Gannets get a little peckish around 11am, so I was very pleased to discover during my recent séjour in Stockholm that the Swedes feel similar pangs. They even have a word to describe it: fika, the agreeable habit of stopping work for a coffee and a little something, the most traditional of which is a cinnamon bun. It is a delicious snack, too, especially if you try one made at Fabrique, an artisanal bakery in Södermalm. If you’re lucky, it will be still warm from the oven, oozing butter and spice.
I am pleased to report, however, that an authentic fika may be enjoyed much closer to home – in Hoxton, in fact, where Fabrique (second picture) has opened a splendid little café and bakery under a railway arch. Homesick Swedes and stray City workers flock there for splendid pastries and sourdough breads. As do Shoreditch hipsters, although they are far too eclectic to do anything as corporate as flock.
Another of their favourite hangouts is Margot Henderson and Melanie Arnold’s terrific Rochelle Canteen (third picture), housed in the converted bike sheds of an old school. The kitchen spends much of its time preparing food for a thriving outside catering business – Arnold & Henderson – but they are open for weekday daytime meals. I enjoyed a wonderfully unctuous slow-cooked leg of mutton the last time I went, with a side of braised fennel and shallots, its richness balanced by a green sauce sharpened with capers.
On the other side of Shoreditch High Street, the newly opened Merchants Tavern (first picture) looks like becoming another den for the double-denimed. It has quite a pedigree: the owners are chef and restaurateur Angela Hartnett, chef Neil Borthwick, formerly of The Square and Michel Bras, and two founders of Canteen, Dominic Lake and Patrick Clayton Malone. Thomas Blythe, erstwhile GM of St John and Fino, is front of house.
Start at the beautiful bar with a martini, or finish there with an Old Street Fashioned cocktail. The food (Borthwick is head chef) in the high-ceilinged dining room is excellent. Scallops are served with crushed pumpkin, sautéed trompettes de la mort and a nutty pumpkin-seed pesto; quail features a perfectly cooked lozenge of foie gras and hazelnut pesto; and brill thoroughly lives up to its name, partnered by silky coco beans, anchovies and bread sauce.
The wine list is a work in progress, but bottles of Gavi and Barbera d’Asti suited the food admirably. And Borthwick has a fine feel for autumnal ingredients – I look forward to tasting his interpretations of the other three seasons.