Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Mess Café

I’m not even a resident (am a long-term Notting Hillbilly, ‘nuff of that) of Hackney but I might as well be bestowed with a little gold star for voicing its worth. I have and always will believe that the sun does indeed shine more brightly on this part of London; oft flawed and rough yes, but I see it as a paradise without order and decree. Oh, the rawness and edginess…an accidental splendour! And unlike the other boroughs in London I don’t think boredom quite fits in; Hackney I suppose assuages the grief from our daily modi operandorum. It’s a precarious beauty - it draws the 20 and 30 somethings to its immense but soon-to-be-crowded lair because of the purportedly affordable accommodation, fringe art galleries, the bus with the greatest frequency courtesy of Transport for London that’s route 38, beautiful skies (I kid you not, if Heathrow was based here the passengers arriving wouldn’t be greeted with grim grey skies!), the Square Mile Coffee monopoly that’s evident in countless independent caffs that are dotted around the borough, discarded chicken bones contributing to street art like chewing gums to Oxford Street, it’s also home to the Murder Mile of Britain as well as the Pho Mile, the virginal and new London Overground (appreciate the pristine carriages before they’re strewn with messy graffiti!) and not to mention the 2012 Olymp…I could go on but the Word prog is having an issue with my grammatically dodgy long sentences. Look just love Hackney before Octagon turns the marshes into poncy and posh living quarters with a golf club attached.

You still with me? Good, if you want to get pissed senseless and end up with the mother of hangovers the morning after then there’s a cure, Hackney Central is your salvation. It’s the home of Mess Café. I’ve deliberately deferred the post about it because queuing up for your grub is a discomforting chore that should be abolished without question. Mess Café happens to be one of Hackney’s best kept secrets, it’s a greasy spoon that takes no prisoners, and it excels! Yes let’s ponder back ‘bout the queues, unfortunately they’re part and parcel at Mess, and that includes weekdays where folks like local civil servants, aspiring YBAs and yum mums with Russell Group degrees await, albeit sensibly, for their tables and subsequently devour the rewarding and absolutely delicious badass tings like eggs (battery of course) and chips (frozen no less). Yess, Mess’s a greasy spoon where one can enjoy a good meal without Lady Bamford of Daylesford and her disciples presiding over what you can or cannot eat. Life’s too short, so curb whatever conscience you might be influenced by, I insist that you should treat yourself to some domestic pig goodies like bacon and sausages. It may well not be from a Gloucestershire Old Spot or Middle White breed but you and I know full well the they taste glorious and they’re cheap as chips. Long live greasy spoons and likewise fry-ups!

Mess Café is an established greasy spoon and of late it decided to transform itself and comply with modernity. Unfortunately the up-to-date procedure turned it into a clinical looking canteen fit for an industrial park

They tried hard with the Lichtensteins...

...but I think Banksy’s more appropriate. Thankfully the wonderful grub remains the same. Like a majority of greasy spoons in Hackney, Mess is meticulously run by either Turks or Kurds and for some ironic reason they’re masters at cooking the most perfectly crisp bacon rashers! I would abhor any comments about the service here, it’s a caff FGS! Don’t expect slickness, the unashamed slackness persists because they’re busy and thus so.

Shiny happy menu

Reading material vaguely provided

As for the times of trouble (hangover, etc), don’t expect Mother Mary to come to you and speak words of wisdom! You cometh here for the cure and this is it- The redoubtable Mess Breakfast-

Not quite a full English but unquestionably fulfils nonetheless. It includes crispy (undyingly consistent), back bacon, a little sausage (size matters but who gives a monkey’s!), fried egg (essentially over easy), grilled mushrooms and tomato, sautéed potatoes and choices of the following- white, brown or granary toast and tea or coffee

£4.70 for the lot.

If Shane MacGowan came here on a late Sunday morning and had this dish, he would sober up in no time.

For the fry-up purists you can create your own dream plateful to include more eggs, baked beans, black pudding, hash browns, tinned tomatoes (love ‘em), and various veggie options.

In addition to the usual omelettes and token ginormous salads, Mess accomplishes itself with fancy but delicious looking focaccia platters and half-decent homemade burgers-

With cheese and egg

Pound for pound it’s more substantial than the ones from chainy Byrons and it’s loads cheaper. It’s perfectly palatable and you can have it cooked anyway you fancy as long as it’s well done.

Secret’s out, one of the best breakfasts sought in London. Hail Mess! Enjoy.

*Receipts do not figure here and this wasn’t an invite to review!
** What's so wrong with Comic Sans? Nothing, I’m common and I love it!

