Thursday, 31 July 2014

Pivaz, Chatsworth Road, Clapton E5

When I moved from Newington Green to Clapton, I was most worried about not having delicious Turkish food on my doorstep - not of the standard I could get at Mangal, anyway. 

I've found some decent E5 alternatives - my favourite among them is Neden Urfa, a take-away on Southwold Road in Upper Clapton. Sure they do bog standard doner meat and pita, but order their expertly done skewers of cubed lamb, chicken, and minced kebabs. At a fiver a pop for two adana skewers, generous amounts of fresh salad, all wrapped together in freshly rolled and cooked flatbread, Neden Urfa is excellent on all fronts. Sure it's all fluorescent striplights inside, but it can't be beaten on value and taste.

Down Lower Clapton Road, some fairly good new Turkish options have appeared. Dom's Place is a facelift on Dunya, and has had the "full hipster" - lots of washed out timber, exposed industrial pendant lights, Brooklyn lager and sweet potato fries. Hats off to them for embracing the new Clapton crowd, and some of the food is good, but on some of my visits I've found the 'de-constructed' wrap a bit clumsy, and some sides a bit limp.

Further down, Yoruk has opened with a more traditional look and traditional menu - with keenly priced grills and a homely vibe. I've been sad to see it quiet of an evening - undeservedly: it's good, with generous and warm service.

Not so quiet is the new Turkish restaurant that's opened up on Chatsworth Road: Pivaz. Literally at the end of my road, Pivaz's glass front opens up onto the road, where tables spill out onto the wide pavement, and the smell of charring lamb fills the air. It looks so open and welcoming and has been consistently busy from morning to evening since it opened a few weeks ago.

The d├ęcor and vibe has embraced l'hipster: again, lots of washed out timber, exposed brick, displays of artfully arranged rusted cogs, and a soundtrack of 2000s indie hits with the volume cranked up. But thankfully that hasn't extended to the menu, which is traditional: cold mezze, hot mezze, grilled meats, fish and veg. Cocktails are on offer, though, distinguishing it from its more old school Dalston counterparts.

The mixed mezze was a very reasonable £7.95, including a yoghurt and broad bean dish with fronds of dill, a delicious cold aubergine and tomato dish, decent little borek, creamy humus and a haloumi salad. Every dish was nice, generously portioned, and with a few flairs.

The grills landed pretty much as soon as our mezze was taken away, and came with a tomato and cucumber salad and some buttery rice. The salad was a little meek compared to the earthy pickles, fiery onions and tangy sumac you'd get in the salads at my favourite Dalston joints.

I ordered adana kebabs – my benchmark for a good Turkish grill. There were two skewers, the seasoning was authentic, but it would have been good to have a beyti (spicy) option there too. My only complaint was that they could have had a bit more of smoky taste from the charcoal, and a bit more charring on the outside. My mum's cop sis (cubes of lamb on the grill) were perfectly seasoned – just salty enough and nicely charred.

It was an enjoyable meal, good service, and clearly very popular already – I bumped into quite a few familiar faces, and was pleased to see a wide range of locals there: not just the monied twenty-thirty-something set. It may not be the gutsiest Turkish food, nor the most innovative, but at just over £20 for huge portion of decent food, a cocktail, and a tip, it's excellent value.

I'll be back, especially with the smells of the charcoals wafting down my road and with their Turkish breakfast menu to try (have you ever had menemen, Turkish scrambled egg with feta and sausage, tomato and pepper? It's the best.), but if I wanted to show off Hackney Turkish restaurants to visiting friends, I'd still take them to Dalston.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Hackney brunch map

When I moved back from Berlin eight years ago, brunching wasn't such a big deal in London. There were pockets of it - a bit of independent cafe culture in Swains Lane in Highgate, Stoke Newington Church Street  - here and there. Maybe they did poached eggs, maybe it was just a fry up.

