Counter Cafe.

Yesterday, I awoke at dawn.  I hopped gently out of bed at 6am sharp, being careful not to wake the pair of rock’n’roll cats I’d been snuggled up with in the night. It’s probably worth clarifying for Garry’s benefit that I am referring to a pair of actual felines called Joey & Dee Dee –  and not a couple of stray indie boys.  Unusually, I was bathed, clothed and ready to greet the day wearing a full face of make-up by 7.30am.  London is doing something funny to me.  It’s not unheard of for London to make my feet swell up, to turn my boogers black, to give me spots or to make my arms come out in a weird itch – but until now, I’ve never known it to turn me into a super-productive early riser.

Since I’d jumped ahead of myself by a fair few hours, I spent the earliest part of the morning in front of the computer.  I typed some notes, I played on Facebook, I wrote the majority of a blog post and I spent some quality time staring out of the window.  Eventually, the gurgling of my tummy drowned out my thoughts and I decided to go outside in search of breakfast.

I say ‘in search of’ breakfast.  That’s a lie, really.  I was looking to buy some food, yes, but I didn’t have to search for it.  I knew exactly where to find breakfast in this neck of the woods.  Excited, I practically skipped the stones throw from my gate to Stour Space.  Stour Space is a multi-functional, community arts & creative space in Hackney Wick.  Not only is that pretty great, but Stour Space is also now home to one of the best flippin’ cafes around!  I arrived there in mere seconds. I bounced into the Counter Cafe area and was greeted by a smiley faced girl with reddish hair.  She might have been Australian – but I’m not really sure.  From behind her makeshift bar, she asked what I’d like.  I knew without even looking at the blackboard menu thing.  “I’ll have the Big Veggie Breakfast, please”… “And I’d like a Bundaberg ginger beer too”.  Easy.  I asked the redheaded girl if I could have my Big Veggie Breakfast without mushrooms.  She didn’t seem to think that taking the mushrooms off my order would pose much of a problem for anyone concerned and I was relieved.  Relieved because a) I really dislike the taste and texture of mushrooms and b) I have convinced myself (thanks to some added scaremongering by my father) that I have a hernia and that it’s aggravated by mushrooms.  Then, like twinkly, plinky, fairy music to my ears, the girl asked, “Would you like me to replace the mushrooms with more of something else?  More tomatoes and spinach, maybe?  Or some more butter beans?”  I was thrilled that I was allowed to replace my mushrooms and I was excited that I might end up with more of either of these delicious breakfast components, but then, THEN she says, “Or, I could give you an avocado?” at which point I whooped aloud, hopped a little bit and then (as if she hadn’t already fathomed by my whooping and hopping that I thought avocado a suitable substitute and a jolly good idea), said, “Oooo!  Yes please!” like some kid on a shitty US advertisement for syrup.  I paid my way and the girl handed my obligatory plank of wood with my table number painted on it.  I carried it upstairs, all the while hoping there might be a seat for me by the window looking out over onto the canal.  I hoped that maybe those lovely old teal leather cinema/lecture hall seats might be free.

I reached the top of the stairs and scanned around the room.  There weren’t any seats free next to the window.  And a blonde family with screaming children and kind of annoying/kind of sweet foreign sing-songy accents had seemingly taken root on the old lecture hall benches.  Never mind.

I took a seat at the opposite side of the space – away from the barefooted children and the weird looking dog.  I pulled out my book, my camera and my phone.  I sent my mother a text to tell her how happy I was and to tell her that the weather in London was warm and sunny-ish.  Her reply?  “Enjoy it while you can” – which I thought sounded vaguely threatening – as if she knew something I didn’t.  A big tall man came with my breakfast plate.  I thanked him – then promptly dismissed my concerns that my mother might be trying to have me killed and tucked into the meal I’d been dreaming of since I got on the train in Glasgow last Wednesday…

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I must, must, must try my hand at making my own version of the Counter Cafe Big Brekkie when I get home.


£8.50 well spent.  I am on holiday – and I will spend the leccie bill money on eggs if I like.

1.  Scrambled egg and toast:  The toast is always brown and grainy – and just the right amount of buttery.  The right amount of buttery is crucially important.  I remember one time, years ago, a boy I really liked made me tea and toast.  He handed me a plate of unevenly cooked bread with lumps of unmelted butter on.  I knew then that he was NOT the guy for me. I’m supposing the bread in my Big Brekkie has been baked nearby.  I’m not sure why, but the scrambled eggs are always very orange in colour.  Would an organic egg be any more orange than a normal free-range one for some reason?  I do not know.  What I do know is that the chef makes the eggs turn soft – not soggy, orange – not yellow – and they taste a lot like egg-in-a-cup.  There’s a sweetness to the scrambled eggs that I can’t explain. I wish I could.

2.  Potato cake:  Having discussed with Ian Schnapps, just the other day, how difficult it is to successfully fry mashed potato then dish up the perfect potato cake without it disintegrating into one big potatoey mess between pan and plate, I paid particular attention to my Counter Cafe potato cake.  I was looking for tips. It was herby.  And fluffy. And whole.  I ate every bite with a dollop of homemade tomato relish.

3.  Beans: In the Big Brekkie, boring old baked beans are replaced with a light but super tasty mixture of butter beans and fresh tomato sauce.  This is fast becoming my favourite part of the dish – and the bit I am absolutely sure I could convincingly rustle up at home.

4.  Fresh tomatoes and baby spinach leaves:  I was a little uncertain how I felt about the spinach in my breakfast at first. I’ve never been a fan of fancy Eggs Benedict dishes (or eggs whatever it is that has spinach in it). I’m not uncertain now – ’tis a genius (not to mention super healthy) little addition to the Big Brekkie. For some reason though I always end up eating it last – and I end up with big forkfuls of green.  Really I ought to combine it with other stuff.

5.  Avocado:  Just like it sounds, really.  As a last minute substitute for mushrooms, my avocado arrived on the plate in cute, thinly sliced avocado shaped pieces. I’m not really sure how they did that now I think it through.  It hadn’t been phaffed with.  It was just a rerr, tasty bunch of avocado, hanging out on my plate – minding it’s own business.  Until I ate it.


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