Hackney isn’t short of hip new cafés, but Happy Kitchen is the one with the clearest vision. It’s a vegetarian diner purged of any socks-with-sandals resonances; a social enterprise that’s all about organic, local and seasonal produce. (‘Our food is seasonal’, they point out, ‘to England’.) Every dish is made on the premises or in a neighbouring railway arch.
The hot food on offer ranges from impressive-sounding breakfasts – ‘posh porridge’ made using cocoa, medjool dates and flaked almonds; pancakes; ‘the full works’ of sweet potato hash browns, sourdough soldiers, own-made baked beans, grilled potatoes, and creamy spinach with nutmeg – to hot mains, soup of the day, and ‘one pot wonder’ rice dishes.
Despite three separate review visits in pursuit of hot food,on each occasion, they were already sold out, not being served, or had simply been swapped off the menu. So don’t go expecting consistency of food offer. McDonald’s this ain’t.
Instead, we ate the filling ‘superfood salad’. A generous helping of quinoa, peas, broccoli, courgette, mint and seeds, served with nicely dressed leaves and an intense beetroot purée, but it otherwise tasted a little bland. Similarly, the ‘scrumdiddliumptious’ banana and peanut butter shake, made with soy milk, was rather watery.
Our – by now – extensive experience of the sweets (banana and walnut, raspberry muffin, choc chip oat cookies, orange brownie, raspberry bakewell) was also less sunny than we hoped. While you wouldn’t notice that, for laudable ethical reasons, Happy Kitchen is sugar-free, the cakes are almost uniformly let down by their densely powdery texture. The cookies, at least, were delicious.
The décor is carefully, cheerfully delivered, and there are friendly hand-written labels on everything. Also, there are books to browse, self-service boxes of grains and dried fruit for sale, as well as screwed-together packing case tables with flowers in milk cans between flip-top bottles of water, home-filtered by a special process.
The staff – who show a real affinity for kids – are as smiley and passionate as you’d expect. Accordingly, Happy Kitchen has been rammed from the start with TV producers, wannabe TV producers, and a flotilla of over-engineered infant buggies.
It was no surprise to overhear owners Lisa and Ellie talk about ‘rolling out the concept’ to Chiswick – nor their friends agreeing this was ‘the kind of place they’re crying out for’. We’re delighted to see an ethical enterprise that is so popular, but we aren’t – yet – so excited about it ourselves.