While Chatsworth Road in Lower Clapton and Hackney Central have seen a number of interesting openings over the last few years, just in the last month both a gallery and a fancy pizza place have opened on a previously 'untouched' (i.e. slightly grim) stretch of Upper Clapton Road, while the transient feeling Dalston Lane bit on the gyratory have seen a Spanish deli and Scandinavian furniture shop-cum-cafe open in recent months.
Understandably, the excitement for some has been labelled as sweeping gentrification by others. It's clearly a live issue – where an incoming middle class are highly visible in supping 'short blacks' and tucking into open sourdough sandwiches, many live in abject poverty. There is hardly a 'middle' in Hackney, and the worry is that cafes and boutiques will take over and make the long-standing population feel more excluded.
I completely share those concerns, but am sceptical that the process will ever be all consuming – Hackney has one of the highest proportions of social housing in the country, which puts a structural stop on full-on middle class domination. The worry is that the divide therefore becomes more extreme. My personal view – as someone who spends their working days campaigning to make housing accessible and affordable for everyone – is that Hackney Council must ensure they build affordable homes for people on low and middle incomes to ensure that the next generation has a future here too. Not an easy sell, but other councils are finding creative ways of getting lots of affordable homes built.
That said, I do enjoy frequenting my excellent local cafes (alongside pound shops, convenience stores, Percy Ingles and take-aways!) and would say many are worth making your way over for. A particular favourite at the moment is Cooper and Wolf, a Swedish cafe on Chatsworth Road as it meets Millfields Park.
Cooper and Wolf opened at the beginning of July, and within a week it was packed with brunching and lunching locals like it filled a massive void that nobody (apart from the canny owners) knew existed. I've been three times since then, eagerly showing it off to friends ('look what *I*have at the end of my road!').
The menu includes a range of sizes of savoury dishes – cold open sandwiches, filling and interesting salads, and warming potato-based dishes, freshly baked sweet treats, exceptionally well made Caravan coffees, and lots of fruit juices.
The meatball open sandwich was my first choice – served cold, and to grandma's recipe – the balls were properly meaty and subtly seasoned, served on top of a beetroot and apple salad and lavishly topped with fresh chives.
The most brunchy option is fried potatoes (with or without bacon) and topped with one of the healthiest, yellowest eggs you've seen. That one comes with a bit of beetroot and lightly pickled cucumber- wonderfully fresh.
My favourite dish so far has been the potato pancake with their wonderful, locally smoked salmon by Hansen and Lydersen. The salmon was just amazing, so fresh tasting, clearly high quality and generous in portion. The pancake was very substantial, and topped with crème fraiche, lemon and lots of dill (a favourite herb) it was one of the best brunch dishes I've had. Ever.
I also loved their chicken, bacon and avocado salad – full of fresh herbs and with a remoulade to make it all a little less virtuous.
When it comes to sweet stuff, their cinnamon buns are to die for – especially when they are warm and fresh out the oven. Be warned: they go quickly. The folk running Cooper and Wolf sometimes tweet when they're out the oven – a reason, if there ever was one, to be hooked on twitter.
I think prices are reasonable for the quality - £6 - £9 is the range, but you can save 10% on everything with a Chatsworth Road Traders and Residents' Association – which only costs £1. You can sign up at the stall at the market on Sundays.