Weekend brunch in the gentrified East End has become an institution, an excuse for a social gathering to replace the traditional Sunday roast and a great way to unite family and friends in the era of mobile technology and a million distractions. A far cry from the days of the Krays in every way.
You can barely move in Shoreditch and neighbouring Hoxton and Stoke Newington (all in the London Borough of Hackney) for restaurants offering menus ranging from traditional Full English to burgers and bistro favourites washed down by juices, coffees, cocktails and more besides. How might any one of them stand out from the crowd and attract a loyal following?
Caprice Holdings‘ The Rivington Shoreditch (there is also one in Greenwich), formerly owned by Mark Hix, whose Tramshed (previously reviewed) is just down the road and decorated with a large Damien Hirst. Not to be outdone, the Rivington is decorated with a large neon work by another of the not-so-Young British Artists, Tracey Emin. This reads: “Life without you… Never” – a message singularly apt for the friends and family frequenting the establishment, as was doubtless the intention (for more information on their assorted art, see here.)
The Rivington is a cool but warm room with stripped floors, solid wooden tables and chairs, wooden blinds to let streaming in any passing sunlight, vintage lamps, proper linen tablecloths protected by white paper covers, solid plates and cutlery, smart smiling waiters and a large wooden bar festooned with decent bottles that dominates the view as you enter.
You know the drill: smart, classic, touch of flair, nothing likely to go out of fashion in the next five minutes. Making you feel relaxed and comfortable is the goal, though a touch of upholstery on the chairs and maybe a little classy music would not have gone amiss.
From within the solid confines of an old textile warehouse, it caters for the cognoscenti and their entourage: young and old, professional and arty, metro types and a smattering from wider environs, most well-heeled but all looked to be enjoying themselves, their company and their conversation with the help of unobtrusively delivered food and drink.
In this case we went for two variants on breakfast: full English and full veggie, supplemented by delicious spiced-and-celeried Bloody Marys and acceptably strong coffees. The former is, at £12.75, priced for the market rather than competing with the East End greasy spoon, but both were undeniably very good, even if the gloriously deep orange yolk on my precious Burford Brown egg was broken and dribbling.
Make no mistake, every component (all singular but for the home-made baked beans and slices of reasonable but not exceptional toast) was a miniature masterpiece, superbly sourced and cooked beautifully: excellent thick slabs of tasty green back bacon (Ginger Pig?), a firm and meaty herbed sausage, the best and most succulent black pudding I’ve eaten outside Bury, a great portobello mushroom, that rare beast a roast tomato that actually tasted of tomato, a perfectly formed bubble & squeak cake containing potato, cabbage, broccoli and carrot, plus those beans.
In point of fact, they were cannellini rather than haricot beans, but came in a deliciously chunky and tomatoey sauce without the need for over-sweetening. I don’t know why most cafes and restaurants don’t cook their own since they are both easy and far superior to the canned variety. I’ve been known to serve cassoulet beans and Boston baked beans with belly pork in this way, both incredibly moreish.
The lady’s veggie version (actually vegan, given the exclusion of the egg) put most veggie breakfasts to shame, adding to the mix spinach and avocado. It looked equally appetising, as did the various benedicts and other dishes spied on neighbouring tables.
What then could mar this visit for an otherwise splendid brunch? Simply this: the gents toilet, in which a strange and unidentifiable monologue was playing from a speaker over the door, is in need of a major refurb, such that the door, the tiled walls and all the fitments looked well below the standard of the rest of the Rivington (I am told the ladies looked OK, but did not pursue that avenue of inquiry.) Given that so much attention has been lavished on the rest of the Rivington, the shabby loo seemed unconscionably remiss of the usually attentive Caprice group, something they should attend to with haste given the very upwardly mobile loos in other restaurants in the vicinity.
So then, a point knocked off for the toilets but otherwise a solid **** from Millward for the Rivington brunch. I look forward to trying the evening menu sometime in the not-too-distant future.