‘Hell is other people,’ Jean-Paul Sartre famously wrote. And he’d not even tried to get a table for dinner in Hackney’s Broadway Market on a warm Friday night. Every table in every venue on the street is heaving, and drinkers are spilling on to the pavement. Making your way to the bar counter and back in the Cat & Mutton takes navigational skills that would challenge a spawning eel. Yet we found it – the last free table, home to the most hotly anticipated, no-bookings spot in east London.
This generously proportioned Georgian tanking house (established 1729) has just had a massive refurb, and the new owner, Tom Gibson, of Ruby’s cocktail bar in Dalston, has created a very cool-looking pub on the ground floor, with a speakeasy-style bar and dining room on the first floor. The pub’s as busy as it ever was, with people supping Meantime ales or Guinness on tap, but the low lighting, retro mirrors and small tables make it a lot more chic than before. The mostly local, thirtysomething crowd may all be mortgaged to the hilt, but they think nothing of spending a tenner or more on a couple of drinks.
The first-floor bar, called Pearl’s, has a similar look and feel, with tin ceiling tiles and lighting so low we needed to use our mobile phone screens to read the menus. In some of Hackney’s more fashionable bars the quality of the drinks is immaterial, but the C&M team have put together an interesting wine list with lots of choice by the glass, carafe or bottle, and a cocktail list with up-to-the-moment spirits and mixers: rye with saké and bitter, pisco with cider, gin with Kamm’s.
Ben Denner, best known for his Lucky Chip pop-ups, is also in residence on the first floor with his kitchen crew, calling themselves Licky Chops. The menu’s interesting, not overpriced and well tasty.
Our meal kicked off with chewy, deeply satisfying sourdough from E5 Bakehouse with whipped rosemary butter. A barbecued onglet steak was perfectly seared on the outside, but the beef red and tender in the centre, served on a wooden board with a pesto-like chimichurri sauce. This, and a dish of barbecued octopus with potato and caramelised garlic, were overseasoned: this kitchen doesn’t really do subtlety. But we liked the bold flavours, particularly in a fruity mango coleslaw.
The impressive makeover means this venerable London boozer has become an instant tourist destination: it has already graced the pages of British Airways’ High Life in-flight magazine as a must-do in the capital, more than a month before it reopened. So all we need now is an appropriate Lie to Tell Tourists about it. Did you know that all London cats are owned by the Queen, and if you eat one you’ll be put in the Tower and neutered (or spayed)?
By Guy Dimond