Saturday, 24 November 2012

Hackney brunchin': Dreyfus Cafe

Brunching options are hotting up in the Clapton area. I've raved about the wonderful Cooper and Wolf Swedish style brunch, I've sampled the eggs benedict at Shane's on Chatsworth (quality). Recently the lovely Cakey Muto has been doing a Sunday brunch of french toast, bacon and maple syrup (yet to try out), but a new favourite for a classic brunch is Dreyfus Cafe on the corner of Clapton Square and Lower Clapton Road.

Dreyfus Cafe is a light and bright neighbourhood cafe with a classic continental look: red leather banks, classy prints, bistro tables. None of this exposed brick and bare bulb aesthetic. Accordingly, the menu has a north/central/eastern European leaning - some meatballs, goulash, pacakes, smoked salmon and cream cheese, pastrami, warming soups. Excellent cheesecakes, and Has Bean coffee to boot!

We popped in for brunch a few weeks back and were pleased to see it doing a solid weekend trade, after a bit of an unlucky first few weeks' training - ill chefs, temp staff, half menus. The folk at Dreyfus picked up and it's now on good form.

I rate a brunch by the execution of the eggs benedict. These eggs are some of the best I've had. The top selling point for me was being able to mix and match your eggs - you could have any combination of eggs benedict (ham), florentine (spinach), royale (salmon). You could have two of the same, one on its own, one of each. Mindblowing - but why did nobody think of that sooner? I had a benedict and a florentine:

As the picture suggests, these are generously portioned - lots of ham, lots of spinach. Eggs poached to absolute perfection - just oozing yolk, and perfectly formed. The hollandaise is brilliant too.

My other half had pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, and my nibble suggests they were also a success. Great bacon, generous pancake portion. Yum.

The service, while friendly, was a bit hectic at the peak brunch hours of 11 - 12. When I popped in today for brunch there was a fairly long wait for food, which the staff warned us about. It's not a major problem when the food is this tasty, and I doubt anyone will not go back as a result, but the owners will need to make sure they have coping strategies for busy periods.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Rita's, finally

I have a little rule about places that get really hyped up and lots of reviews: avoid them, at least for a few months. The pressure that comes immediately after that review can cause crippling demand, make it hard to get a table, and if a place is still finding its feet, can make the service chaotic. Of course, some will cope admirably - but why not wait?

So I waited and waited and finally made it to the much hyped Rita's last week. It's currently operating out of the kitchen at Birthday's - a brash and basic new bar owned by the guys (assuming gender here) at Vice Inc. It's entry to the world - bringing some US style soul food to Dalston - was quickly celebrated, celebrities were snapped, and some dreadful names to describe the cuisine were coined - "bourgeois redneck", "junk food re-imagined".

But my experience last week confirms that Rita's more than lives up to the hype. We ordered a selection of the most celebrated dishes from the menu to give it a proper test - fried chicken in a roll, sticky soy and ginger chicken wings, chilli mac and cheese and mustard greens.

The fried chicken roll was exceptional - perfectly formed roll, the chicken seemed to be a mixture of so so succulent white and brown meat, soaked in buttermilk and with a lovely, crunchy thick breadcrumb. A splash of burger sauce and some crisp iceberg and it was perfect. We loved the way it came in a brown paper bag - a tongue in cheeky nod to junk food reputation.

The mac and cheese was a real highlight - and all the better for green chilli in the sauce, properly cheesy (knocking the Mishkin's mac'n'cheese out the water), and topped with a runny-ish guacamole. That went really well with the flavours, adding a refreshing hit to a very rich dish. Good news: you can make this at home now - Rita's shared the recipe with the excellent Editer magazine.

We were absolutely stuffed, but my friend had schlepped all the way over from Chiswick, so we had to have dessert (and another cocktail, dang). The menu has two pies (in the American sense). My blueberry muffin pie was exceptional - a thin crumb bass, topped with lightly stewed blueberries, topped with sticky, gooey muffin, and then some piped cream. Oh, and some hot maple butter to pour over it. Artery clogging, but so delicious. Celia's key lime pie was only topped with some kind of quince meringue.

We loved Rita's and I'll be back for more. The day after - in fact - I was dreaming of that chicken roll, it's perfect crumbs, the succulent meat. I thought it was fair value too - the portions were decent, and all of that (including two cocktails each) came to £34 with tip (which is shared fully among the waiters if you pay on card).