Darkhorse opened with a soft launch back in November. There are small plates (from £4), larger main courses (from around £11.50) and, for fans of brunch, a selection of things on toast such as the ubiquitous avocado and chilli, chestnut mushrooms and gorgonzola, and scrambled eggs and smoked salmon (from £3.50) – as well roasts (from around £16.50).
The chaps behind it are Hackney resident Lee Glen, a former head chef at Soho House on both sides of the Atlantic, and Ian Goodman who lives in Woodford and was the bar manager at the Oxo Tower for a whopping 19 years. We stopped by for a chat to find out more.
You describe Darkhorse as “a modern European restaurant and bar offering Italian- and Spanish-influenced food wrapped up in a British attitude”. What does that mean?
Lee: “Lots of British chefs, myself included, have a fascination with Spanish and Italian food. As I’ve gotten older, I just want to work with really nice produce, that’s what we mean by British attitude, letting the ingredients speak for themselves.”
Ian: “We don’t have a really ingrained traditional food culture in the UK, and part of the success of dining here is that people are open to trying different foods, so it’s about us delivering food in a way that the English like, keeping it authentic, simple and rustic.”
Lee: “Everything’s seasonal, we have a very good supplier in Bermondsey who gets a lot of stuff from this country, as well as fantastic produce from Spain and Italy. Our fishmonger is from Essex: at 6pm he’ll deliver fish that’s come off the boats earlier that day.”
You have a very impressive oven.
Ian: “It’s a Bertha charcoal one from Tooting. We chose it for a number of reasons. As well as taste and flavour it’s incredibly versatile, allowing us to cook ingredients at a very high temperature, and is particularly good for steak. Plus it’s run off charcoal, so you get that barbecued smoky flavour.”
What’s on offer for brunch?
Lee: “We’ve been testing the water. We’ve got a few egg dishes and we’ve also put a roast on, which we weren’t planning to do as we can’t do things like Yorkshire puddings in the Bertha, but we can cook a great roasted piece of meat.”
From your initial idea, how long was it before you first opened the doors?
Lee: “More than two years. Ian and I have known each other for around eighteen and when I sold my last business we started looking at sites. It was pretty much always going to be east London. We looked at Shoreditch but it got too expensive, then Hackney and Bethnal Green. We were bought to the Olympic Park by an agent and we were fifty-fifty initially but did a lot of research over a period of six months. Eventually we said: ‘we should do this.’”
Tell us about the industrial interior?
Lee “We both love Williamsburg. I lived in New York for two years and went back a couple of times during the process of setting up Darkhorse to see where things were going there and if the relaxed industrial look was starting to die, but it wasn’t. Putting distressed brick into a brand new, modern building, would have looked stupid, so we had to find a way of softening that. We had multiple Pinterest boards, which was great for focussing our ideas and showing other people what we wanted.”
Ian: “We eventually plan to open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. We’re working on events such as wine tasting and the retail side of things, so that you’ll be able to take home a bottle you’ve enjoyed with dinner and a takeaway menu too. And as soon as it’s warm enough we’ll have an outside terrace out front and offer a spritz menu. It’s south facing so will be lovely on a summer evening and both terrace and the bar will be dog-friendly.”
Woof! Not so much a dark horse, after all.