There’s a new host in town, in the form of Charlie Mellor with the opening of his wine bar and kitchen on Hackney Road. He could have been plucked from the order sheet for an archetypal ‘host’ of the medieval or Elizabethan era (big, bearded, jovial), needing just a leather apron and pewter tankards frothing in both hands to complete the look. Mellor has most recently been seen working the floor at Brawn and Primeur, as well as a previous stint as manager of Elliot’s in Borough Market. A booming classically trained operatic voice is a flourish that some may also have been privy to, on occasions at the end of service.
The Laughing Heart (named after a Charles Bukowski poem) has been a project long in the planning for Charlie, after a couple of pot holes and snags in the build-up were successfully negotiated, with chef Tom Anglesea at the helm in the kitchen. A first visit in their opening week revealed plenty to drag me back there swiftly….
The menu gads about like an itinerant nomad for influences, twitching impatiently between cod’s roe sprinkled with Japanese seasoning Furikake to chicken liver paté with a sliver of crisp skin; from excellent handmade tagliatelle with wild mushrooms to a single fat Isle of Mull scallop slathered in a punchy X.O. sauce that demands to be slurped from the shell.
Querying where the Coppa di Lazio charcuterie comes from (excellent cured shoulder, punchy, twanging with fatty depth) brings the response “suitcase Coppa”, brought back from a recent trip to Lazio. Contraband charcuterie. I like that. Line caught Cornish brill with Xiao Xing broth, sits alongside crudo of Cornish sea bass. Sod themes, this kind of schizophrenic menu has a cheeky skip in its step.
After 11pm the late night menu kicks in, a truncated version with some devious options that press the buttons at this time of night after a few scoops: The Laughing Heart ‘special fried rice’ is a welcome booze ‘soaker-upper’, spiked with shards of Chinese sweet bacon and charcuterie trim, chunks of Lap Cheong sausage, pak choi, gai lan and kale (all British grown), and a single fat char siu bao (bun made in-house) to soak up any excesses of cans of stingingly cold Tsing Tao. Only a couple of fat slabs of aged Dexter rib topped with a puck of butter and Serragghia capers (grown by Sicilian winemaker Gabrio Bini) don’t quite deliver the requisite honk of aged beef, more a whisper. This 9pm dinner effortlessly segues into 11.30pm supper (solo, no sharing nonsense tonight), and the growing fear of missing the last tube. A 1am kitchen close and a 2am bar, is the stuff that night buses and frantic sprints are made for. The tube is achieved. Just.
The wine list is a chuffing beauty: obsessively assembled by Charlie, it represents a distillation of many of the current stars of the ‘natural’and biodynamic wine world. The choice of Fred Savart’s ‘L’ouverture’ as the Champagne by the glass sets the stall out for a list full of flair and character. Lambrusco from Quarticello; a deep selection from Lazio’s Le Coste of 24 different wines and vintages; Loire superstars Richard Leroy and Jean-Pierre Robinot; texture laden skin contact wines from Friuli’s Radikon; regal Beaujolais from Yvone Metras, Foillard and Thevenet; Montepulciano luminary Emidio Pepe…tick, tick, tick – wine geeks will beat a path to Hackney for all of these. A stanza from John Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ prefaces the list, calling for ‘a draught of vintage’ – those Romantics, they knew how to neck.
The visit sees me take a sharp intake of breath when presented with the bill, seeing that I've breezed nonchalantly through to a check nuzzling £100 just for food, before realising that in an eagerness to try plenty, and the fact I’m having a merry time, I’ve taken down virtually the entire menu. Solo. Ah, that would be it then. Hat duly doffed to a menu that coos its spell at me like a siren.
The room is already humming with chefs and assorted restaurant industry in its first week, a thrum of goodwill from a crowd happy to have a late night option after a gruelling service.
Good juice being poured, wine shop downstairs, food until 1am – yeah, go on then. May even take the night bus next time.
“With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stainèd mouth,
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim.”
– John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale (1819)
Dinner dishes ordered:
Rocky Creek oyster with Serragghia vinegar – 2.50
Cod’s Roe, Furikake, Crudité – 6
Coppa di Lazio – 7.5
Crudo of Cornish Sea Bass – 15
Chicken liver paté, Williams Pear – 7
Isle of Mull Scallop, X.O. – 11
Wild mushroom tagliatelle – 15
Aged Dexter rib, Serragghia capers – 16
Greens – 6
Late night dishes ordered:
The Laughing Heart’s Special Fried Rice – 8
Char Siu Bao – 3
The Folkestone Wine Company
The Fordwich Arms
Where The Light Gets In
The Mash Inn
Grand Trunk Road
The Laughing Heart
German Doner Kebab
Black Axe Mangal
House of Ho
One Leicester St
Duck & Waffle
10 Greek Street
Capote Y Toros
Pollen St Social