Yes, it’s yet another Hackney café, but the Russet brings something all of its own to the mix. The site canteen for Hackney Downs Studios, it describes itself as a ‘café and creative venue’, hosting exhibitions, acoustic sessions and distinctly one-off events – we saw what looked like a tent for animated Punch and Judy going up when we visited.
A holistic, community philosophy informs everything it does, from the name – one of the varieties of apple tree planted in nearby Hackney Downs’ new community orchard – to the ethical and local sourcing of ingredients. Coffee comes from Bow’s Union Hand Roasted, ale from London Fields Brewery, bread is pedalled over from E5 Bakery and cakes are made in the on-site kitchen.
It’s easy to pick this sort of localism policy apart, since we’re hardly in the Garden of England here. But an effort is clearly being made, such as with the Stoke Newington medlar chutney served with the cheese sarnies.
The menu – short, simple and hand-written on the glass doors of a cupboard behind the counter – offers breakfast and brunch options plus a couple of hot dishes and sandwiches. The kitchen is small, which was given as a slightly disingenuous explanation for a half-hour wait.
The cooking was a bit hit and miss. Scallops and bacon were ably fried, but the accompanying toast was too thin and dry; cauliflower cheese was tasty but the sausages alongside were borderline undercooked. We were appeased by a sensational homemade chocolate and salt caramel tart and a reasonable bill of £21, which included apple juice and two coffees. On Sunday, a two-and-a-half-course roast lunch is served all day, and on Saturday evenings, the round-table folk and roots ‘Cider Sessions’ are open to all.
Visually, Russet is a guilelessly charming ensemble of art, found objects and mismatched furniture tumbled into the interlocking rooms of a former print warehouse. With a whiff of Berlin’s community art cafés about it, it puts the pleasure principle above the profit motive and is already cherished by a laid-back local crowd. But the kitchen needs to pay as much attention to the cooking as it does to its ethical stance.
The café's small kitchen garden grows a variety of food and flowers and is home to some quail. It will be open as part of Open Garden Squares Weekend 2015
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Average User Rating
3.3 / 5
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When this place first opened, it was a joy. A nice cafe, a short walk away from my home, good food, a great atmosphere. I don't know what's happened since then, but the service is frankly deplorable. It's not even clear whether you're supposed to order at the counter or the table. I've always ended up ordering at the counter because I've given up sitting at the table for 20 minutes in the hope that one of the pleasant but passive staff members notices I exist. Once ordered, food can take an age to arrive, up to 40 minutes even when it's not busy. It's reasonable food, but not always piping hot, and the breakfast portions are derisory compared to what you get in the Turkish cafes for the same price. I had such high hopes for this place. Potentially, it could still be amazing, but its management needs to address these issues and put some serious training in place before it all goes tits up. Hackney is no longer devoid of great little places to eat and hang out and there are quite a few of us who are migrating to them.
Repeated bad experiences at the Russet! We live nearby and often used to frequent this cafe, but over the last few months we now avoid it. SLOW service, clueless staff, overpriced, mediocre food. Credit card machine minimum is a fiver (when it's working!) so bring cash. One positive-decent cakes.
I enjoy visiting the Russet for a drink in the sun outside or to catch up with friends over a delicious dinner.
As a vegetarian I feel I am well catered for here and order an assortment of small plates. The cakes are delicious and I appreciate the effort to source local produce.
I have found the staff to be nice and helpful, and I am grateful they are not always hassling you to try and sell you more food or bring you your bill to free up the table (which can happen in some other London restaurants).
The bar make great cocktails, including a fantastic espresso martini. I would recommend visiting if you appreciate a laidback vibe.
Like the previous comments. I loved the Russet when I was first introduced to them 2 years ago with my mum&tot friends which was a haven for a cuppa and meal with my little one. However over the last year the standard has really slipped dramatically while the prices has increased. Is this the 'Hackney-effect'? The portions for a chabatta and breakfast's gone down. Today I has 'greasy pippin' breakfast aka English breakfast but I got half a slice of bread, one bacon slice, fried egg and what seem like 2 tablespoon of baked beans for £6! While my friend was served the same with an addition of a veggie sausage for her little one which was burnt and totally inedible. I cannot velieve these guys get on with serving this at the extortionate price. Also in terms of atmospgere its good they have a space for little people at back but havibg live electrical equiptment all over the place from previous night gig is not safe. The childrens changing room/toilet is very dirty as are the toilets get it sorted Russet
Very nice atmosphere, nice decoration and it feels really cosy! We had to wait 40 mins for our breakfast which was very bad quality! Instead of muffins they brought the chorizo and eggs on ciabatta. The hollandaise sauce wasn't great and it took me 24 hours to digest it! Staff was trying to be friendly but they had to deal with lots of angry customers since they had run out of almost everything. I might go again for a coffee or tea but just that! There are much better food places in the neighborhood.
Eaten here once before. Had a really good atmosphere with live music. Enjoyed the meal too which a work of art - would def eat here again.
Have eaten twice here now - both times the food was immaculately presented and delicious. I liked the quirky theming of the restaurant too. A little hard to find (don't count on just stumbling on it) but definitely worth the time spent tracking it down.