Hugo Warner has made Hackney his home for more than 20 years, so it comes as little surprise to discover he knows a thing or two about the ‘hood.
Warner's new restaurant is Market Café, sat on a prime corner spot on bustling Broadway Market. It is his first venture since gracefully bowing out of Benugo in 2010, the deli-café business that he founded with his brother, Ben, and eventually merged with contract catering giant WSH.
According to its owner, Market Café takes its culinary and interior design cues from the classic Italian "Formica" cafés of the 1950s, but with a sexy, up-to-date spin.
"It might come across as a bit blousy but I'm not entirely sure I've found a way to explain it exactly," Warner says. "Historically you had these Italian immigrants that arrived in this country and they produced this cross-breed of Anglo-Italian café. That was the basic idea for the menu."
But to be clear, this restaurant's dishes are not about fusion - a deli-berate move. The only exception is a small plate of truffled rarebit, a signature dish that also happens to be one of the best sellers.
"We put it on Hackney sourdough from E5, so the foundation of the dish is full of flavour because it adds a slight tanginess to it," Warner says. "We grate Montgomery Cheddar, use Clarendon pale ale for the beer, wholegrain mustard and drizzle with truffle oil that we make ourselves."
Splendidly simple but no less moreish for it, some customers even schlep from as far across town as Chiswick to get some, apparently.
Warner's kitchen is led by head chef James Adams, who joined the team from River Café having picked up experience at Canteen, Fifteen and St John. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week, and there's a real mish-mash of customers that matches the diversity of the area.
Depending on the time of day, you might find yourself grazing elbows at the communal tables with trendy hipsters or the yummy mummy brigade; market traders tucking into brunch or City folk sipping on the signature cocktail Hackney Cup.
In addition to the truffled rarebit, this mixed bunch can choose from other small plates such as sprouting broccoli and bagna cauda (£6) and devilled kidneys on toast, depending on seasonality and availability.
Those with a heftier appetite could opt for "hand-cut" pasta from the "highly recommended" section of the menu. The sauces on these dishes are also changed regularly, which Warner says has gone down well with his customers - a recent favourite was pork in milk. Other meat sauces to feature have included beef, lamb and wild boar.
Amid the large plates, some of which, it is suggested, might better suit two people - such as the steak and kidney pudding (£28) - is fish stew (£14) and whole fish of the day (POA).
Puddings are divided into hot and cold, with the likes of palate-cleansing Amalfi lemon sorbet (£5) sitting side by side with an indulgent gingerbread ice-cream (£5.50), as well as a hearty crumble of the day (£5.50).
The concise wine list features bins from six suppliers. It's predominantly Italian, with flecks of French and a couple of Portuguese and Spanish wines thrown in for good measure - Warner was certain that there should be nothing from the New World.
"They just don't fit our menu," he explains. "The way I look at it, each restaurant should be its own personality. Therefore, if you were looking at Market Café as a person - what sort of food they eat; wine they drink; how they would dress - my feeling is that this is a second-generation Italian living in London. They'd be hugely patriotic and drink mainly Italian wine."
It is perhaps this approach to the restaurant's identity that has already made Market Café at home in its cosmopolitan and trendy neighbourhood. With its eclectic interior of reclaimed furnishings and nostalgia-tinged menu, it's bound to fit right in.
Market Café2 Broadway Market, Hackney, London E8 4QG020 7249 9070www.market-cafe.co.uk
Sample dishes from the menu
Small plates Globe artichoke £6.50
Sweetbreads, capers £8.50
Oxtail soup £7
Large plates Tuscan sausage and bean stew £13
Braised lamb shoulder, polenta £15
Leek and Montgomery pie £12
Desserts Rhubarb trifle £5.60
Rice pudding and jam £5.50
By Janie Manzoori-Stamford
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