One of the top-voted one-liners of the Edinburgh Fringe was: “Jesus fed 5,000 people with two fishes and a loaf of bread. That’s not a miracle. That’s tapas.”
But nothing could persuade this Londoner, recently returned from Andalucia where piles of crispy whitebait and oil-drenched chorizo are conjured up just as companions for your cerveza that tapas is not heaven sent.
Poco is the newest arrival on Broadway Market, where it replaces bike shop Lock 7 (they have upsized over the canal). So far, so Hackney. But this little place, offering tapas inspired by Spanish and Latin American cuisine and trialled and perfected in Bristol, has something special.
That would be Tom Hunt, the ‘eco-chef’ gaining a rep for his conscientious cooking, for how many restaurant websites do you know with an ‘ethics’ section? Like a proud parent in the Christmas round-robin, his menu reels off its credentials: 100 per cent seasonal, organic, sustainable, all fresh produce sourced within 50-100 miles of the restaurant. It’s right-on right down to the ‘non-mafia’ certified Sicilian wine.
We sit at a smart wooden table where only a few months previously I had stood bartering over the cost of a bike service, and order a carafe of red with help from our smiley waiter.
A tasty beetroot puree arrives, decorated with beetroot leaf crisps and served with crunchy crispbread (E5 bakehouse), swiftly followed by rich merguez sausages with spoons of earthy puy lentils and burnt shallots draped on top.
The corn fritters with English chillies were slightly dry but, embracing the spirit of non-wastefulness, became great dunking tools for the beetroot dip.
Throughout, the quality of the ingredients is stark – but the lamb neck, served rosy pink with anchovies, caperberries and Swiss chard is the hands – down highlight.
We panic-bought a couple of beautiful Mersea oysters, thinking we would still be hungry, but then got blindsided by the arrival of the punched potatoes, served with lashings of garlic, rosemary and an alioli.
Tom Hunt emerges from the kitchen decked in his apron and, after receiving instruction from the pudding pedagogue himself, it would have been rude not to order both the desserts he recommended. On paper it sounded a bit adventurous for your average churros aficionado but the Peruvian goat’s milk chocolate pot, with caramelised beetroot ran away with all the prizes.
There is a thin and often ill-trodden line between tapas and its in vogue cousin the ‘small plate’. At around £40 a head (factoring in non-mafia wine and oysters) this might be no place to drop-in for alcohol-sponge appetisers but you pay gladly for the quality, and the knowledge that the ingredients’ journey to Poco’s plates hasn’t cost the earth.
129a Pritchard’s Road, E2 9AP