I've had a total slacker's weekend, drifting between cafes, restaurants and bars in Dalston, meeting up with friends and enjoying the fine weather. A perky black coffee at Cafe Oto, a trans-African lunch at Open the Gate, the new Black Cultural Centre that has just opened, and then a gorgeously creamy ice coffee at Tina, We Salute You at the end of my road.
But I'll focus on Open the Gate, as neither Tina and Oto ever seem to have any difficulty attracting paying punters in for their delectable cakes and coffees. Open the Gate opened earlier in the summer on Stoke Newington Road just up from the main conglomeration of Turkish ocakbasi restaurants. By day it is a big, bright open space, with more formal dining tables, a more laid back cafe area and a big performance space. African fabrics adorn the walls and ceilings, while the menu celebrates cuisines from all parts of Africa, the Caribbean and even Italy!
We were hungry hippos and ordered full meals, with roasted sweetcorn kernels and friend plantain chips as sides. I had Mafe, which is a West African beef and peanut butter stew. It was rich and nutty, the beef was generous and flavoursome, and was served with a nice crisp salad:
All very good for £5! The girls each opted for Chicken Yassa and the boys for a vegetarian cous cous dish. The Yassa was a sweet and smoky grilled chicken portion that must be running the nearby Nandos scared. The vegetables were stewed and included cabbage and carrots, and were probably the least exciting option, but, hey, veggies can't be choosers.
Coupled with the plantain chips and other snacks, we were all a bit stuffed. It was great to be able to sample dishes from around Africa and the Caribbean, even though the menu might be a little tame and geared at newbies like us. But clocking in at £8 each including a tip, it's good for a cheap and easy lunch.
I hope Open the Gate does well - they are making a lot of effort with their programme, which has everything from poetry readings to African markets, world music to art exhibitions. Dalston is increasingly associated with braying trustafarian hipsters, when its real magic is that people of all walks of life live together and you can dip in and out of cultures from one shop/cafe/restaurant/market stall to the next. Portholes into whole 'nother worlds like this are what separates Dalston apart from London's other young and trendy playgrounds.