The Hackney café scene heats up: as Dalston venues crash, indies and chains cook up new ventures

Shanghai©da19Draughts: staff collating games sets, Draughts Café , ex Shanghai, Kingsland Hi St Dalston E8 © 1019 Hackney


Ominous symbol? The Dudleys millstone was an intriguing window display



* Update November 2019: not long since the F Cooke sign, top, was reinstated, the virtually vegetarian Dudleys at 123 Kingsland High Street E8 2PB joined the list of closed eateries

ANOTHER CLOSURE has shaken Dalston’s turbulent restaurant scene at the same time as other eateries — some of them independent-owned, others chains — are being bravely opened.

Macaroni Liberation Front, the café-bakery, at the CLR James Library, launched by Maia Rossi and Alessia Mastroleo in 2016 as Donna Fügassa, is ending with a party. Behind the fun front, however, there is sadness that the artisan-food and communitarian approach did not make for a viable business.

Tribute: former occupant Cooke’s sign, top, has been reinstated at what is now the Draughts Café. Since Loving Dalston highlighted decay in the setting around the sign, the decorative plaster corbels have been repainted, although as the arrows in the pic below show, not yet to listed-building standard

Cooke©da19signIIb: edge of former occupant’s Cooke sign reinstated at Draughts Café, ex Shanghai, Kingsland Hi St Dalston E8 © 081119Mastroleo blamed several factors, including the difficulties caused by the proposed Brexit and the minimum wage which, she told Loving Dalston, “is difficult for small businesses, although of course it is necessary, to cover the high cost of living in London”.

Around the corner, board-game café Draughts has moved from Haggerston to follow the Shanghai restaurant into the Kingsland High Street location.

The Shanghai, in the old F. Cooke eel-pie-and-mash building, was a diner oasis in the years when Dalston was a foodie desert. The Grade II listed premises is also widely loved and the new occupants promise to respect the art nouveau exterior and interiors.

Hackney Archives
Fishy: F. Cooke in the 1950s (Hackney Archives) and, at end of article, not long before its successor’s 2018 closure

Plans by London restaurateur Charlotte Wilde to turn the Cooke premises into a wine bar and desk space for creatives last year got huge online publicity — but came to nothing. She would not say why she withdrew.

Several shopfronts away Pret a Manger has posted a notice saying it is opening “soon”. Loving Dalston revealed this spring that the sandwich-and-hot-drinks chain was coming to the town centre.

Pret may not be as much of a threat to existing independents as their owners fear. La Petite Bretagne, in premises across the street, failed, and as Pret may learn, Dalston has had problems with feral behaviour by groups of teenagers.

McDonald’s, opposite the Pret site, built a handsome sun terrace in 2017, but despite the passing of two summers, still has not opened the roof section.

pre©da19: Pret a Manger confirms Loving Dalston story of its opening a Kingsland Hi St E8 branch © 301019
(Al)ready: Loving Dalston months ago reported Pret’s imminent arrival

Could it be still worried about youthful disruption? Two years ago the burgers franchise had to hire bouncers to repel troubled youngsters bothering customers. Creative police strategies were successfully applied.

Organised crime persists. Several traders in the Kingsland Centre mall have lately had heavy losses, one stall losing thousands of pounds of gold in a break-in by thieves. And the lost youths problem lingers below the surface.

SocialClub©da19signs: Ridley Road Social Club (replacing Dalston Creative Social Club), Dalston E8 © 301019
Social eatier: offering a professional approach, Ridley Road Social Club has replaced Dalston Creative Social Club

Less vulnerable to violence is Ridley Road Social Club (RRSC),  which has replaced the Hackney Creative Social Club in a big space on the first floor above the Turkish Food Centre in Ridley Road east. Indications are that RRSC can do better at enticing passers-by up the stairs.

East of Dalston, the pre-hipster pioneer, Bohemia Hackney, at the bottom off Narrow Way E8, has closed, just as millennial venues fill the railway arches of Bohemia Place. 

David Altheer 011119

© Donna Fügassa (Macaroni Liberation Front), Dalston Sq, Hackney E8 3BQ closes © 30101
Closed: Macaroni Liberation Front, ex Donna Fügassa, Dalston E8 3BQ

* Not in any order, closures you might have missed: Wolfie’s, Greenwood Road (soon to open anew under a French owner); Screwdriver, Ridley Road; La Petite Bretagne and Fed By Water, both in Kingsland High Street; A Little of What You Fancy and Rotorino, Kingsland Road, Haggerston; Haunch, Stoke Newington Road; White Rabbit and Gujarati Rasoi, Bradbury Street; Element, Queensbridge Road; Le Ziz, Dalston Square; Rita’s, Mare Street

Fug: Alessia Mastroleo, L, and Maia Rossi, at Cafe Fugassa Dalston London E8 041215 © DavidAltheer[at]
Cucina Italiana: Mastroleo, left, and Rossi in the early days
* Backstory: Young duo promise the real Italian; Pret a Manger hits on Dalston; Hackney police take on the lost; McNo to McRoof; Starbucks slips out of hipster Hackney; It is a Starbucks, says agentDon’t call my caff a Starbucks, says coffee man; English Heritage joins attack on E8 ‘ecotower’Catering to Hackney café society; Hackney falls in love with veggies; Easy vege-cooking suggestions

* All pictures © DavidAltheer [at], and all for sale for reproduction. Bigger format versions usually available.

“Duds” is dark: the premises may become a steakhouse. In veganistic Dalston in this time of climate emergency, is that wise?

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