On the bank of the Regent’s Canal, framed by a bushy greenery, Poco offers more than the typical eatery in Hackney. Poco is the gate to the Broadway Market, where countless artisanal temptations dotted around create a little culinary paradise. What most of the gourmet neighbours have in common is their pride of British ingredients sourced directly from mindfully chosen specialist purveyors. At Poco, behind the open, by pickles and other jarred homemade edibles framed kitchen, these seasonal gems are turned into rustic yet delectable interpretation by the one or two chefs or preseved for the less bountiful months of the year. Monthly, at times tweaking the flip the recycled one-page paper menu daily, except for some staples like the sourdough, olives and falafel, you will almost never eat the same food at Poco, making each visit a delectable adventure.
Poco: making the most sustainable restaurant in London
Transparency is the heart of the food menu envisioned by the executive chef Tom Hunt. Hailing from Bristol, where the original Poco resides, Hunt also authored The Natural Cook, and is the founder of Forgotten Feast, a “Social Enterprise working on projects throughout the UK to revive our cooking heritage and help reduce food waste.” If you ever venture in to San Francisco, once you step in you may feel like in the Mission District’s Tartine Bakery. The furniture also has a minimum environmental impact – reclaimed timbers, English hardwoods, clay based paints and LED lighting. Tall tables with tapas bar style wooden stools, but also family friendly benches, so comfort is not discounted.
Voted the most sustainable restaurant in London, alas the “Food Made Good Restaurant of the Year” Award in 2016, Poco serves seasonal tapas from local and mostly organic certified suppliers, but it also goes much further to reduce its carbon footprint. Like Perennial in San Francisco, the restaurant is mindful of food waste, energy and water use, and minimizes the food miles of its ingredients as much as is viable. Hackney is a cycle-friendly East London borrough, and some guests will likely arrive on two instead of four wheels.
Poco embodies slow food in fast-paced city
The ethical produce is directly purchased from the Slow Food adherents. The generous sourdough bread is sourced from the nearby E5 Bakehouse, where the flour from local grains is being freshly milled before the loafs are baked into hyper fragrant bread. Milling the flour fresh assuers that the aromatic oils form the whole grains remain in the bread to seduce your nose. At Poco, choose from either wholemeal brown or Stockholm sourdough or have a pain du chocolate with a cup of coffee for breakfast. The perfectly moist and crispy crust of the sourdough calls for a generous dip into the basin of Marianna’s olive oil served on the side. Indeed, not everything is made in-house, but sourced from carefully selected providers. From the olive oil, dairy (Kappacasein Dairy, Neal’s Yard), through the bread to the chocolate (Mast Brothers of London) and the ice cream.
The slow food is taken seriously by the waiters, more than by the industrious chefs behind he counter kitchen. At lunch, come to the waiter to place your order, otherwise you may wait until dinner. On both occassions I diend there, the waiters have been cleaning up tables or playing behind the bar before taking our order. The aloof service is the only shortcoming at Poco though, and you will be generously rewarded with nourishing and superb seasonal plates.
Food: Eastern Mediterranean inspiration meets Spain in British produce
What marks Tom Hunt’s cooking style are sprouts on everything and the use of the Eastern Mediterranean flavours such as harissa, olive oil poured generously over the salads, a full crème fraîche like dense labneh, and a sprinkle of zataar spice and herb blend with sesame.
Lunch is quite different from dinner and the brunch offers much larger plates than the dinner tapas. The vibe is quite different from day to the lighting of the night bulbs. Children are welcome at brunch or lunch, and you can savour the artistic endeavour in drawings from the many of the kids hanging on the steel grey cement wall. On the contrary, the dimly, sexy, shaded dinner is buzzing with a Williamsburg kind of a crowd.
While recharging my weekend batteries during a brunch in November, I overheard that the organic eggs ‘how you like them’ are the most craved after brunch item, but went for the Field mushroom, labneh, za’atar, poached eggs, grilled sourdough and seasonal greens. Stacked on the amazing crunchy sourdough, the green kale was topped with two perfectly poached organic eggs sprinkled with dukkah and grilled giant cap mushroom. Labneh and olive oil sprinkled all over – yum, wholesome!
Sipping on the ultra tomato pigmented bloody mary with a spicy kick of harissa energized me after my flight from the South. Landing at the City Airport made Poco on the way to my central London hotel.
For lunch I enjoyed the giant, wholesome plate of Roasted roots (carrots, parsnips) with English quinoa, Smoked Labneh, and Dukkah. Served with red smokey pepper dip and a butter bean hummus with za’atar and sumac seasoning, house pickled red beets, sour tomatoes, streaks of labneh, roasted hazelnuts and almonds, plus sesame dukkah sprinkled all over, this could not have been a more nutritionally balanced offering.
At dinner around are swirled cold, hot plates, simple sides such as Harissa or aioli sauce, Kalamata, Amfissa or mixed Olives, and like in a rewinding video, I also had to order again and again the perfectly crisp and intensely fragrant Broad bean falafels atop a brown bean hummus and raw pickled beetroot. Consistently, they were the best falafels I had in London. Only Taïm in New York’s Soho can compete for the global city’s best falafel award, staged in my mind.
The unctuously creamy, thoroughly strained labneh either as a dip with dukkah (sesame and herbs condiment) and chipotle (smoky red pepper). For a dinner tapas the labneh can be additionally whipped with pumpkin seed, and olive oil or included in another more complex plate. In September, you could get a wild nettle tortilla with greens and harissa sauce or Kohlrabi strips, turnip, kale, spring onion with roasted red pepper and wild fennel. Most are veggie rich savoury plates, quite small £4-5 priced dishes, so go on and order more. The reduced portion size is also the sustainable catch as you will less likely order too much and driven by a real hunger clean up every plate.
From the hot offerings there are always some seasonal greens, some sustainable fish like Sardines on toasted rye bread with the omnipresent harissa, yellow and red plum tomatoes, coriander leafs and shaved almonds, but also some meaty sausages like the chef Tom’s own chorizo or the popular pork belly come mainly from The Butchery. There is always a set menu of five + (supplementary charge) courses for £26. You should not find bluefin tuna, Atlantic Halibut or wild bass on the menu since these are among the red rated ‘5’ by the Marine Conservation Society.
The aperitif hour whizzes the oysters and fizz on the wooden tables. Served simply with chopped shallots and cider vinegar, the West Mersea oysters from the England’s East Coast, are very popular. The desserts have the least Mediterranean aura. An English influence breaths from the Roskilly’s Organic clotted cream vanilla ice cream or Strawberries, clotted cream, gin and rose syrup or the international favourite of Dark chocolate brownie, chocolate sauce and cream.
During brunch sip on the local draft beer, or a cup of local roasted coffee. Seasonal cocktails made from foraged ingredients, homemade tinctures and cordials are designed by co-owner Ben Pryor. A shot of housemade limoncello breezes in the Italian-like warm hospitality that we all adore. Sherries, orange wine, a bright Gamay or sweetish Moscatel and other European, low intervention wines (biodynamic, natural, organic) by the glass and bottle complement the meals in the same sustainable spirit.
Do not be put off by the far in the east location, since the cost of the taxi ride will be compensated with fair prices and superb, generous food. Poco is more than worth trying, plus you can arrive on the clean energy London bicycle!
129 Pritchard’s Rd, London E2 9AP (the Southern end of the Broadway Market)
+44 20 7739 3042
Mon-Fri: 9:30 am-11pm; weekend 10am-11pm