Sunday, 17 October 2010

Three breakfasts out East

Dalston Lane Cafe, 107C Dalston Lane, E8 1NG
The Counter Cafe, 4a Roach Road, E3 2PA
Tina, We Salute You, 47 King Henry's Walk, N1 4NH

Ever since the Forks relocated from south of the river to Hackney, we have been engaged in a long (and thus far fruitless) search for a truly great place for breakfast in our new 'hood. As previously mentioned, we both love the posh full English at Medcalf but we can't escape the feeling that there must be something just as good closer to home.  Armed only with our bikes and the authoritative work on breakfasting in London, here are the results of our most recent morning outings.

From the outside, the Dalston Lane Cafe looked like the real thing. The uninspiring shop front and checked table cloths hinted at a proper, old fashioned cafe. The food was a pleasant surprise - good quality eggs and sausages served with crusty, seedy granary bread. Not a turdy sausage or slice of plastic bread in sight. However, something about the Dalston Lane Cafe did not feel right. It is perhaps too hip for its own good. From the lacklustre service by a young man who clearly would rather have been at home working on his latest project to the prevalence of ironic hair, it has none of the charm of a proper cafe. The juxtaposition of old and new East London at the Dalston Lane Cafe served as an unwelcome reminder of what has been lost. Even though the breakfast was decent, the atmosphere was too stilted and self-consciously cool for us to contemplate adding it to our list of breakfast favourites.  

We decided to venture further east (Hackney Wick) to sample the breakfast at the Counter Cafe. Judging by the number of fixie bikes in the car park, most of its customers had chosen to cycle there. We were glad that we had too, for the cafe is well and truly off the beaten track in an industrial complex near to the south east corner of Victoria Park. It was easier to forgive the Counter Cafe its hipness because, somehow, it manages to capture the buzzing, creative atmosphere of the East rather than its uglier self-loathing arch-hipness. Table football and good music play their part in achieving this. 
The menu is reminiscent of the relaxed, sunny places scattered across the English-speaking southern hemisphere: lots of avocado and banana. The coffee was expertly made but, even with a varied range of delicious-sounding food on offer, the place somehow managed to fail to live up to its full potential. The full Counter breakfast was, to Mr Fork's mind, a bit pretentious and fiddly.  Good quality ingredients didn't quite gel into a coherent plate of food. For example, the sausage: thin chipolata-style links described by Mr F as a bit like merguez but drier and less interesting. Smoked salmon, poached eggs and potato cakes were better: perfectly cooked eggs and pleasantly-textured fish but the potato cakes would have benefited from being left a little longer in the pan. I would return if I was in the area but I am not sure I would cross Hackney again for the specific purpose of visiting.

An honourable commendation goes to Tina, We Salute You. Although it was the trendiest and least cafe-like of the three, their excellent coffee, quirky decor and fabulous jam selection wooed us.  We will definitely go back to sample their banana bread and (again) avocado-based snacks. 

Three very different breakfasts and, whilst we now know our local cafes a little better , we have yet to find breakfast perfection. But we still have the whole of Bethnal Green, Mess on Amhurst Road and the wilds around London Fields to explore. Who knows what they will bring?

The Counter Cafe on Urbanspoon
The Counter Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tina, We Salute You on Urbanspoon
Tina, We Salute You on Urbanspoon


  1. :) i love mess (create your own breakfast) but it's very close for me. Also Vortex, 11 Gillett Square; Mouse & de Lotz, 103 Shacklewell Lane, and Cafe Oto, Ashwin Road Print House. Last two don't have real breakfasts but.... thanks for these reviews

  2. Thanks janicewow. Create your own breakfast sounds like my kind of thing, must go to Mess. Will report back...

    I love Oto, one of my favourite places in Dalston.