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Restaurant review: Market Caf, London E8

13 May 2012

2 Broadway Market, London E8 (020 7249 9070). Meal for two, including wine and service, £80

Every restaurant in Hackney serves breakfast. It's the law. They just have to, because without it the vanguard of our creative industries would have nowhere to go to eat off their negroni-induced hangovers. The fonts on our magazine spreads would be gauche. The copywriting on our adverts would be shamefully free of achingly clever neologisms. Our chairs would be overly functional, our websites eye-rollingly banal. And all for the sake of some joint serving a reasonable eggs Benedict or a really bad version of huevos rancheros made by someone who's never been to LA but read about it once in an old copy of Arena in a dentist's waiting room.

That's just what Hackney is like. Normally I don't have to go there, because I live in Brixton. If you live in one you don't ever have to visit the other. That's also the law. Then again I do like to serve.

Getting into a black cab from King's Cross I asked for Broadway Market and the driver said: "Yeah, that figures." I asked him what he meant. "Well, you're trendy, aren't you?" This was thrilling. I haven't been called trendy since my ill-advised Flock of Seagulls haircut in 1982, when I slightly overdid it with the home peroxide kit. Then again, I don't think the driver meant it as a compliment. Actually, come to think of it, trendy wasn't meant as a compliment in 1982 either. Though the whole pointing and laughing thing was uncalled for.

Happily nobody pointed and laughed at the Market Café, possibly because the staff is all trendier than I am. It was set up by Hugo Warner, formerly the "ugo" bit of the sandwich chain Benugo, which he left a few years ago. It's a big, echoey, re-engineered pubby space with wooden floorboards, Formica-topped tables and a daytime clientele of new mothers with startled expressions on their faces clinging to each other for safety. They serve breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. And a few things in between. They serve everything, in a vaguely Italian-meets-Britain sort of way. So devilled kidneys on toast sit very happily alongside pecorino salads or a plate of coppa.

There is nothing radical about any of this. A restaurant that looks like Market Café, staffed by people who are trendier than you serving food off a menu which reads like this one could have been launched at any time in the past decade and a half. There is one major difference, though. Ten years ago it would have been rubbish, every dish a clumsy approximation of what they had promised. It would have been the kind of place you would only ever have visited for breakfast when your hangover cried out for hot fat and carbs.

Most of what we ate was far better than OK. Those devilled kidneys were pert and soft and proper pink at the centre and came with a spiky sauce and a thick piece of sourdough toast. A truffled rarebit may have been light on the truffle bit, but the rarebit bit was all cheese and mustard and punch. A squid salad with fat garden peas and rocket was sprightly and, like me, fresh and well dressed. There were thick slices of chargrilled lamb with salsa verde and roasted carrots, and a plate of their own tagliatelle with a sauce of sausagemeat and Parma ham that spoke of long, slow cooking. The menu makes much of the hand cutting of the tagliatelle. To be honest they may want to go back to getting a machine to do it. It was not the most glorious moment in the history of pasta, but the sauce made up for it. £12 brought a portion so big you could camp in it.

Desserts were less successful. An Amalfi lemon sorbet had none of the fragrance I associate with the promise of that word. It was also served inside a hollowed-out lemon, which is retro in a bad way. A rhubarb trifle was a bit of a churned-up mess. Still, they have cakes on the counter which may be a better bet. There are good wines by the glass, and a gentle buzz of people being well fed. It is, as ever, the quality of a place like this, set up less as a destination than a neighbourhood joint, which gives cause for optimism. Things are looking up. Hell, I might even go back for breakfast.

Email Jay at jay.rayner@observer.co.uk or visit guardian.co.uk/profile/jayrayner for all his reviews in one place

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012

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