A buoyant café culture is emerging in some of Hackney’s poorest areas as trendy new eateries open up amongst council estates. Ex-fat cats, musicians and hipsters are moving in to take advantage of cheaper rents and a fresh cultural perspective away from hotspots like Hoxton and Shoreditch.
Nestled in between a run-down off licence and a betting shop in deepest, darkest Hackney is Haggerston Tea Room.
The charming venue is the baby of ex-City boy, James Skinner, who traded commodity broking for tea bags in the adventurous business move at the end of last year.
Skinner, 22, quit his job as a high-earning trader at First Rate FX in Canary Wharf to open a classy tearoom amidst Haggerston’s poorest council estates. “I worked in the city for a while and I realised it just wasn’t for me,” he says. “I couldn’t imagine doing that for the rest of my life and my true passion is tea — and its rich cultural history.”
The tearoom on Haggerston Road has only been open a few months but self-confessed tea fanatic Skinner has already noticed repeat customers: “I know the area has had its troubles — I mean, it’s no Chelsea — but it’s been neglected for so long and people forget it’s only ten minutes from the City. We really have got the location right.”
With the regeneration of many estates underway, Skinner and his team believe that they are the first in a long line of new businesses to open in Haggerston. Kit Grill, a 24-year old freelance graphic designer who works part-time in the tea room says: “An expensive brand new development will be ready right across the road in August which will attract people with money; the area is in serious demand right now.”
Skinner, who vows that his tearoom will not follow in the footsteps of the “pretentious” Broadway Market, adds: “A lot of locals have popped in to show their support. I think it gives them confidence in the area and everyone should feel welcome.”
And the locals seem supportive of Skinner’ venture. Nilesh Kalawadia, who works in the off-license next door says: “The tearoom is a great idea, this area needs change.”
Travel further north and you’ll find the Pacific Social Club, located opposite the notorious Pembury Estate on Clarence Road. Owner Liam Casey and his business partner
Nicolas Goff, both bar managers by trade, opened the cafe at the end of June last year, just weeks before the riots kicked off down the street.
“The idea of a fancy coffee shop in Clapton seemed laughable at the time and the locals were quite bemused at first. They didn’t understand why we would want to move here,” says 30-year-old Casey. “The street’s got a bad reputation but we’ve never had any problems or felt out of place. The riots were a bit of a wake-up call I suppose but they happened all over London, even in nice, ‘respectable’ areas.”
With its walls covered in vinyls and band posters, and an expensive-looking coffee machine towering with assorted crockery, the Club wouldn’t look out of place in Dalston or Hoxton but Casey says that Clarence Road was exactly where they wanted to be.
“We always liked the shape of the street. It had a nice, busy vibe. Unlike Dalston, which has gone too far [towards uber-stylishness], Hackney Central and Clapton still have a real mix of people. We didn’t want the cafe to be full of hipsters. Plus the rent’s half the price, which helps!”
Casey, who has lived in the area for 10 years, says he wanted to create a place that his friends would want to come to. “There wasn’t really anywhere for us to go and hang out before we opened the Club. We tried to create somewhere chilled where people could come and relax rather than sit on their laptops and mobile phones – more of a social club than a coffee shop.”
The cafe’s menu of coffees, Nigerian soft drinks, “exotic” sandwiches and cakes seems to reflect the clientele who, aged around 25-40, are a mixed bunch.
“I’m pretty happy with the crowd we get in here,” says Casey. “It’s pretty mixed and there’s enough of the local population too. No one seems to be intimidated by us.”
A hop, skip and a jump away on Chatsworth Road, Stephen Richard, owner of crepe-house Creperie du Monde, tells a different story.
“We get a good mix of people in here but I’m a bit disappointed by some reactions,” says the former musician turned chef. “I think some people look at us and think it’s not something they know or understand.”
The restaurant, which hosts a monthly art gallery in its downstairs seating area, draws an arty crowd with customers hailing from all corners of the globe. With its eclectic interior design and mix of new and vintage furniture the restaurant wouldn’t look out of place in downtown Brooklyn and seems rather the odd-shop-out on the street.
Hackney-born Richard, who has done a lot of travelling, says he chose the location deliberately for its international feel.
“I was walking down Chatsworth Road one day and it reminded me a bit of when I used to live in Brooklyn. There’s something extra here and it’s close to parks which meant there would be a lot of families in the area too. I looked around a lot in Shoreditch too but it’s not really a family-orientated place.”
Richard decided to turn his hand to crepe-making after his wife Mami, gave birth to the couple’s first child and he realised that music wasn’t going to feed his new family.
“I first went out on the streets of Shoreditch in 2005, selling crepes from my trailer, Mr Crepe. I’ve never had any professional training but my parents had a Caribbean restaurant in Hackney when I was younger and I’ve always done a lot of cooking.”
Creperie du Monde, which offers crepes with a range of healthy and “naughty” fillings, opened five years later on 11 September “to make the day better again”.
Richard says he wanted show local “minority race people” that they could move forward and not restrict themselves to running barber shops and hairdressers.
He adds: “Our community keep opening the same kinds of shops and I want them to realise that we can do anything we want to. Creperie du Monde is quite unique, we’re always expanding, we’re not going to stand still.”
So are we to see the likes of Clapton and Haggerston going the way of trendy Shoreditch, Hoxton and Dalston?
Casey hopes not: “I suppose there is an emerging ‘cafe culture’ here, as much as I hate that phrase. I don’t see Clapton exploding in the same way as Dalston and Shoreditch – I think the number of housing estates here will stop that happening. But who knows? Maybe in a few years we’ll see Leyton being described as the ‘new Clapton’.”