Turning off from the hubbub of Kingsland Road onto the quieter Dalston Lane, a more tranquil side of the area emerges.
Nestled away in an unassuming parade of shops is the white façade of The Picklery, a self proclaimed tiny restaurant, wine-bar and fermenting workshop; a lot to cram into such a modest space.
Step inside a world of tangy wonders
Once inside, the decor too is subdued and yet quietly bubbling with style, like the numerous jars filled with pickling delicacies that line the shelves on one wall alongside wines and other paraphernalia, edible or otherwise.
The colours are soft, the furniture is wooden, and if you time your entry right, this humble background image lets the vivid yellows and reds of the pickled foods being served from across the room burst out.
Taking a seat at the stone counter island, beneath the dim lighting and once a menu is laying in front of you, the impression that you’re experiencing something quite special starts to form.
Drinking vinegar, a definite first for us
Beside the kombucha and wine on the drinks menu was drinking vinegar, two words I had never seen placed together before. I was curious and the waitress effervesced with enthusiasm to describe it to me.
It gave the rare feeling of having participated in a trend before the bubble had burst. As if just kombucha were too obvious for a restaurant underpinned by pickled produce, a dash of vinegar spritzed with flavoured sparkling water takes its place.
I was in part drawn by the novelty and part by a masochistic drive to bravely endure what I had imagined would be a mouthful of a peculiar liquid reeking of corked wine.
This was not what arrived, but a gently fizzing tumbler with only a slightly sharp aroma, and flavour which was strong yet not overpowering, offset by the fruity sweetness of the sparkling water.
It certainly set the tone for the rest of the evening. Everything we ate and drank that night was robust in flavour but so elegantly balanced as to be almost like music; with each wave of flavour gliding into the next like verses.
The food: an effective lesson in simplicity and balance
The simpler dishes we started with, bread and butter and a plate of various pickles and ferments, were a lesson in the effectiveness of simplicity and balance.
Bread which was soft yet chewy, sourdough of course, with creamy, light butter, and then an assortment of pickled vegetables which retained their flavour but were accompanied by the bite of vinegar or slight sourness or fermentation.
Any reservations I had about the centrepiece of my dinner being a tomato were swept away with the first mouthful, as one burst of complex flavours gave way to the next, each as distinct as the red, white and green of the tomato, mint and labneh arranged on the plate.
The post-main debate followed, concerning whether a dessert was in order. We decided it was and were vindicated when the rhubarb pie and stem ginger ice cream arrived.
I’m usually indifferent to ice cream, but the sweetness and creaminess of it cut by the slight spice of the ginger in combination with the warmth and richness of the rhubarb pie meant it was a superb ending to the meal, with the same subtlety as everything that came before.
Great service with a delicate touch
The waiting staff likewise had a delicate touch, not once imposing yet stepping in when a question was asked or a recommendation to be made, and brimming with excitement at what was on offer, it seemed.
It felt as though this stemmed from the layout, with the chefs across the stony surface of the central island on a level with us, merging into the crowd of diners; an à la carte dinner party.
The peculiarity of almost every aspect, even the toilet had a surprising decor reminiscent of a rustic harvest festival, left the corners of my mouth curling upwards at the novelty and expert execution of it all.
Pickles: a delicacy that is also good for your gut
Another added bonus to eating at the Picklery, with a clue in the name, is the array of examples of beautiful preparations of pickled food.
With sourdough bread and kombucha leading the pack, it is slowly becoming common knowledge that ferments and pickles, aside from the touch of acidity and tang that they add to meals, bring with them a plethora of health benefits.
They hold huge concentrations of minerals and vitamins, such as dill pickles, with just one containing 20% of the daily requirement of Vitamin K which helps with strong bones and healthy blood. The (good) bacteria present in fermented foods also ease digestion and nourish the gut biome, while being rich in antioxidants.
Our final words on Little Duck The Picklery…
All this simply serves to illustrate that if you’re not persuaded to visit the picklery to sample the food, the inspiration it may furnish you with to prepare your own pickles or at least eat more of them is of enormous value in itself.
As you leave the cosy ambience of the restaurant, your stomach satisfied and full of pickled foods, you will no doubt notice the lightness that is often absent after having your fill in a restaurant; just one of the benefits.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is simply your pockets being considerably lighter, as it must be noted that the fare on offer atThe Picklery is not cheap, with a meal for two likely costing around £100 depending on your level of indulgence, and it is hard not to indulge here.
What’s more, as the menu changes on a weekly basis, you may find yourself tempted to return very soon.
The dishes are small but if your attitude is anything like mine this can be shrugged off as a benefit: it merely means you can try even more of the menu.
As a final word, visiting The Picklery would be doing your stomach and taste-buds a favour. The restaurant is entirely charming and one of the rare occasions when it feels like your money is well spent.
To book your table at Little Duck The Picklery, please visit:
Address: Little Duck The Picklery, Dalston Lane Terrace, Hackney, London, E8 1FE
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