Saturday, 18 January 2014

Dorée & Co, Chatsworth Road, Clapton E5

I don't really want to let you in on this one, but it's too good to keep a secret. A few months ago Chatsworth Road in Lower Clapton was made just about perfect with the arrival of the lovely bakery-cafe Dorée & Co.

When I caught wind a *bakery* was opening at the end of my road I literally punched the air with excitement, and more so when I caught wind it was going to be French-run! Before moving to Clapton I used to live in Newington Green, and had Belle Epoque - maker of some of the best almond croissants in London - just around the corner. For a few months after moving I'd still cycle over on a Saturday morning to stock up on croissants and visit the amazing fruit and veg shop around the corner.

At first it was just Emma, the owner, baking through the day, with croissants, bread, quiche, cakes and tray bakes popping out the oven in what felt like a spontaneous way, but now it's a bigger operation with a sit-in café, and lots and lots of baked goods coming through, It still varies every day, although her sourdough and walnut loafs and some variety of croissants are a constant.

But you never know what will be hot out the oven that day...for example, today we had chocolate stuffed mini brioche:

The cafe is becoming a favourite on Chatsworth Road, which is fast becoming Caffeine Kilometre in the stretch between Cooper and Wolf and 46b Espresso Hut. Music is a big part of what makes Dorrée lovely- I've heard many of my favourites playing when I've been in...The Smiths, Belle & Sebastian, 60s surf ...on one warm weekend Emma had musicians amped up, sat outside and playing dreamy stripped back surf.

The sit in menu has some brilliant warm, eggy breakfasts. And very well priced too. I had a gigantic croque monsieur when I was in, but sweet and savoury pancakes and other French-inspired dishes are also on the menu.

At lunch there are sandwiches, amazing quiches and always an interesting salad at a good price. If my partner is working at home for the day, Dorée & Co is now his go-to place for a tasty and kinda healthy lunch.

I'm there every weekend for bread that lasts the week, and I hope to check out Dorée & Co's evening bread-making courses (£35) at some point too. But with reasonable prices on everything, it's hard to justify the time and effort of making your own with this at the end of the road.

Well, I hope Dorée won't be sold out of bread by the time I get up next Saturday morning as a result of writing this. But it's worthy of your business and deserving of every success, so check it out next time you're on Chatsworth Road.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Candela Clapton, Lower Clapton Road

I never ever thought I'd write the words "I'm eating ceviche on Lower Clapton Road". And there I found myself on a cold January night, in a bustling bar with balearic-y beats and live Spanish guitar gently strumming behind me, eating ceviche and drinking a Hawaiian craft beer.

The venue was Candela Clapton, a new Latin themed bar/restaurant in the space that the ill-fated (and very lovely...) Riley of Clapton occupied earlier in the year. It has big sheet glass windows that make for good people-watching, walls stripped back to the original Victorian tiles, and a nice big bar. Cacti on the tables and some tropical houseplants mark its departure from a pared down slacker bar to something a bit more exotic.

Candela is owned by a friendly, enthusiastic guy called Lukasz, and Abdullah who owns cult Clapton Pond grocery store Palm 2. Lukasz used to run a beach bar in Barcelona before travelling around South America, so knows a bit about how to create a party atmosphere and cook up some hispanic tinged food.

The menu is evolving day by day as they try out new flavours. Lukasz told me they'd be doing something with salmon and tequila the next day. So far Candela doesn't seem the place for a full sit down three course meal - the dishes are bar snacks of various sizes. You could get nachos or fried Southern American roots (yams, plantain, cassava) to share, or a burger, or guacamole, or indeed, you can sit and nibble on ceviche on Lower Clapton Road.

We tried to do all of the above, and were absolutely stuffed.

We kicked off with the ceviche and the root chips. The ceviche (£6) was fiery and zesty, and had more cucumber, onions etc than you'd get in some of London's fancier Peruvian joints, but was more like the rustic ceviche people would prepare at home.
The root chips (£6) were nice - thinly sliced, not too oily, and served with a bit of guacamole and salsa. The portion did feel slightly short for the price.

Next came the burger (£8), which was great. It was cooked to perfection, really flavoursome meat with decent seasoning on the outside, served with avocado and manchego in a nice onion-y roll. It was served with a few root chips.

The nachos (£8) came with a really deeply flavoured chilli con carne - infused with coffee and chocolate. It was better than your average, but maybe a bit more focus on interesting cuts of meat (still dreaming of the brisket and pork belly chilli I had at The Plough), and a bigger portion of the chilli would justify the price tag, although the guac, salsa and sour cream were generously served.

The food was decent (although some portions could be a tiny bit bigger), but it was really the vibe that made it for us - it's refreshing to have enthusiastic, friendly, exuberant types, rather than po faced beardies, serving you for a change. I think Hackney could do with more of the former and less of the latter. A genuine *sad face* when we didn't stay for a cocktail afterwards instead of indifference.

