We headed to E9 to see how an old boat from Holland fared for events
Last year, childhood friends Tommo, Blandy and Ryan (who always dreamt of being pirates) bought a 114-year-old Dutch barge with the aim to set it up as a restaurant and event space in East London. Nine months later, Barge East moored on the River Lee in Hackney Wick, with the majestic London Stadium in the background. With the boat, called De Hoop (The Hope in English), the childhood dream became a reality.
We got invited to see how the restaurant works for events, turns out, wonderfully. We were first greeted in the main restaurant (seats 55) with the boat’s signature espresso martinis. These are made with vodka from the East London Liquor Company and locally brewed coffee – we like.
With cocktail in hand, we were shown around the other event spaces including the front deck (complete with benches and tables for al fresco dining in the summer), and the top deck private dining space (24 seated). This airy space can be used all year-round with heaters in the winter and the windows wide open on a hot summer’s day. Interestingly, two metal leeboards have been used as table tops. This looks bang on-trend while sticking to the nautical theme. The lovely shrubs winding around the ceiling beams and sturdy wooden flooring also ensure the space is aesthetically modish.
The different event spaces can be hired in combination or you can have a total take-over of the boat for up to 130 guests standing. It’s also worth noting that the riverside area will be developed into an outdoor event space for the warmer months – summer barbeque anyone?
We ended up at the aft (the rear of the boat) in the intimate Captain’s Cabin. The old owner’s bedroom has been turned into a 10-seater private dining room complete with fairy lights, a large distressed wooden table and cosy benches full of soft cushions. This is where we sat down for our dinner, which gave promise of seasonal dishes with exotic flavours made from locally sourced produce.
Buoy did it live up to the expectations. From the selection of starters, the vegan spiced red pepper hummus, pork belly sausage rolls and pork and chorizo Scotch egg with aioli really stood out. Bold, but well-balanced flavours – not to mention indulgent.
Photo by Kathryn Walker for SquareMeal
The menu then offered a range of small and big dishes. From the small ones, we tried the barbecued mussels with coconut, chilli, lime and coriander with sourdough to dip (perfectly moreish – we made sure to soak up every last drop of that broth with the warm, crusty bread). We also had the panisses (chickpea fries) with truffle and grana Padano (a richer, fattier parmesan) – yum.
From the big dishes, the Balkan kofta flatbread with roasted pepper, yoghurt, shallots and chillies was our favourite – it was fresh and zingy, while also offering the ultimate comfort food feeling. Another knock-out was the burrata, which was complemented by the warmth of balsamic roasted figs, the freshness of pickled grapes and the texture of toasted hazelnuts.
We also enjoyed the pan-fried sea bream with a chorizo risotto and saffron cream; the master-stock short ribs were rich and sweet; and the plate of pork belly with kimchi and toasted cashews was licked clean.
Photo by Kathryn Walker for SquareMeal
What we noticed was that the different (and fantastic, locally sourced) ingredients were left very much to their own devices, elevated only by simple seasoning and techniques to enhance their textures. It takes confidence to let the produce speak for themselves, but you're in safe hands here.
Pudding was of the same ilk. The sweet coconut tapioca had the texture of rice pudding cross-bread with a chia seed porridge, and was contrasted with garnishes of bitter grapefruit and toasted coconut. Another crowd-pleaser was the affogato with a vanilla and tonka bean ice cream – the lovely hint of espresso was a very welcome addition. Both rather light desserts, they balanced the richness of the mains perfectly.
Our way of doing it is definitively the way to go: order lots of different dishes and share them among yourselves. Get stuck in, eat with your hands and simply enjoy. The drinks list is well curated with a selection of wines, beers and cocktails.
Whatever rocks your boat, you’re sure to enjoy a meal here – but we appreciate that the atmosphere is distinctly rustic and casual. This appeals more to the creative industry than your stiff upper lips, perhaps. The entrance to the Captain’s Cabin is quite small, too (so mind your head), and it is a boat after all, so be prepared to climb narrow stairs, step over portholes and use a marine toilet.
So, is it worth venturing this far east for? Absolutely. And for a boat that has travelled across the entire North Sea at winter to make it to London, we’re sure you could muster an extra trip on the Overground.