437 Hackney Road London E2 8PP www.mamashelter.com
For food as noteworthy as the eclectic decor, head out east
A festival for the eyes is one way of describing this spot: there’s something striking and interesting to look at in every direction, ranging from an array of colourful trinkets and vases, to artefacts, books, and animal figurines.
It’s the first outpost in the capital for the hotel mini-chain, bringing the total number to eleven across three continents (with one more on the way).
Founded just over a decade ago by the Trigano family, the brand is known for its cutting-edge style. Here Parisian designers Dion and Arles were charged with creating a homely yet modern look for the Hackney-based site.
Inside, a capacious eatery is attached to the hotel. Decked out with a graffiti-covered chalkboard ceiling by artist Beniloys, the room also houses an eye-catching mixture of statement lighting, with everything from patterned shades complete with tassels, to flamingo lamps and oversized pieces hanging from the ceiling.
Continuing that theme, the seating is suitably assorted: a collection of high tops, velvety banquettes strewn with cushions, comfy sofas, wooden benches and dinky stools are strategically placed, inviting diners to pull up a pew.
Despite its size, the space is warm and welcoming, with an open kitchen and a small stage at one end.
Oh, and whilst we’re on the subject of music, for those fancying a sing song after their meal can head downstairs to the karaoke area.
There’s a bar in the restaurant and another in the veranda Ã¢â‚¬â€œ take your pick depending on the weather and start with a cocktail.
Options include their spirited and fizzed Tom Thumb (roast plum, cognac, and sparkling wine) and the signature Cough Drop (Copper Dog whisky, ginger, lemon, chamomile, and honey).
The broad menu spans the globe and is far-reaching in its appeal, with truffle ricotta pizza, paneer tikka kebab, tuna crudo, and jerk-seasoned burger featuring.
We’re just as diverse in our choices, ordering items hailing from China, India, and the good old East End of London.
Ripping into a round of rosemary and sea salt focaccia, we admire the pretty crockery adorned with the wording’Mama loves you’, and sip on a glass of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, recommend by our amiable and helpful server.
Shortly after, our starters and mains all arrive at once (it’s not clear whether that’s by design or slightly misjudged timings), and we dig in.
A pair of fluffy baos are filled with chunks of tender pork belly coated in sweet and sticky char siu sauce; balance is achieved by a sprinkle of herbs, slithers of radish, and pickled ginger sprouts.
Cauliflower and potato samosas are equally flavourful Ã¢â‚¬â€œ filled to bursting with well-spiced veg, they’re complemented by a tangy date and tamarind dip.
Standout entrÃƒÂ©e is the pie: a crown of buttery yet light puff pastry Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the pillowy layers evident as we break through with a knife Ã¢â‚¬â€œ gives way to braised shoulder of lamb that falls apart in shreds.
Served with a generous portion of silky and moreish mash drizzled with parsley oil and a pot of satiny smoked eel gravy, the three components form a traditional yet refined plate of food.
For dessert, we go for a comforting (and huge) bowl of cinnamon rice pudding, dotted with pieces of just-cooked caramelised apple for texture. An indulgent finale Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and surprisingly, it’s dairy-free.
Our second pud is somewhat lighter, though no less satisfying: a tropical creation combining slices of roasted pineapple, smooth coconut sorbet, lime, and mint.
As we leave, we ponder checking into one of the 194 pet-friendly bedrooms. Starting at just shy of £100 a night, it’s a very reasonable price tag considering the chic yet fun vibe throughout.