The night was warm, the night was young and the night was definitely loud. In a throbbing corner of the Hackney Empire, pop-up veterans Platterform have moved on from their trademark rooftop dining to a new venture which combines music, food and art – think Copacabana meets Clapton. On launch night, a DJ was enthusiastically pumping out tunes as people spilled out onto the road outside, clustering round the bar and snacking on foot-long prawn crackers, certainly not something you see every day.
We were ushered upstairs to a narrow mezzanine area to try the evening food menu, a global list of spicy, spiky sharing plates which take you from Mexico to Vietnam. Via Tokyo, it appeared – as a lady dressed in full Geisha regalia carefully poured out what looked like tea, but turned out to be pots of oolong heavily laced with a mix of Kamm and Sons, aloe vera and ginseng. Good and bad for you at the same time.
Plates of food arrived, starting with ‘snacks’: a selection of vividly coloured dips, beetroot and butternut squash and babaganoush with some charred strips of flatbread to scoop them up – irresistibly packed with flavour, and the perfect vegetarian dish which was almost too good to share. Some flash-grilled squid was heady with smoke: little salt fish fritters were lapped with a hot scotch bonnet mayonnaise, while Vietnamese summer rolls came stuffed with spicy prawns and some crunchy shredded veg – there was a veg-only version too. For spice lovers, there were mini roti breads topped with a neat pile of beef rendang, cut with a scatter of pickles.
There was more to come: some sticky ribs coated in a chilli-laced barbecue sauce and then my favourite, little corn pancakes known as arepas, topped with black beans, avocado swirled with queso fresco and a fresh tomato salsa. Another fine vegetarian choice from a place happy to accommodate most menu requests – even my chilli allergy.
My (non-teetotal) friends tried a selection of cocktails – including a ‘Jerk and Stormy’, which combined rum with jerk bitters, and a tequila daringly mixed with guava and baobab.
Platterform’s phase three promises all sorts of events throughout the day as well as providing a meeting point for the east London creative community and music lovers. The aim, they say, is to turn Hackney Empire into “one of London’s most pioneering cultural institutions”. There’s certainly no lack of ambition. And judging from the happy, buzzing crowd enjoying the food and drink and sounds on launch night, no lack of imagination, either.
A tropical paradise on Mare Street. Hackney: how you’ve changed.
Felicity Spector (@FelicitySpector) is deputy programme editor, Channel 4 News and writes for numerous UK food blogs. She is quite particular about the quantity of toffee sauce served on her sticky date pudding.
@Platterform launch @HackneyEmpire
Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Street, Hackney, London
Phone: 020 8510 0792
Reviewer: Felicity Spector, July 9, 2014