There’s a bench outside E-8te Towers that pretty much sums up the contrasts of living on Kingsland Road. During the week a tramp calls it his home, happily dozing and rising occasionally to urinate barefooted into our bins. But come the weekend he vanishes and it becomes one of the prime hangout spots on what we’ve started calling the Dalston Promenade.
The Dalston Promenade. It’s effectively a grungier version of somewhere like the Croisette in Cannes. But without the sea. Or the hotel terraces where a gin and tonic will set you back €35. Or the tiny, annoying lap dogs carried by overdressed women who don’t really look like they’ve ever had to do a day’s work in their life.
What you do get every warm evening is a parade of beautiful young people who all look like they are on their way to a photo-shoot for ASOS or Topshop in three years’ time. In recent months, loads of these people – who manage to simultaneously make me both happy and depressed that I can’t even kid myself that I’m even a bit young or interesting anymore – have migrated from their usual habitats on the pavement outside The Haggerston or on the aforementioned bench, to a different, fairly anonymous bit of pavement outside a similarly anonymous shopfront a bit up the road.
This is Power Lunches, an odd café/music-space hybrid that seems to be inexplicably packed every evening (it’s probably only inexplicable because I have never ever heard of any of the bands playing in the downstairs music space). Despite this, it never seems very busy during the day, when it operates as a straight up café. And indeed it is almost completely empty when we went inside one muggy Monday afternoon a couple of weeks ago.
When we go to order, it becomes apparent why the cafe doesn’t seem to enjoy the same daytime success as it does come nightfall. When the place first opened, boards outside proudly proclaimed several different homemade soups each day, plus other delights such as pies and the like. Lovely I thought as I passed; this is the exactly the sort of place you probably need when you’re a freelancer, the sort of place where you can pop in between graphic design projects to fill up before returning to your beloved MacBook Pro.
But when we look at the boards, all these delights seem to have disappeared, replaced by a selection of five pretty generic sounding sandwiches and toasties, and a salad bar that wouldn’t get much of an excited response if you found it in a Harvester. Then, when we go to order, we discover – joy of joys – that the guy working “hasn’t had his bread delivery yet today (it’s 2.30pm at this point!) so basically all the sandwiches are off as well.
Great. So salad it is. Alongside a mozzarella and ham toastie that I manage to convince him to make in a wrap.
But first, a totally average cup of coffee and green tea.
Then came the food. My wrap didn’t have any ham in it. Just cheese and some leaves. It tasted like something you’d be forced to make when you come back from a long weekend away and are really hungry but there isn’t really anything left in your fridge. Not bad – just completely unexciting. I felt bad for the guy behind the counter, partly because of his haircut and partly because by this point, the only other customers were a pair of slightly terrifying Turkish men who gave off the air of maybe being gangsters and were spending their time barking at him to bring them food he didn’t have so I didn’t say anything about the missing meat.
The salad was equally uninspiring. Just a salad. A collection of leaves and a bit of ricotta that wasn’t even dressed (although the balsamic vinegar he offered us was actually very good indeed).
So here’s the problem. In becoming a popular music venue, Power Lunches seems to have forgotten what it was supposed to do in the first place. As if to underline the point, the second half of our lunch was soundtracked by a terrible sounding punk band practicing for their gig later that evening – which was of course packed to the rafters