Sunday, 21 September 2014

Mission E2, Paradise Row, Bethnal Green

Wine bars are back with a vengeance. The much derided symbol of 90s Conran-infused yuppiedom have risen again. Clapton has seen the Danish-inspired Verden and wine shop-bar Pie Franco open in the last 6 months, hot on the heels of Sager and Wilde on Hackney Road. Across town, wine focused bars are opening, some with a focus on cheese and charcuterie, others with more comprehensive menus.

Mission E2 is the latest, opening a fortnight ago in Bethnal Green by Charlotte and Michael Sager-Wilde. Its focus is on the wine and cuisine of California, its name a nod to the exciting Mission district in San Francisco, which is the new beating heart of creative Californian cooking. It was where I was staying exactly a year ago as I ate my way through the Golden State.

Situated in a railway arch on the blossoming Paradise Row, it's a great mix of London and California. A gigantic palm tree fills the arch, with a deep grey polished concrete floor and huge bi fold doors that open up the whole space to the terrace out front. On this balmy September evening you could have easily believed you were in trendy Los Angeles suburb Echo Park.

There is a reasonably sized wine list of sensibly priced, exclusively Californian wines by the glass and bottle, and a more extensive and expensive menu for the real connoisseur. The main list did us fine, enjoying a glass of Mission Fizz, which looked totally flat but must have been full of invisible bubbles. A Sonoma County Trousseau Gris was light and minerally, and the Nero d'Avola from Mendocino County was so deep and sultry that it tasted of death, in a good way. Prices started at £4.50 a glass for (presumably great) house wines, up to about £10.50 for more interesting choices. With a standard £20 mark up on all bottles, there's a big incentive to push the boat out a bit.

The food menu is impressive, with smaller bites, starters, mains, sharing dishes and desserts. We could have tried everything, but settled on nduja arancini and globe artichoke to start. The arancini were relatively subtle but there was enough nduja to give a bit of fiery warmth. 

The glove artichoke was just perfectly cooked and served with an anchovy buttery emulsion to tip the leaves in. It's such a nice dish for leisurely nibbling through with a good glass of white, and the heart at the end is the ultimate reward for the perseverance.

Choosing mains was particularly hard, with ox cheek lentils and salsa verde, rabbit with giroles and polenta, and a cuttlefish and mussel stew on the menu. In the end we settled on their platter of lamb chops, priced at £38 but could have easily fed three people with the six generous chops. They were incredible. Beating even Tayyabs on taste, if not price. Garlicky, herby, perfectly charred, brilliantly fatty and charred lemons just added to the stickiness.

We shared a dulce de leche cheesecake for dessert, which was nicely pungent and came with chunks of cinder 

At £50 a head, it's not cheap, but it felt totally justified for the quality of food and wine. You'd pay about the same in San Francisco, and boy, what a saving on the airfare. There's a brunch menu and plenty more to try on the evening menu. And if it's true to Californian form, the menus will evolve with the season, so plenty of reason to go back and make my way through the wine list. Low key but warm service ensures that you'll have a relaxed, enjoyable time. And I'm just delighted to have a slice of California so close to home.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Hash E8, Dalston Lane, Hackney

The brunch backlash has started. The weekend-only in-between meal been singled out as a defining feature of the much-derided urban creative class' self-indulgence, and of the international sameness of the gentrification aesthetic. Brunchers are pulled apart for queuing for tables, drinking bottomless mimosas and caring too much about where's hot and not.

It may not be a real backlash, though; rather, some clickbait from the good folk at the Grauniad to get those much-derided (but desirable for the advertisers!) urban creatives sharing the link all over social media. Because what's not to love about - let's be real - eggs for a late breakfast at the weekend. If you've worked your socks off all week, barely having time to wolf down a piece of toast before going to work each day, why not enjoy the most important meal of the day, slowly, with friends, when you get to the weekend?

Hackney, as I've document, is in the midst of a brunch revolution. There are now so many places to get your fill of eggs at the weekend, that it's very rare to have to wait for a table. There are now high end options, Antipodean twists, classic greasy spoons, Med-influences. But nowhere has really, really specialised in only doing that classic eggy, bacony thing well...until now. 

Hash E8 opened a couple of weeks ago halfway between Dalston and Clapton on Dalston Lane. It's an all day cafe - a 'short order' cafe they say, which is American English for a short menu of diner-style food that can be cooked up quickly, to order. 

So far the the short order menu focuses on all things piggy and breakfasty. These guys source all their pig from a farm in Yorkshire, and you'll find that pig making its way into bacon, sausage, sausage patties, sausages, bacon jam and their signaturee slice of confit pork belly, which appears in many of the dishes and is available on the side. It's a much richer and more punchy option than your standard bacon.

I've been a couple of times already - it's that good - and made my way through some signature dishes and specials.

The Piggy Muffin is their spin on the McDonald's breakfast classic. It's epic: between the two muffin halves you'll find a homemade hash brown (more on that in a minute), confit belly slice, crisp bacon, a slice of regulation processed cheese, a mini omelette (one egg, whipped and fried) and their own bacon jam. It comes with a side of their deeply flavoured chutney and is held together with a skewer, which my piggy friend abandoned as he squeezed the whole thing together to eat as a burger. Bravo, Alistair.

Another signature is their Belly Benedict, which is your classic poached eggs on top of their confit belly, spinach, topped with a silky hollandaise and then some flakes of their umami dust (bento and black sesame, I think). An American short order influence comes in the shape of their home fries, gorgeously crisp and flavoursome. 

On my second visit the special was a Hash Benedict, which was the aforementioned egg combo but on top of a whopping round hash cake. It tasted German style, like reibekuchen, with slithers of potato and a decent amount of sweet onion to give it full flavour. I added confit belly to mine, because it's too good not to have, and it came with a lightly pickled beetroot and cucumber salad, continuing the Mitteleuropaeisch theme.

We went all out gluttony, and chased our sizeable savoury brunch with their sweet special: a French toast sandwich of peanut butter, Nutella and banana. My arteries may not have thanked me for it, but it was worth the extra clogging. Hash E8 brings out the piggy side of me, and I thought I may as well go the whole hog.

They keep it diner style on the drinks. No pretending that a kale and flaxseed smoothie will save your soul here: just orange juice (from concentrate), filter coffee (by the Clapton based Roasting Shed) and cups of tea. For breakfast booze fans, there is a small selection of craft beer and a Bloody Mary. 

There are plans to open in the evenings too, but the owners say they are mastering the daytime service first. Based on my two early visits, I'd say they've mastered it already: friendly, efficient service, fair prices for the size and quality, and already doing a very steady trade. I know that Hash E8 is going to be a regular haunt, and I'm already dreaming of my next slice of confit pork belly.