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The Market Cafe Review

Drew Smith gets in early at Broadway Market's new star...scoop!

Written by . Published on March 16th 2012.

The Market Cafe Review

IT is good to be first with a review, a scoop even, although this visit also illustrates all the reasons why being first as a critic is ultimately academic.

It is the real thing - a restaurant designed for the neighbourhood. 

.The Market Cafe on Broadway Market is surely destined to be a part of the east London landscape in whatever form it finally evolves into, so the news is hot.

Hugo Warner has slipped out of Benugo of which he was a partner with his brother Ben (geddit?) and shrewdly taken this corner space on the southern corner of the market, formerly a lacklustre French bistro La Vie en Rose and before that a Georgian restaurant. The timing seems right.

It fits into the general bursting of the seams around Broadway and London Fields.

(Note to planners: this is what happens when you don’t let Sainsbury’s into an area – you get instead Russian food stalls, Patagonian steaks, organic cheeses and meats, rasta curries and the schoolyard gets taken over by a farmer’s market and an iconic burger stall in Lucky Seven among the antiques, ie enterprise, jobs, commerce, fun, community).

It was opened two weeks ago and it was shedded, not in any organized way, just mobbed. Tables outside were being used like a pub for a beer and a smoke, the middle section was café-esque and filled with laptops and the back section restaurant and booths just sucked in the diners as if from nowhere.

Sometimes it is just about the right space, and busting into the back of what was a flat has lent the room a sense of proper proportion. You cannot say it is designed, it is just ripped out and ready to go, functional first. Was that wallpaper there from the blitz or was it a conceit? The photos here suggest a calm that evaporated as the lights were lowered, although maybe weekdays will be easier.


One suspects they may not have been expecting to be overrun quite so quickly, especially on a format that starts for breakfast at 9am – eggs this way and that – and rattles on through the day. On market days and weekends do not expect to get within 30 metres of a table.

Broadway/London Fields has a zip these days that, if it is not overstating it, is reminicscent of Kings Road in the ‘60s. Something is afoot even if no one seems too sure what, and people want to be a part of it on the street or maybe they just share or live in such small homes they just need to get out and park their bikes. There is a vibe that we-will-all-make-this-up-as-we-go-along and if we don't we will meet up with some friends.

The menu is a retro stroll like an old Italian café, although it is the waitresses who seem to have been chosen for their dark Mediterranean looks and ribboned aprons, otherwise it is devilled kidneys on toast, artichoke all the way up to steak Florentine with chips at £45 for two. Plus there are things that have gone out of fashion like oxtail. It looks cheaper than it is, although I am not so sure the kitchen has worked out its food margins as yet.


The starters were classy and oddly blended very well together. It took some detective work to figure that SWEET breads with capers were not a sugar confectional at all but tempura style sweetbreads with a few greens also whisked through the fryer, the capers overwhelmed, but a clever dish again using unusual ingredients which happened to go well with the purple sprouting broccoli with bagna cauda – well not a proper one with all the vegetables, just an anchovy sauce. Good dish in a modest way.

2MarketvongoleThe vongole

For main course we went for the two pastas which sort of showed up the haste with which things have happened – the vongole – see my notes on cooking with clams a few weeks ago – had not been amalgamated with the garlic and oil, where the hand cut spaghetti with meat was just reassuring, student ok.

Trifle I have not seen on a menu for ages, but this was a small knickerbocker glory ice cream glass filled with jelly, rhubarb and cream on top. To do trifle properly in a restaurant you need a big flat dish so the portions are equable (a bowl is fine at home where you can share) otherwise you cannot get the layers in. Poor. No custard as I recall. Not enough sponge.

When is a trifle not a trifleWhen is a trifle not a trifle

There is a lot of attention to operational detail that has been overlooked in the mad rush to open and to cope but in a sense that is what Hackney and Broadway are about rather than West End polish.

The ideas are there. The space is there. They will get it right sooner or later. It is fine. It is good. It is the real thing - a restaurant designed for the neighbourhood. Love it.


The Market Cafe, 2 Broadway Market, E8 4QJ 0207 249 9070  

Rating: 12/20
Food: 6/10
Service: 2/5
Ambience: 4/5

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away.

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