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Café Cecilia

  • Restaurants
  • Hackney
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  1. Cafe Cecilia
    Photograph: Cafe Cecilia
  2. Cafe Cecilia
    Photograph: Cafe Cecilia
  3. Cafe Cecilia
    Photograph: Cafe Cecilia

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

You know that famous scene in America's Next Top Model where Tyra Banks gets maternal and shouts at a failing contestant: ‘I was rooting for you! We were all rooting for you'? That's how I felt leaving Cafe Cecilia last week. The restaurant is one of London's most-anticipated new openings of autumn. I was so ready for it to be brilliant, but I left a little disappointed.

The front of house team was bright, friendly and welcoming, but slightly scatterbrained trying to keep up with the packed out Thursday lunch rush. To be honest, I don’t blame them because currently it’s so busy at the restaurant that lunch reservations are impossible to bag, (I managed to get lucky and sponged off a friend’s booking that they made weeks ago).

This Hackney canteen, just minutes away from Broadway Market, is chef Max Rocha’s first place. The chef-owner holds a starry CV, having worked at some of the city’s best restaurants such as River Cafe, Spring and St. John Bread and Wine. And, if his surname rings a bell, that’s because the Dubliner is the son of Irish designer and entrepreneur John Rocha and his sister is fashion powerhouse Simone Rocha. He even enlisted the help of his family to open this place. The restaurant is named in honour of his paternal grandmother, his sister designed the staff’s uniform, mum Odette’s recipes are reflected in the menu and Dad consulted on the interiors. 

The space is a bright white minimal room with an open kitchen that’s bathed in light from huge windows overlooking an idyllic stretch of Regent’s Canal and its historic gas cylinders. Decor is kept very simple with wood chairs and tables and photographs hang on the wall. The menu is equally pared back and also features a specials blackboard; there's not much detail to go off when picking dishes. We needn't have worried though. The starters were the holy trinity of starters: a homemade soft, still-warm Guinness pumpkin bread; a tangy-sweet chunky pork, apricot and pistachio terrine; deep-fried sage and anchovy fritti brittle beauties. Divine.

Chips are not meant to be crisps, they need balance and Cafe Cecilia has cracked the code with its faultless ones.

Next, mains. First up, a plate of four ricotta ravioli and sage pasta squares stuffed with soft citrusy cheese that resembled big toothy pillows. Then rare, tender and juicy onglet steak that was perfectly cooked, but let down by the lacklustre peppercorn sauce where the peppercorns seem to have gotten lost. (I wanted a thick, full-bodied punchy sauce, but what I got was a thin watery IKEA meatball gravy.) That said, I am a woman of simple pleasures. When presented with a plate of good chips, I’ll be a happy customer. And the chips served with the onglet here? They’re very good. Biting into the gloriously golden, shatteringly crisp exterior to reveal each one’s fluffy, cloud-like potato insides was a true out-of-body experience. Chips are not meant to be crisps, they need balance and Cafe Cecilia has cracked the code with its faultless ones. If they served them on their own as a side they’d be on to a winner.

Sadly, the deep fried gurnard and tartar sauce from the specials board was not a winner. For a start, my friend had ordered the same dish two weeks ago and had received a much bigger fish than the one we got on this visit. Ours came as two small pieces and was coated in a semolina and 00 flour batter, but not enough of it. (It needed a thicker coating to help protect the flesh as it ended up being on the dry side.) Nonetheless, the homemade tartar sauce was bright and zingy, an ideal chip dipping sidekick.

And many of our gripes were forgotten when the puds arrived, they’re a proper saving grace. The bread and butter pudding was warm, fluffy and gooey, swimming in a luxurious runny cold custard that invoked sweet childhood memories. The sharp raspberry and almond tart paired with crème fraîche smacks you in the face with its bold flavours and the crumbly, buttery texture makes you want to have seconds. It’s a strong note to end a meal on.

Overall, it’s not that I didn’t like this place, I just didn’t love it. I’ve heard only good things about their much-lauded breakfasts and there’s nothing more satisfying than going out for a lazy long breakfast that bleeds into lunch service as you sit, watch the world go by and carry on the feasting. I think Cafe Cecilia is a lovely little place to do just that (if you can get a booking). 

The vibe Normcore interiors, exposed industrial vents and full of fashion types.

The food Unfussy seasonal sharing plates. Order the onglet and chips. Thank me later.

The drink A good core selection of European wines, natural wines and cocktails

Time Out tip? Sit by the window to people watch and take in pretty views of the canalside gas holders, while you pick at chips.

Angela Hui
Written by
Angela Hui


32 Andrews Rd
E8 4RL
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