Sipping a flat white to the tap and squeak of the rotating cake cabinet, as you look out on the unloveliness that is the Hackney Road, you might think this tiny café – on the site that was until recently Taste of Bitter Love – a rather insubstantial operation. The food suggests otherwise.
We took advantage of its £6.50 slice-plus-salad lunch deal.
A substantial and flavoursome ‘breakfast pie’ (soft-boiled egg, bacon, mushrooms and, oddly but successfully, peas) was accompanied by both salads of the day – couscous with Mediterranean vegetables and feta, and a less happy twist on the Caesar that seasoned crisped bacon, parmesan shavings, potatoes, chives and oversized slices of toasted French bread with an occasionally overpowering anchovy dressing.
Sausage rolls and a couple of quiches (including a slightly overdone chorizo and rocket number) round out the savouries. Sweets are impressive: strawberry velvet sponge, an impressive lemony New York-style cheesecake on a chocolate base and a summer fruits pudding.
The Marzocco machine did its work well with ‘East Blend’ beans from local roasters Nude Espresso, and tap water is there for the taking from half a dozen flip-top bottles in front of the little counter.
Given there’s barely room for four two-people tables, plus a sink and microwave in the serving area, you may wonder about Esoteria’s claim the food is ‘homemade’? We were told they make use of the cooking facilities at the nearby Marksman pub each morning.
Décor is a little less resourceful – apart from a redundant Bezzera Eagle coffee machine atop the cake case, a mirror on the back wall with the café’s name in a zippy modernist font, and a sign above the door in Mondrian primary colours, there’s little more than scuffed lino to look at – but service is enthusiastic and friendly.
If summer’s nothing to you without the sweet smell of carbon monoxide, wield a fork at one of a couple of tables outside, or get a bite to go from the street-side hatch.