Hackney Wick is cool. Well, we all know that. I was just reminded recently as I cycled through it, en route to one of the many new gastronomic hot spots in the area. It was one of the warmest Sundays we’ve had so far this year and I kept having that fuzzy, wonderful feeling of summer in East London. Young, trendy people gathered in small animated groups outside, occupying the benches, the outside tables of cafés, the green spaces; drinks in hand, sunglasses on. And that same atmosphere remained as I walked into Number 90, this new place on, erm, number 90 Wallis Road. Big open space, high ceilings and an outside deck overlooking the canal, where, guess what, some young, trendy people sipped their drinks with their sunglasses on. Nice setting for a summery Sunday roast, I thought to myself.
Number 90, the space, is not exactly new. Owners Bruno Cabral and Remi Landaz have been at the place for a while – it used to be a venue and, as matter of fact, I myself had been to a party there before, during the Hackney Wicked festival. The restaurant however is new, it’s been there for just over a month and that’s what my companion, Mel and I were there to check out. The interior is quite unusual and there isn’t a theme per se; the décor is a mixture of vintage furniture, exposed wood, pallets, colourful plastic chairs and big paintings hanging behind the bar, giving it a quirky look. Bruno told us “everything you see here are donations, recycled wood and materials or objects and work we created with our own hands”.
Bruno kindly greeted us and asked what type of flavour we liked in cocktails; we both said fruity and back he came with Fruit Loops, one of their cocktails creations, a refreshing fruit fest in the mouth. It turns out that mixology is one of Number 90’s strong points, as I had the chance to confirm a week later when I was there again to attend a birthday party. They have a system of ageing different spirits infused with different types of fruit and then concoct the most delicious combinations using the different boozy-fruity bottles.
Oh yes, that works well. Thirst quenched and our starters arrived. Mel had the quinoa, lentil and goat’s cheese salad with orange vinaigrette, a simple dish, with a delicate dressing and a comforting nature. I ordered the roast beef, manchego and watercress with horseradish chimichurri. And that’s when things started to get ‘chefy’. It was beautifully presented, three little wraps of roast beef enveloping the manchego and the watercress. The zingy watercress and the rich cheese complimenting each other perfectly and everything brought together by the sharp horseradish chimichurri. Delish. I love chimichurri and this was the first time I’d tried a horseradish one.
It made sense and it made it more British somehow. To the mains; Mel opted for the butternut squash, bell peppers and pistachio roast with roasted potatoes and mushroom sauce. It was well executed, the softness of the squash contrasted nicely with the crunch of the pistachios. I went for the roasted pork belly with apple sauce and Yorkshire pudding. It was served with a tasty crackling and a very flavoursome jus. However, belly pork is one of my things and I, more often than not, order it when I see it on menus.
So, you see, I’ve had some delicious versions of it on many a foodie adventure and even though the flavour was there, this belly pork was not as flaky and melt-in-the mouth as I would’ve liked. Desserts on the other hand made me completely forget the slight hitch with my main course. I had the crème caramel, another classic I find hard to resist. My mother makes the best crème caramel in the world and I’m always looking to replicate that taste sensation that brings me back to childhood. And this one in particular, was faultless. It would have made mama proud. I was quite happy tucking into my pudding until I tasted Mel’s roasted caramelised banana with vanilla ice-cream and butterscotch sauce. Oh. My. God. It was the best dessert I’ve had this year. It was served with a very delicate and crispy spun sugar top. It had a myriad of textures and temperatures; crunchy caramel, mushy banana, cold ice-cream and warm butterscotch sauce.
Chef Leon Borja clearly has some serious pastry skills. The menu changes often and so does the place. They have live bands, cook-offs, jazz nights and Bingo Thursdays. They host many community-oriented programmes, where they teach piano lessons, DJing and cookery skills for local young people. Once a month they have different artists doing their thing there – live painting, vinyl library, photography and fashion exhibitions. And they have some fantastic ideas for the summer, like bands playing live on a boat and screen projections on the other side of the canal. This warm Sunday afternoon gave me a taste of how pleasant summer in East London can be and although Number 90 surely works in all weathers, I can’t wait to spend a few summer evenings there.
90 Wallis Road, Hackney Wick