Russet apple bite

Having a bite at the Russet. Photograph: The Russet

This new venue, hidden away in Amhurst Terrace, has grown from a tiny pip of an initial idea to partial fruition in only a matter of weeks.

As the final autumn leaves fell in 2011, Steve Wilson, Lizzie Bassham and Amy Letts decided to transform part of the old print press into a creative space and café for the local community.

Wilson, in addition to working for experimental food designers Blanch and Shock, has been heavily involved with the People’s Kitchen at Passing Clouds in Dalston, which aims to raise awareness of food waste and also puts it to good use, serving up inviting and affordable meals from surplus produce.

The Russet is taking shape on the basis of values similar to those of Wilson’s past project, with creativity, community and sustainability being central features. The Russet will also be a space for producing distinctive home-made creations, such as Dalston Cola and Raw Fiyah ginger beer, that have become popular on Richmond Road.

The name for the new enterprise was inspired by the orchard planted in Hackney Downs Park in 2009 by local group the Tree Musketeers. With their endeavours still in mind, the trio at the Russet are hoping to create a focal point for the Hackney Downs Studios’ residents and the surrounding area.

The café is furnished with chairs, sofas, tables and lamps that have been begged for and borrowed. The counter is covered at the front by hessian bags from Union Hand-Roasted Coffee, who provide their beans, and the front arch is made from recycled scaffold boards.

Wilson, Bassham and Letts hope the space will become a hub for those working in the studios, somewhere close offering ‘proper coffee’ and good healthy food. They envisage that the large, brightly-lit area in the front will become a library area, whilst there are also individual booths for working privately.

And with one last wall to knock down, the Russet will soon have a stage to suit the scheduled folk nights. Ballroom dancing is being lined up in the big room beyond the cafe counter and pop-up dinners are planned. Community workshops and cooking will be encouraged too.

The Russet is still a work in progress but that did not stop the success of the opening night last month (10 December), featuring music, performances and storytelling. Refreshments were offered at the cider sampling bar and took the form of 24-hour pulled pork with apple (of course) in a ciabatta supplied by the e5 Bakehouse.

On the menu at the Russet when I called in were mulled cider with brandy and spices and Bassham’s cakes, on this occasion carrot and orange and also chocolate and chestnut. Even non-pudding-people would be hard-pushed to resist those intriguing and tempting combinations.

The full, grand opening will be on 16 February and will see an apple tree planted in the orchard. The tree will act as a symbol of the Russet’s commitment to organic produce, local producers, ethical coffee, real beer and cider and seasonal food.

The Russet
Hackney Downs Studios
Amhurst Terrace E8 2BT

Opening times:
Monday – Friday, 8am-5pm
Saturday – Sunday, 10am-5pm

Take your January copy of the Hackney Citizen to The Russet to receive a complimentary coffee. Offer valid til 31 Jan 2012.

Russet interior

Inside the Russet cafe. Photograph: The Russet