The best thing about being a freelancer is the ability to drop everything on a sunny day and decamp to the pub for a long lazy lunch with an equally footloose fancy-free friend. And that's precisely what I did one day last week for a much overdue catch up over some morsels of deliciousness at the lovely Empress just off Hackney's Victoria Park.
With a menu boasting gems like Soft Shell Crab Tempura, Snails & Bone Marrow and Goat's Cheese and Sobrasada with Heritage Carrots, I knew The Empress was going to be right up my street. I used to pass it regularly when I lived East as it was on my bus route, but this time I'd walked most of the way down from Archway so couldn't wait to get stuck in. I had little Leo with me and he wolfed down an impressive portion of non-battered kids fish and chips as we sipped Aperol Spritzes and contemplated how we could possibly order the entire menu, then once he was fully zonked, we basically did.
We opted for most of the starters in order to maximise the number of dishes we could squeeze in, and tucked straight in to the Pigs Ears and Whitebait (top left and right respectively). They were both huge portions for their £5ish pricetag and both were cooked nicely. The sauces perhaps lacked a bit of a punch for both considering that deep fried salty things can take quite a hit. Lets look at those Pigs Ears more closely:
They were far less salty and brazenly heart-attack-like than the usual fancy pub pork scratchings, with more of a collagen-esque plus crunch texture and a more discernible pork flavour. With meat supplied from their neighbour Ginger Pig opposite, this isn't too surprising.
Padron peppers up next. High heat, plenty of salt and you literally can't go wrong: takes you straight back to your last Spanish holiday.
Next was some Cecina; a spectacularly good cured beef that tasted like a marriage between Iberico (I know this is pork!) and Bresaola. It might just be my new favourite cured meat, edging ahead just past Mortadella. My companion concurred and we gobbled up the plate greedily, washing it down with some Picpoul and fully acknowledging no further work would be taking place for the day.
The summer truffle proved too much to resist and I had to get this dish of Baked Duck Egg which had been coddled in the glorious stuff along with some asparagus. It was like a comforting, posh Leon egg pot and everything I wanted.
The bill arrived and was about £25 each - I think. In a final stroke of gluttony we topped it all off with a shared brownie from the consistently good Pavilion Cafe and one for the road. Perfect afternoon.