Sunday, 16 March 2014

Little Ivy's Lower Clapton Road

At the start of the year I predicted that, after a year of lots of interesting new businesses opening on the Mare Street axis, the biggest change in 2014 would be to the north east on Lower Clapton Road. It was a strong hunch, but I am startled by the pace of change that's afoot, as are many other local residents over on the busiest thread on the Yeah! Hackney forum.

Starting from the base of Lower Clapton Road, there are plans for a basement tapas bar next to St John's churchyard (opening TBC), a gallic bar and bistro in the old Fitzgeralds pub (opening April), round the corner Little Ivy's - a Brazilian-Italian tinged tapas bar opened in late February (more on that in a sec), a fancy pizza joint set to open in May, Candela - a Latin themed cocktail bar opened in January, Yoruk - an ocakbasi restaurant opened in March, a salad themed pop is set to open a bit further up in April, and perhaps the most striking addition will be Verden - a Danish-inspired wine, charcuterie and cheese bar in the place of the old Cricketers pub at the top of Clarence Road, with a cold cellar open to customers where they can buy the produce that's been made onsite.

Exhausting huh? And that's only what's coming in the first half of 2014, and not including the craft beer shop, vintners, vets, cycle cafe and denim boutique set to open set to open soon, the gastropubs, cafes and restaurants that opened in the last couple of years, and the longer established businesses.

Lower Clapton Road is still out on a psychological limb in the views of most Londoners, so it's going to be hot competition among these new businesses to draw people here from the surrounding areas. I know long term Stoke Newington residents who still think of the area as Murder Mile and would take no interest in hopping over. Their loss, of course.

Litle Ivy's, one of the most recent openings, has a strong enough offer to draw the crowds from elsewhere. It kind of appeared out of nowhere on the site of a shop which had had three failed business in the last couple of years. It's run by Sao Paulo cool kids, who run its big sister restaurant Ivy Mess Hall over in Dalston. Last time I was there, Lovefoxxx of CSS was propping up the brunch bar.

The Clapton joint is smaller, more intimate, and has a really nice atmosphere. It feels a little bit DIY, the music is a notch or two louder than your average, and is interesting electro. It has a grown up party atmosphere, a bit similar to Rita's.

The menu is all tapas and platters, inspired by Spanish, Brazilian and Italian cuisines, with lots of innovative twists that take it up a few notches from your traditional patatas bravas and tortilla. The menu has sharing snacks and platters - cheeses, cured meats, nibbles and croquettes, fishy things - with tempura coated calamari, garlic prawns, sustainable salmon, a fine selection of vegetable dishes, and more meaty, saucy plates.

We had a selection of croquettes, which were somewhere between Brazilian and Spanish style, with interesting fillings - something mushroom and blue cheesy, something spinachy and one with aromatic spiced chicken.

The Catalan chorizo came out next - it was a generous portion, cooked with a generous amount of rosemary, giving it a woody, earthy balance to the pungency of the chorizo. The sauce was dangerously addictive, and happily the plate came with as generous helping of paprika dusted porous bread to soak every last morsel up.

A particular highlight was a salad of courgette ribbons, arranged in a big cone shape, with rocket, Sicilian lemon, basil, and a mixture what I think was parmesan and ricotta on the top, which was just the zingiest, freshest combination of flavours and would convert even your most raw veg cynical of friends to the cause.

Another highlights was the Brazilian stew of tomato, peppers, coconut milk and plantain, served with the biggest, juiciest, sweetest Atlantic prawns I've had in a long time. It came with the heads sticking out: a dramatic presentation, but kindly for the less adventurous, the tails were already separate, so no messy surgical procedures necessary.

We also had caramelised pork sliders: mini brioche buns, filled with slow cooked pork, lettuce and topped with a lime. They were tasty, but perhaps not quite as remarkable as some of the other dishes. They're probably better as a bar snack.

The wine menu is concise but with a good selection of interesting wines available by the glass and the bottle from around the world. Prices were keen for bottles, but only available in large glasses, so might seem a little pricier. I enjoyed a German Riesling from the Mosel, which had a nice fruity spiciness. Cocktails are also available, and some nice bottled lagers from around the world.

The service was warm and friendly, but could have been a little bit more attentive towards the end. Tap water was brought at the beginning but we had to ask for a refill, and there were a couple of errors on the bill. That said, they've only been open a couple of weeks and I think have been surprised at how busy it's so quickly become: I'm sure any quirks will be ironed out quickly: the team seem very enthusiastic and take pride in running a fun neighbourhood restaurant.

I'll be back soon to try out more of the menu, and try their brunch which they hope to start serving fairly soon. Prices are fair for the portions and the quality - this came to £30 a head with multiple drinks and a tip. We were not even hungry the next morning. It's already getting busy, so you may want to drop in earlier in the day or call up to book.

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