I'll be back for cocktails and to taste different things on the menu as it develops. Maybe, just maybe, you'll squeeze a dance out of me. But for now, welcome to Clapton, Candela.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Hackney 2013/14 and Rita's Bar and Dining

Hackney saw an amazing array of restaurants open in 2013, cementing the borough's reputation as a proper foodie centre in London.

While the Kingsland Road axis has seen all the focus in recent years, with Stoke Newington, Dalston and the lower end of Kingsland Road now well established eating out destinations, a lot of the more interesting places opening last year were on the easterly Mare Street axis.

Mayfields, just off Wilson Way, has had rave reviews, while Raw Duck got locals very excited with its small plates and excellent wine selections before it very sadly slid into the construction site of the Travelodge next door. RIP Raw Duck, Hackney hopes you fightback soon. Further down, we've seen a Mexican restaurant join Lardo on Richmond Road, and then past the long established Vietnamese and Ocakbasi restaurants before reaching Well Street junction where the well priced French bistro Bouchon Fourchette sits alongside accidentally controversial The Advisory and then Rita's Bar and Dining. And it was here that I had one of the best meals of the year.

Rita's, of course, made its name over in Dalston in 2012, where it was the first residency in the kitchen at Birthdays. It was a no reservations job, and swarms of haircuts and beards filled the bar and the street outside waiting to get a table. I went, and loved it, and so was delighted to hear the Rita's team had eschewed Kingsland Road for the more grown up, low key, harder-for-Claphamites-to-get-to Mare Street.

Its new venue is gorgeous. It is long and thin, with just a tiny little anonymous front onto the street, Inside it has high ceilings, white walls, and the space flows nicely back, past a bar, through to the kitchen, which is open plan to the rear of the restaurant. We were there on a Friday evening, and house-y beats were just loud enough to create a fun atmosphere. Downstairs, things are much cosier in a low-lit dining room.

Rita's was first noted for doing 'junk food luxe' or whatever you want to call it, but that doesn't do it justice. There are a lot of Asian influences - miso aubergine, Szechuan peppers here and there, hoisin sauce, Asian  vinegars, gingers and soys. The fusion of Southern comforts and zingy Asian flavours is a recurring theme among some of the more exciting food I've had recently - Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco, Dante Fried Chicken in Los Angeles (and his game-changing recipe book Ride or Fry), and Kimchinary's Korean style burritos in London.

We enjoyed Succotash, a dish cooked up by Native Americans originally, given a bit of a twist with edamame beans, pumpkin and some chilli and spring onions gave it a fresh and feisty Asian twist. Pork belly cooked in black vinegar, served with poached spring onion, aromatic herbs and chilli, played to a similar palate.

Due to my dining partner needing to 'carb up' for a bike ride the next day, we missed some of the lighter dishes that I fancied, but the signature mac'n'cheese topped with gauacamole didn't disappoint, and neither did the crispy fried potato.

But we did get to enjoy a massive plate of some of the best fried chicken I've had - made with crispy fried chicken skin ground in with the coating, following an old Central European Jewish technique. It was a whole chicken, cut into bits and served with maple syrup and a sausage-y, lardy gravy. They do that combo over waffles at breakfast too, which I had on a separate occasion and was delicious.

We finished with beignets - New Orleans style doughnuts - served with dulce de leche. We could have opted to have had foie gras with them, but we were so stuffed could barely manage the richness of the 'basic' beignets.

I've already been back once since my big visit, and with a regularly evolving menu, lots of interesting specials, and those pies still to enjoy, I get the feeling Rita's will be a regular haunt for 2014.


So if 2013 was about new openings in Hackney Central and the Mare Street axis, where is likely to see exciting new openings in 2014?

I expect that 2014 will see Lower Clapton Road and Hackney Wick as the places to watch for new restaurants. Rumours are abound in Clapton already, whose new offerings already include creative Latin cuisine, and with some more Modern British, a wine bar, and both traditional and fancy Turkish in the pipeline.

Hackney Wick has seen some great pop ups over the last year, and has noticeably become more of a nightlife destination. There are so many great nooks and crannies by the river, it's only a matter of time bebefore the Wick goes from pop up to perm.

Meanwhile, Stoke Newington could have its fourth wave, as some interesting places open on the High Street. Rents on Church Street are too pricey for innovative new restaurants to open, and too many of the newer openings are mediocre.

It will be interesting to see what's going on in North East London more generally. Will the likes of Walthamstow, Leyton and Tottenham, which are getting Hackney spillover (as it becomes too bloody pricey), see good new eating spots open? I look forward to seeing what foodie adventures our corner of London offers up over the coming year.