38 Amhurst Road
London E8 1JN

Saturday, 23 October 2010

10-10-10 menu at the Blueprint Café

As contradictions go I knew that I’ve committed the cardinal sin (a transgression of this blog’s will). So shoot me, whack me, starve me, call me names and lock me up in a Schrödinger's cat box for I duly accepted an invite to a freebie meal courtesy of American Express. The occasion was Amex’s 10-10-10 event in partnership with the increasingly significant London Restaurant Festival. The celebration involved ten notable non-London chefs teaming up with ten of their London counterparts to cook lunch in the ten restaurants headed by the latter to create ten one-off tasting menus that were served on 10th October 2010. I succumbed to the whole idea as soon as I was offered a meal for two at Jeremy Lee’s Blueprint Café. Jeremy Lee, like Paul Merrony and Tom Pemberton, is a chef I admire with great respect; his wonderful dishes befit the real world, devoid of foams or pretensions and certainly not concocted in a chemistry lab. Anyone would be selfish to himself or herself if they turned down the opportunity. Gobsmacked and chuffed I remained. So a big thank you to Alice at MHP for selecting yours truly as far back as early August and this was despite the fact with the lapsed blogging, not posting any related competitions and reciprocating the invite with ad placements on this blog.

I’ve already written favourably about the Blueprint Café once before (here). I shan’t dwell further on its enviable location by the Thames, its wonderful airy and light dining room, and of course the friendly and appraised service. I consistently enthuse over the mature informality at this place.

The pairing of Jeremy Lee and fellow Scotsman Michael Smith from The Three Chimneys in the Isle of Skye was nothing short of impressive. The menu written in plain English (thank goodness!) reflects the chefs’ ideals with creating dishes involving a wide variety of seasonal and fresh ingredients. As you can see with the exception of perhaps Parmesan, most of the ingredients are British or maybe to be more precise Scottish, so no alien stuff like foie gras, gochujang, pata negra, etc here…bliss. I was informed by the waiter that the above menu was priced at 70 quid per person without booze and all the diners (the restaurant was packed and fully booked) were compelled to opt for it. All except…my dining companion. DC is vegetarian and not just any veggie, she forsakes mushrooms and fresh tomatoes like I do with confit of rattlesnake! Shit-ake! Imagine I could never take this woman with me on a holiday to Germany let alone China. So there were two things the restaurant could do, ask her (albeit politely methinks) to walk off the plank into the Thames or no worries Mme we’ll see what the kitchen can do for you. The latter was gratefully fulfilled. Both DC and I had strong reasons to believe that she was the only veggie in the whole dining room. My word how spoilt and lucky that woman is!

What we ate-

Baked salsify, Parmesan
Chanterelles, girolles and goat’s curd flory
The salsify (DC insisted on pronouncing it ending with f-igh but I stuck with fee) was sweet and silky. I hadn’t a clue what the excellent tasting mushrooms’ flory was, I supposed the finish product was supposed to resemble the fleur-de-lys symbol.

DC’s medley of beetroot salad
She loved it, as she’s a beetroot monster in the same way as I’m a wine monster.

A native oyster, black pudding

The only glitch of the entire meal came from the oyster. It was far from fresh and it tasted of something dredged out of a sewer. Fail. The black pudding was an entirely different matter, a most wonderful sample. And there I was telling DC and myself (much to her distaste) that the finest black puddings are to be found in the British Isles, the couple sitting next to us politely broke in and uttered they begged to differ. I later found out they were two German A-lister food bloggers (on an invite as well). It was indeed a delight to have met Herr Paul and his contemporary. They both flew their flags and declared the best black puds hail from here.

DC’s pea and parsley soup
Stupendous she remarked, I tasted a bit of it and agreed.

Mussel and clam broth

A noteworthy effort that tasted fresh and deliciously satisfying. I’m going to attempt this in my own kitchen with the addition of potatoes in time for the cold winter months.

DC’s creamy baby artichokes with polenta
The polenta was the best I’ve had and it wasn't even made by the overrated
Locanda Locatelli!

Here we go the splendid mains of…

rump of venison, pickled prunes, damson and sloe

…might prove too rare for some but as far as I’m concerned it’s the only way to eat bambi…

…the damson and sloe sauce was a welcome change from the usual juniper variety. (Admission moment- I left the prunes, can’t stand them and likewise apricots, snakes, nick clegg, etc)

Accompaniments of roast potatoes, beetroot, chard and carrots.

A substantial amount of adult grape juice was shamelessly quaffed

Dishing out the pudding courses in the kitchen

Lemon posset with blaeberries

Every meal I have at any restaurants includes a stand-out and this was it. It was scrumptiously memorable but the portion was tiny! We wanted more but to no avail as the waiter warned us about the next pudding to come.

Hot marmalade pudding and Drambuie custard

A top-notch pud and fitting precursor to what to expect on Christmas Day. If anything this dish made by Michael Smith tasted miles better than any traditional Christmas pudding I’ve scoffed. Bravo.

Mr Smith having a well-earned rest

Handmade chocs

The sojourn in its entirety lasted just under four hours.

The meal was a qualified success and I was also extremely pleased that Jeremy Lee was announced the winner in the One Person’s Passion category of the London Restaurant Festival 2010 Awards. So once again a big thanks to Messrs Lee and Smith, Amex, the staff at Blueprint and of course Alice Harper. You may all address me as blaggerphon for a limited period.

28 Shad Thames

London SE1 2YD