Monday, 20 August 2012

Railroad Cafe, Hackney

Railroad Hackney
Roseval Potato & Fresh Coconut Curry

"Railroad in Hackney" kept cropping up in conversation so often that I had to take a look.  On a sleepy August afternoon - post-Olympics and mid-school holidays - I finally took the 5 minute stroll from the Hackney Empire to this welcoming corner cafe/restaurant on Morning Lane.  With a view of the Hackney Central to Homerton railway line, it wasn't difficult to focus on the cooking.  What the location lacks in beauty, Railroad made up for in food and friendliness.  It's the kind of place you'd feel lucky to have in your neighbourhood.

The lunchtime cafe menu is short but thoughtful and priced temptingly.  A Vietnames sandwich with spiced pork and pickled vegetables, a meat and salad dish and an interesting spiced vegetable dish, such as a Moroccan Zaalouk, are the what you can expect.  Spices are clearly a passion and it was no surprise to learn that Railroad is run by Lizzie Parle, sister of Stevie of Dock Kitchen, and her partner Matt Doran.  An Onglet steak was briefly seared and served with a hot chilli sauce and a cooling beetroot puree plus griddled sourdough drizzled with olive oil  A dish of Roseval potatoes and fresh coconut curry was pretty as a picture and completely delicious.  The spicing, including chilli, cardamom and coriander, was subtle yet punchy and I'm sure more complex than my palate could decipher.  Good, freshly made chapatis were perfect for mopping up the sauce.  A couple of generous glasses of Tempranillo brought our quick lunch for two in at around £27, so call it £30 with service.

You can have breakfast at Railroad too, and Wednesday-Saturday it becomes more of a restaurant in the evening with a still short but interesting menu.  There's a commitment to seasonality - good for eating ingredients at their best and for keeping prices down - and to buying local.   Spices come from a Turkish corner shop, meat from a local butcher and excellent bread from E5 Bakehouse, a 15 minute walk way.  I also noticed they keep a pale ale from Bermondsey's Kernel Brewery and coffee from Square Mile.  The kitchen is open, in a homely rather than a 'look-at-me' way, and the fittings second-hand.  A small bookshop area displays books to browse and buy, some by local authors and there's a changing gallery of works by favourite photographers on the walls - currently the work of Lillian Wilkie.  As at least half of London seems to have decamped at the moment, atmosphere is a tricky one to comment on.  London in August is fast becoming as sleepy as Paris but Railroad was a happy find.  They're now closed for their own week-long summer break and will re-open on 25 August.

Railroad is not as isolated as it might seem if you don't know this area, which is fast becoming the food destination of London's East End.  Bakeries, coffee roasters, cafe and restaurant pop-ups are all contributing to the revitalisation of the Dalston, London Fields, Homerton and Hackney Wick areas.

If, as I did, you gaze towards that unexciting railway line and wonder what's on the other side, you'll find it well worth exploring.  Sutton House, under the care of The National Trust, is a Tudor gem.  It's one of only a handful of National Trust properties in London and well worth a visit.

120-122 Morning Lane
London E9 6LH