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Rating your brunch: The Russet

Saturday 12 April 2014

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Words Darren Skene

Tucked between Hackney Downs and Stoke Newington, The Russet has everything going for it, and the brunch was some of the best I’ve eaten in Hackney, but the service just does not do it justice.

The Russet isn’t a wanna-be Scandinavian dream of minimalist crockery, decaf flat whites and menu items I literally cannot pronounce but have something to do with rabbit pâté and Aperol jus. Nor is it a faux-Diner or street food Bacchanal in a disused pool hall with wristbands and a constant screening of Twin Peaks on the ceiling. As far as Hackney goes, The Russet is gimmick-free and I am all the more endeared to it because of that. My issue is it feels like Hackney circa 2005, and it’s never caught up.

Without making this sound like the script to a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode, the service I experienced over the weekend at The Russet was a farce. Every point of contact- from the menus to orders to paying- was messed up, and it took 40 minutes for us just to get a tea and an apple juice.

In total contrast, the food was ace. Hearty, spruced-up breakfasts you couldn’t make at home and every component done to perfection. Brunch isn’t brain surgery, but if it’s done right it’s the best open bracket to the weekend you can buy. When my waiter was at my table, he was great, and explained exactly how to veganise the Veggie Pippin breakfast (take away the fried egg, add some amazing avocado salsa) and everything was delicious. E5 Bakery sourdough bread teamed with perfectly-done veggie sausages and tomatoes. Homemade baked beans that were a total revelation, looking pretty Heinz-y from a distance but spicy and warming and moreish the minute you’ve tasted them. I barely looked up from my plate as I dived into the mound of bubble and squeak- crushed new potatoes with the skins still on and left in tact to divide between beans, tomato and smothering on to sourdough.

My boyfriend’s breakfast ciabatta of cheese, sausage and caramalised red onions lasted all of three minutes, holding together well as he wolfed it down and the perfect combination of strong, sweet red onion tang, sausage and plenty of cheddar cheese.

Gimmick-free and seemingly straight-talking, I really wanted to love The Russet, but there are plenty of Turkish cafes nearby where you can get a sharper, more efficient service at no extra price, and you’d be able to relax, knowing it won’t be a 40 minute wait for drinks, let alone food. I’m not sure why the counter and table service are both in operation, but I’d happily order pub-style at the counter with a table number instead of spending 90 minutes trying to manifest my presence into a waiter’s eye-line. I left stressed and feeling bad for the staff, the total opposite of how anyone wants to feel after paying for a meal. The Russet has something, but with a few tweaks it could have a lot more.

Words: Ava Szajna-Hopgood