It’s been a while since our last review, so here is one place we feel is a must-know-about in London – The Counter at the edge of Hackney.
It’s self-described as “London’s best kept secret” on their website. Coffee, cake, pies, and brunch are their specialities, all served in a happily hipster haven in the East End. This place has been on our hit list for quite some time. In fact, over a year – as far back as our trip to the Olympics last summer. A feature in The Guardian in the run up to the Games had suggestions for eating on a budget around the park while the Games were on and that originally introduced us to this place…
UPDATE: Very sadly The Counter shut its doors permanently in November 2016 after eight years by the canal. We’re devastated as we love this little cafe and we spent a lot of time here when we moved to London first. Continue reading below to relive the magic that’s now lost.
We visited on a Saturday afternoon, following an unexpected, well-appreciated lie-on. Living so close to Hackney and the Olympic Park, we assumed it would be somewhat easy to get to. Let us be the first to tell you, it’s often really difficult to get to Hackney and Islington from Stratford, though they seem so close on a map and are all in the East End. On this day, the dreaded notice all Londoners despise also appeared be
fore us: ‘planned engineering works’. Luckily, the works were only taking place between Stratford and Hackney Wick, but what would have been a quick five minute train journey turned into a twenty minute drive around the east end on a replacement bus. Nerds.
Use Google Maps to get to The Counter, as the walk from Hackney Wick station does drag you slightly along the canal and through a small industrial estate. Once you arrive and walk through the art gallery/artist space, rock in and place your order before you find seating either indoors or outdoors. We chose to stay outside; it was one of those typical Autumn days – bright, yet cloudy, and crisp but cold.
A unique selling point for The Counter is a pontoon out back, moored on the banks of the Regent’s Canal, which provides all the outdoor space. You are literally eating on the water’s edge, with a breathtaking view of the Olympic Stadium, while barges and rowboats float past and dock opposite. We took a table closest to the water to revel in the stadium’s grandeur – such a lovely sight for what seemingly could be our last al-fresco dining experience of the year.
“For me, anything with a view of the Olympic Park is an instant must, and so where food is also served – I want to go to there. I ordered the biggest breakfast plate on offer, which isn’t the biggest surprise to anyone who knows me personally. I wanted a fry; it was Saturday; it was a must. Funnily enough what I ordered is called The Big Breakfast, and for all you pop fans out there this place is within walking distance of the former ‘Big Breakfast House’ from the eponymous Channel 4 show.
Deciding to ditch the traditional options of tea or coffee (after all it was early afternoon), I had just been on a bit of an exhausting walk, so an ice-cold can of lemonade was my drink of choice. We did have to wait a little while for food, which in my state of hunger, wasn’t ideal. When my plate arrived, I instantly was a bit upset that there was only one sausage rather than two. When I see the words “big breakfast”, I’d assume it would be at least two. How and ever, the one sausage was quite delicious.
There was a small portion of homemade baked beans, which were sweet, juicy and satisfying, alongside a potato cake, two slices of bacon and a crispy slice of seeded, sourdough toast topped with two runny poached eggs. Everything tasted divine, however, I did note that my bacon wasn’t quite as warm and it should be, nor were the beans. Possibly, the cold air from being outside had quickly cooled it down, but it’s East London, not Siberia. Overall though, a joy of a breakfast to eat!” – Russell
“I toyed with getting to taste the Turkish eggs that are on the menu. I’m often that person who picks the toughest or most exotic thing to make on a menu (sorry chefs!), simply because I wouldn’t do it at home and I wouldn’t want to order something I could do at home for possibly cheaper, and maybe even better with my own two hands. However, in the end I chose to go for the poached eggs on potato cakes with slivers of smoked salmon. It was heavenly, especially on a morning where the thought of standing by a hob watching myself over-poach eggs yet again and then have to eat them was seriously threatening my mental health.
The eggs were perfection, blazingly golden yolk poured out and down the potato cake tower once the soft, supple white had been burst. All the elements were there: the crisp and fluff of the potato cakes, the velvety fresh salmon, the bite of cracked black pepper liberally doused on top, and a wedge of lime on the side to spritz over. The portion was just right and the coffee alongside was great company for the dish.
As the two of us are big on brunches, and where bores the best, The Counter has shot right up on my list. The floating pontoon was an unexpected surprise, and an effective gimmick, but may be a little off-putting for some as it slightly juts and bounces as people step on and off. On a crisp Autumn day like we had, with a few doggies lounging around (enjoying their own Saturday brunches) and the lapping of water alongside, it is a joy to lounge on.” – Patrick.
What is it? A bright, colourful and unique café situated right along the Regent’s Canal with an impressive view of the Olympic Stadium. Go for the brunch, stay for the coffee, cake and canalside views.
Where is it? The nearest station is Hackney Wick (London Overground).
How Much? The total cost was around £20 for two breakfasts, a macchiato and a lemonade – which for a good quality brunch, is beyond good value.
Service: We’ve read complaints online about slow service. If it’s busy, it may be slow, but it’s worth it. We found it fine. Order at the main counter before sitting, then your food comes to find you.