‘No, it has absolutely nothing to do with it,’ says the nice man leaning over to pour our rosé when we ask him if Trade, the cool new branch of the iconic Commercial Street restaurant on east London’s Essex Road, has anything to do with the notorious 90s nightclub. ‘I don’t think the owners are even aware of that,’ he adds, with a laugh. And it’s hard to see a connection… except that a high proportion of tonight’s diners seem to be gay, that is. But none of them off their heads.
Go past the retro-café windows with the gold leaf ‘Trade’ on them, and you’re into an appropriately cool space… well, these are the Hackney/Islington borders, where standards are high. Walls are a bang-on-trend pale grey/recovered wood combo, while furniture is either Formica-top tables with vintage leather seats or hunk-of-wood table and benches, with big flowers for a pop and classic diner cruet. It’s a set-up that works for brunchy-breakfasts or for romantic dinners-à-deux. Clever.
For the brunchy part of things, the smart/basic theme is continued and you can do a hot breakfast roll variously filled with bacon, egg, cheese, sausage… or avocado and crispy chilli. Almond and coconut bircher muesli, egg on toast or char sui pork belly with cornbread and pickles. Sandwiches go from chicken and bacon club to a vegan ‘mushrooben’ or peanut pork. All this with single-origin coffees that are part of the destination appeal of the place.
But we’re here for dinner. Vegan dinner at that. So we’re passing up on their trademark truffle cheese puffs in favour of sweet potato hummus, dukkah and pitta chips, which is not a bad swap-out, it must be said. Then instead of the Cornish squid and the pork belly and the shredded confit duck, we go for the environment-saving grilled hispi cabbage with lentil vierge (a warm and delicious salad affair) and the smoked celeriac, oat beurre blanc with wild garlic capers and Swiss chard, the tastiness of which belies its proper healthiness. Makes us feel better about that rosé.
It’s places like Trade that make you think how out of touch those elderly Americans who scoff at how bad British food is, when the last time they came was just after the war. Not any more, people. When a reasonably-priced and gorgeously but humbly done-out little place like this on a regular east London street can turn out food – with super-friendly service! – at this level, well, you know you’re in the gastronomic capital of the world.
330 Essex Road, London N1, trade-made.co.uk