Clissold Park cafe re-opens

clissold house cafe

Inside the new Clissold House cafe. Photograph: Hackney Citizen

The café in Clissold Park re-opened today (Tuesday 3 January) following a two-year, £8.9m refurbishment of the historic building and surrounding park.

Curious to see the new space, I braved the rain and blustery wind, walked with some sadness past the new rose-less garden and ascended the slope to the historic Georgian building.

The weather had done little to deter custom on the opening day, and the café was teaming with children, plus the odd adult.

Named the House, and run by Hampstead-based Company of Cooks, the venue is a cut above the previous establishment to have operated out of the 18th century mansion. Manager Andy Gordon says: “We called it the House rather than Clissold House Café because we wanted people to feel at home.”

All pastel colours, wood floors and table service, the elegant space is distinctly genteel, with prices to match.

The traditional menu includes breakfast from £1.90 for toast and jam to £3.75 for a bacon bap. Lunches can be had from £3.95 for soup and bread to £6.95 for a savoury tart with mixed leaves.

For afternoon tea, there are pastries from £1.75 and tea itself from £1.65 (for Fairtrade English breakfast). A scone with cream and jam is £2.45 and Victoria sponge cake £2.95.

There is also a limited selection of alcoholic beverages on offer, including Meantime London Pale Ale (£3.75 for 330ml) and wine from £2.95 a glass.

When Hackney Council awarded Company of Cooks the contract to run the café last August (2011), the council claimed that their decision had been shaped by the fact that: “It was important that the chosen organisation used quality produce including Fair Trade, organic and free range produce”.

They went on to claim that Company of Cooks had undertaken to “use local suppliers of high quality produce to add to their seasonal menu.”

Local group Growing Communities raises award-winning organic vegetables in Clissold Park itself, so I was hopeful.

I asked Mr Gordon about the range of food and drink on offer and how it was sourced. He pointed to the Fairtrade English breakfast tea which I had already spied on the menu, whereas the coffee served is a variety of Union Hand Roasted which does not bear the Fairtrade mark. Mr Gordon told me that some organic products were used, though he was somewhat vague when asked to name them.

He did go on to list with pride a range of British suppliers: in addition to Meantime London Ale, the café serves English apple juice, cheese from Sussex, salad leaves from Surrey and homemade bread. It doesn’t seem that any of the organic vegetables grown not 300 feet away have made it onto the menu, however.

In terms of style and décor, the café is definitely an improvement on its predecessor, but the relatively steep prices may make it somewhat exclusive, which could be seen as a problem as it is the only such catering outlet in this public park. Less ambiguous is the fact that the Clissold Park café still has some work to do to provide more Fairtrade, organic and locally-produced fare, which all Hackney residents are right to expect.


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