Fast forward to 2014, and I'm now slap-bang in the middle of the brunching capital of London. A colleague recently asked for brunch tips for Hackney - as I jotted them down into an email I realised we have something of a brunching revolution happening on our doorstep. I decided to start mapping out my favourite brunch spots in the hope that people searching for good brunch options will see what there is out there.

View Top Hackney brunches in a larger map

Since I started this map, the brunch offering has expanded more. Clapton, where I live, and nearby Hackney Central, seem to have seen some of the better options opening. Rita's, Raw Duck, Well Street Kitchen and Verden E5 all do a particularly classy brunch.

If there's anything you think I'm missing, do just leave a comment and I'll check it out and add it.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Well Street Kitchen, Well Street E9, Hackney

It's amazing how areas so close to each other can have such different feels. Lower Clapton, a purposefully planned and laid out neighbourhood, has two big long shopping streets, and neat grids of well-kept Victorian terraces running off them. The area feels orderly and balanced.

A few hundred metres south and you get to Homerton, bounded and intersected by busy roads, largely re-built with estates from different decades following heavy shelling in the second world war, on top of a street plan that started as a series of ancient lanes. Homerton hasn't seen quite the breakneck 'yummification' that Clapton (North), Hackney Wick (East), Victoria Park Village (South) and London Fields (West) have had in recent years - perhaps helped/hindered (depending on your viewpoint) by its less immediate beauty.

Right in the middle of E9 is Well Street, an ancient market street, that's got pretty much everything you could want: an excellent (cheap) fruit and veg shop, kebabs, curries, jerk chicken, laundrette, a brilliant old school (not gentrified) butcher where I buy much of my meat, a big Mediterranean supermarket, old school charity shops and a Tesco Metro (this is where the founder of Tesco opened their first store). By virtue of the surrounding gyratory of rat-running one way streets, Well Street feels like an island oasis where folk can just get on with their business.

More recently a few new businesses have opened on the street. The Gun pub recently re-opened with a minimal facelift and a major overhaul on the drinks list. It's pretty much the perfect pub - the size of a generous London living room, a saloon vibe, with good seats at the bar, and all simple and original fixtures and features but for a Roald Dahl referencing neon sign reading "secret plans and clever tricks".

The other new business of note is Well Street Kitchen, which I visited last week. It's in the ground floor of a cute terraced cottage, and has a nice mini deli at the front, and running through to the back are tightly backed tables like in an old caff, where you can get breakfast, brunch and lunch through the week and over the weekend.

(image borrowed from Well Street Kitchen)

The menu is excellent - going a notch above the standard brunch fare: there's an antipodean flourish, with lots of avocado, chorizo, slow roast tomatoes, feta, as well as compose-your-own cooked breakfasts, artful granolas. There is also a changing menu of specials, demonstrating their commitment to making brunch awesome.

I had avocado and herbed feta on seeded toast with two poached eggs and slow roast tomatoes. It was epic. The seeded toast was better than sourdough with the flavours, with the seeds adding a nice earthiness, feta and avocado are natural bed fellows, and the tomatoes added something rich and sweet.

I also got to try a bit of one of their specials: a sticky, thick gammon steak, modernised with a pineapple salsa, and served with fried egg, topped with watercress, and with a generous portion of perfectly seasoned and textured thick cut fries.

The virgin mary packed a proper punch - very smoky, paprika flavours and a strong chilli hit. A small selection of local craft beers were also on sale, and of course I could have had a proper bloody mary with booze had I wanted.

Well Street Kitchen joins my Hackney brunch map, and on the esteemed but short list of places to get a proper fancy brunch with proper drinks and stuff. While the offer is pretty brunch, lunch and coffee/cake focused for now, they're starting to do the odd supper club or pop up in the evening - and the menus look interesting and the prices fair.

The place was rammed the Saturday morning we were there, and it will be interesting to see if any other new businesses join Well Street Kitchen and The Gun in opening on Well Street. Keep it slow guys, Well Street works nicely as it is.