blog about this place, because it’s such an experience. If the sights and smells of Hansen and Lydersen are anything to go by this salmon is going to be amazing!

Hansen and Lydersen, 3-5 Shelford Place, London N16 9HS
Smoked salmon chillin'

Smoked salmon chillin'

Tommy is Pacified

16 Dec

Big flavours mean big bubbles don’t spoil this laid-back little coffee place.

Tommy loves nothing better than a great cup of coffee and something delicious to go with it. If you’re that way inclined too and find yourself in that no-man’s land between Clapton and Hackney Central then Pacific Social Club is the place to go.

No stressing allowed. This place has an atmosphere as chilled as a sleepy sloth lazing on a lilo. Something about the layout, the furnishings, the bookcase and the music combine to hit all the right relax buttons.

They’re using a La Marzocco coffee machine and Climpson and Sons’ coffee, so they

Bubbly flat white

Bubbly flat white

care a lot about what they’re doing when it comes to coffee. Despite that my flat white was not exactly perfect when it arrived. The milk texturing seemed to have gone wrong and it was delivered with a head on it more like a pint of craft ale, the bubbles were way too big. However the problems were largely aesthetic as the coffee itself tasted good.

What also tasted good was the chipotle and apricot jam, with cream cheese, on toast. That was a taste explosion. Sweet, spicy, smoky and warming it is an unusual and memorably delicious plate of food. I understand that the jam was made by the proprietor and it has an artisan feel to it. Some mouthfuls are spicier than others and it all adds to the charm of the dish and of the place.

I also got a freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice which had big flavour too, sharp as a tack and an incredible pink colour. When they say pink they mean pink.

This is a top spot for a relaxed thoughtful approach to coffee and full-flavoured delicious snacks. A bit more attention to detail when making a coffee would be good, but on second thoughts maybe this is part of Pacific Social Club’s charm. They care, but they’re not stressed.

Pacific Social Club, 8 Clarence Road, London E5 8HB
Pacific Social Club

Pacific Social Club

Spud-I-Like

14 Dec

The new grocer’s shop on Church Street is a welcome addition.

I used to pop in and get delicious homemade samosas from the newsagents on Church Street when the Stoke Newington Farmers’ Market was held in William Patten school. They were made by the wife of the man who ran the newsagent and they were great. So I was gutted to see the notice in the window announcing their retirement and the closing of the shop. No more samosas. Bad one.

I was fully expecting to see it re-open as a designer kids-clothes shop, or some kind of vintage homeware emporium. However, after a month or so of furious renovation and remodelling it has, in fact, opened as a greengrocer’s. Bold move considering it is directly opposite Whole Foods Market, that global behemoth of corporate retail which has managed to slip under the middle-class outrage radar of Stoke Newington.*

So can Stoke Newington Green compete, thrive and survive in the tough retail conditions that prevail? It’s too early to say, but they have got off to a great start.

This place has a really extraordinary range of produce and it all looks in tip-top form.

Thai rambutan

Thai rambutan

No tired looking fruit and veg on display here. Ten types of apple, including English grown and cooking apples, and my favourite russet apples, exotic fruit from all over the world, fresh, good quality veg including British grown baby and full-sized varieties. It’s a cracking-good fruit and veg shop. I hope more people who use Whole Foods will spot it and support a local shop instead, and I’m sure they will because this place is excellent.

*I remember when Stokey residents were up in arms about Nandos opening on Church Street, but no one seems to bat an eye at shopping in Whole Foods Market whose global sales for 2011 topped $10billion. Go figure.

Fresh turmeric

Fresh turmeric

Pig’s Ear of it

12 Dec
casks of ale
casks of real ale

My trip to the Pig’s Ear beer festival left me feeling a bit disappointed.

East London and City branch of CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale) held their annual beer festival for the 28th time this week. That’s a lot of beer. For nearly 30 years this event has resolutely upheld the traditions of British beer. Cask-conditioned real ale was unloved, anachronistic and in decline when CAMRA and it’s network of local branches started 40 years ago, but now thanks to their perseverance and foresight, interest in this unique, traditional craft product is once more on the rise. Nuff respec’.

As I’m a fairly recent convert to the delights of craft beer I haven’t attended many beer festivals. So I was excited about going. A chance to sample some rare and unusual brews, and to get to know more about the local beer scene. Hackney was without a local brewery until this year, now there are several and more are opening all the time. With the festival being held in Clapton, which is rapidly becoming the new Dalston, this event should be something special. A celebration of a burgeoning craft in a vibrant and exciting setting. Surely?….Not so much, no.

So what was wrong with the festival then? The venue is amazing, a beautiful grade II* listed building with plenty of space and a

view from balcony at festival

Drinkers at the Festival

very dramatic atmosphere of its own. You couldn’t find a better building to have a festival. Perhaps with some subtle lighting and decorative touches it could have been enhanced, but that is a minor gripe, because it is a stunning building. Paying £4 to get in (£2 to CAMRA members), is a bit steep, as this only buys you entry. You then have to hire a glass, which involves getting to the other side of the hall and another financial transaction. Why can’t the glass hire and entrance payment be done in one? Probably because a lot of casual visitors would baulk at the idea of handing over £7 just for the opportunity to buy a beer.

Once you have completed these formalities it is time to get a drink. Great, forget having just been fleeced for seven quid, we’re in now, lets relax and have a beer. But where do you start? How do you decide which of the impressive array of beers on offer to choose? You can look in the festival programme, but that doesn’t help much. The choice is dazzling and vast. I asked the barman for one of the brews from the new local breweries. He gave me a taster of one, brewed specially for the festival. It was warm and brown and dull. I asked if there was a different one, but there wasn’t. Only one cask of local ale on offer amongst all this beer seemed a strange situation.

So I thought I’d go completely the other way and try some of the Italian cask ales that the festival had specially imported. A very impressive array of Italian cask ale was lined up on the other side of the hall. This is something you don’t see everyday. I asked the barman here for  a recommendation. His ‘beer of the festival’ was a 9% Double IPA. I asked for a taster, but apparently they don’t do tasters (even though I’d had one on the other bar). So I took him up on his glowing recommendation and had a half. Big mistake. A beer of this strength and body should not be served warm, it was undrinkable. A schoolboy error on my part maybe, ordering such a strong beer, but the barman had done a fairly hard sell on it, saying it was great and there wasn’t much of it left.

I really wanted to like this festival. I love beer, and I love exciting food-related Hackney happenings, but this just didn’t do it for me. I could overlook the lack of ambience (would music distract too much from the drinking?), the lack of seating, the abscence of delicious tasty morsels. I could get over the fact that I was in a crowd of 96.7% males, I wasn’t on the pull. No, I was looking for extraordinary taste sensations, amazing beers delivered in peak condition, the ‘Ice Cold in Alex’ moment, where nothing else can slake the thirst but lovely beer. Unfortuantely this festival didn’t deliver. The main event; the beer, just wasn’t up to it. I don’t mean to imply that the beer should be served ice cold, but it should be served cool. Between 12 and 14 Celsius according to CAMRA’s website. The beers here were served warm in a warm room.

This is real ale at its most unreconstructed and rather than expand the audience for ale, I fear events like this will put the uninitiated off.