Fiona Beckett gives her verdict on The Laughing Heart restaurant...
The Laughing Heart
277 Hackney Road, London E2 8NA
Tel: 020 7686 9535
- Rating 8/10
- Kitchen open: 6.30pm–1am Monday to Saturday. Closed Sunday.
- Restaurant style: contemporary British cuisine
- Wine to try: Envinate Taganan 2016
- Carte blanche menu £39
There’s so much of a personality cult around chefs at the moment that the front of house doesn’t get much of a look in but despite the open kitchen at the Laughing Heart it’s the 6ft 2in presence of its genial owner Charlie Mellor that dominates the room.
Mellor, who been a sommelier for 13 years, set up the bar and ‘dining room’ to indulge his passion for wine. Downstairs there’s a seductive shop for locals to pick up a bottle on the way home while customers upstairs can browse the regularly changing 300 bin largely organic list.
There’s a short but interesting wine by the glass selection: on a midweek ‘school’ night we were admirably restrained restricting ourselves to an earthy Tenerife white (Envinate Taganan 2016) and a joyously fruity Claus Preisinger red Puzta Libre 2016 from the Burgenland about which Mellor was effortlessly able to reel off every detail.
The room too manages to be both cool and cosy – the cutlery is housed in a drawer that slides out of the table and includes chopsticks. The bar has a 2am licence and quirkily turns into a Chinese late at night.
Food – the inevitable small plates – is delivered quickly so I would remind you of my favoured tactic of ordering 2-3 plates at a time. The star of the show is the Thai-style larb-stuffed olives – so good they’re worth ordering on their own. A snack of toasted focaccia Barkham Blue cheese and caramelised onion is well worth replicating at home – something I wouldn’t claim for Devon crab and chestnut tart with a pastry made from koji-inoculated chestnuts (I kid you not. This is Hackney), delicious though it was.
The kitchen rather fell down with two dishes – Wiltshire truffle tagliolini and 9 year old dairy cow (not a whole one obviously) that were decidedly over-salted – in the case of the cow, which was beautifully tender, the culprit being the accompanying cep mash. But Cornish cuttlefish (with copious amounts of ink) and homemade black pudding was an inspired combination.
The other downside for some might be the location – well down the Hackney Road but it’s not far from Hoxton overground station and within a short bus ride from Liverpool Street. Think Brooklyn or the Belleville area of Paris and you get the vibe.
Having now eaten there twice I reckon TLH is best treated as a wine bar to enjoy a good bottle with bar snacks rather than a full meal – you could combine it with nearby Sager & Wilde for an on-trend wine crawl. It’s also – that rare thing – a restaurant it’s congenial to dine in on one’s own. Make the detour.
Fiona Beckett is a Decanter contributing editor and chief restaurant reviewer. To get the first look at her bar and restaurant reviews from all over the world, subscribe to Decanter magazine