In most communities across the social spectrum (and around the world for that matter) the market cafe is a fixture. My Nana used to take me for a bacon sandwich at a tiny hole in the wall place hidden behind the stalls in Hull town centre if I volunteered to help with the weekly food shop with her. She'd been going there for years, as had all of the other old dots who'd pop in for a cup of tea and a chat. While between jobs a few years ago, I spent a lot of time people watching on East Street market through the steamed up windows of a greasy spoon full of market life. Formica table topped, fastened down orange plastic bucket chairs, a mug of tea with the bag still in and white slice, smeared with lurid yellow margarine.
It’s no surprise that, as one of the largest markets in London, Portobello Road has a fair few cafes strung down the mile long stretch of antiques stalls intermingled with fruit, vintage clothes and tourist tat. The look and feel changes dramatically as you go under the Westway, and the high end tourists fade away into a more local mixed crowd of different ethnicities.
The Electric Cinema and Brasserie straddles the border, but as a venue owned by the Soho House Group, you can guess which market they mostly appeal to. It’s been a fixture round here since 2001, a relatively early outlier of the gentrification that’s engulfed the streets around. The brasserie isn’t itself a private club, not that you can tell from the attitude of some of the staff, though the ‘House’ upstairs is. An intermittently appealing spot for mid-week coffee and brunch, it’s a ‘destination’ for the wrong reasons on market days.
The venue is looking a little tatty around the edges now. Battered zinc tables and dark wood stretch down the side of a long open bar and kitchen, opening up into a wider dining space at the back like a calm pool behind the frenetic waterfall. We were booked into the front though ‘bumped’ to the backroom following a whispered argument about a 20 minute wait from the party queuing in front of us. On a weekday this would be annoying, out of sight is out of mind to the whirling wait staff. On a Saturday, the chaos front of house means a back table is preferable. A snake of expectant hipsters rubberneck at your plates as they wait at the front desk, always in the way of the dfsgrgaergasergsaerg
The brunch menu is full of solid fare; full English and Vegetarian breakfasts with varying combinations, muffins, bacon and eggs in numerous combinations. As well as the obvious dishes, there are a fair few favourites from the full menu including fish or steak and chips and their passable fish pie. Avocado and poached egg on granary toast is a game choice, more avocado than anything else, but a relatively healthy way to cure a hangover. The Eggs Royale were a little disappointing despite their initial visual promise. Beautiful golden yolked eggs served atop a mountain of salmon with hollandaise sauce coating and dripping onto the muffin below. The ingredients were faultless, but with one egg virtually hard boiled and the other’s unset albumen having barely been cooked, it was clear that the eye for detail wasn’t covering all of the dishes to leave the kitchen.
It’s tough to damn somewhere for one undercooked egg, and I’m not going to. I’ve had some wonderfully relaxing breakfasts sat at the front of the Brasserie and a couple of reasonable lunches too, I’d just recommend avoiding it at the weekend and leave it to the tourists. If you are in the area on a weekend, it’s well worth a wander down to the unfashionable end of the market to the lower reaches of Golbourne Road to the street food stalls and the wonderful pastries at the Lisboa Patisserie. It’s one of several tiny Portuguese bakeries and cafes along the road and (relatively) untouched by the encroaching gentrification. Their pastel de nata are small egg custard gems, well worth the trip for a half dozen to take away and a much tastier egg than you’ll find elsewhere.