The London Review of Breakfasts

"Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper." (Francis Bacon)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Counter Cafe, Hackney Wick

The Counter Cafe
4a Roach Rd
Hackney Wick
E3 2PA
07952 696 388

by Malcolm Eggs

I had never really spent any time in Hackney Wick, at least not deliberately. Based on its reputation I was imagining an outland of free expression, a place where creativity could run untethered and naked. Monkeys playing accordions on the streets, men in berets judging my scale with gnawed thumbs. But deep down I knew I’d find a handful of timber depots plus the occasional person in a sleeveless flannel top.

When we finally glimpsed our target, alarm bells rang – those internal alerts we each install when we realise hipsters don’t run or frequent good food businesses.

For here they were both sides of the counter: girls with short bleached hair and billowing ethnic-print trousers; men with long hair, longer beards, NHS glasses, orange gingham shirts. A waiter’s cartoon-bear T-shirt, tucked into his tiny polyester shorts. Another’s braces hand-made from an unravelled length of blue packaging rope. Shouty folk music on the speakers and psychedelic art on the walls. Guardian newspapers everywhere. Hardly were those sights met when I closed my eyes and was troubled by a vast image: a stoned chef and a passive aggressive owner, pissing away a trust fund. In the background flashed mood-words such as ‘screenplay’, ‘site-specific theatre’ and ‘guerrilla gardening’. I braced myself for a bad breakfast.

Then my Big Breakfast (£8) arrived and it was really, really good. As good as the breakfast in Bistrotheque or Caravan, perhaps better for the genuine shock. The yolk of my fried egg? As golden as the voice of St Gregory of Nazianzus, mingling harmoniously with the baritone carbs - the jolly potato cake and ebullient buttered Vogel toast. Bacon and sausages were fit for a duke, and the beans, oh my, they were a rarity - homemade yet worth the effort: butter beans in a salacious sauce of tomato, rosemary, garlic and lemon. A large, succulent mushroom, a ramekin of tangy inhouse relish and good coffee completed the picture.

As if by magic a canal bridge made itself visible, enabling us to leave without retracing our steps. The Olympic Stadium loomed over us as if it wanted to say – there, now you know the truth about 2012. It’s whatever’s important to you. Follow your dream, my dear Malcolm. Yeah whatevs, I replied.


Anonymous The Grubworm said...

Damn, the crescendo from "the Wick" seems to be getting louder, and at some point i'm going to need to saunter up the canal to visit. Those beans sound great, as does the Vogel toast.

In this case, i think you're spot on about the atmosphere providing the perfect foil to a shockingly good brekkie. It's a truism that many of the great English breakfasts are found in the most incongruous of places.

11:09 AM, October 06, 2010  
Anonymous Blake Pudding said...

There may be a correlation between dreary folk music played too loud and good breakfasting. See review of Latana. I'll look into it.

1:53 PM, October 06, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a huge fan of The Counter—or at least I was when I worked in the area last year—and am so glad the word's finally getting out. The caff—with its delightful New Zealand staff, home-made Anzac-style sweet tomato relish, and top quality food and coffee—is like an oasis in the dunes of Fish Island.


7:03 AM, October 31, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This really would be one of the best cafes in the nation if it weren't for the bellendery of the staff.

Seriously. The location's perfect, the food's great and the coffee is proper.

It's just that standing at the counter while five people ignore you for five minutes makes you feel like a dick.

They're really not big on eye contact. You feel like you've arrived uninvited at someone else's youth club for very cool yoot. Getting your coffee after your brunch arrives is basically lame.

I've given it the benefit of the doubt, been twice. I'm going to go back in the winter and see if they've upped their game.

11:50 AM, October 03, 2011  
Anonymous Tom Arteaux said...

Been going here fairly frequently since 2009 and always been fairly delighted, but service has really suffered since the move into the new space. Endured a 55 min wait at the weekend, god knows why. Disorganised staff with real bad attitudes. Will probably not bother again.

4:33 PM, January 17, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Terrible. I give up after a few visits of equally bad experience. The staff are clueless, slow and unenthusiastic. Perhaps this is hipster service at its best, who knows, but it's dreadful. Always slow. Why posh up the baked beans with a too sharp garlic sauce and why posh up the ketchup with an equally sugary terrible relish. This is a place to be seen, not a place to be fed well. It's expensive and the scrambled eggs are a very very odd orange colour.

11:47 AM, March 11, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And what's wrong with brown sauce? I asked on a number of different occasions and got a pretty blank stare. Perhaps it's not groovy enough.

They also cannot toast toast and how hard could that be??

11:50 AM, March 11, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a lot of people can't toast toast. I think the problem is, even though toast is probably the foundation of all great breakfasts, in a professional environment, it comes out as an afterthought. I have come across more than my fair share of great establishments failing on cooking bread, but whilst not forgiving it, I understand it. Anyway...grrrrr better toast everywhere please!

5:32 PM, March 12, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


11:51 PM, September 16, 2013  

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