Big Night, Morning Lane, food review: ‘Fun, funky and fascinating’

A selection from Big Night’s menu. Photograph: courtesy Big Night

I am partial to a big night. I should probably be growing out of them at the great age of 30, but in reality they have become less frequent, and certainly altered in style. I maintain that painting the town a garish colour is a human right.

Hackney as a borough has become synonymous with ‘getting on the sesh’, an oasis for those wanting hedonism in whatever form it might take – a dusty substance in a tiny purse, a drum and bass rave in a carpark, a sweaty, clothing-optional basement, or a couple too many bottles of sunshine (orange wine) at a new fusion spot.

I won’t judge your pleasure if you don’t judge mine.

So it seems only fitting that we now have Morning Lane’s Big Night, a small plates restaurant (the equivalent of a nightclub for the over-30s crowd these days) with true does-what-it-says-on-the-tin style.

The décor is charmingly rubbish, and I mean that in the best way: saved from kitsch Simmon’s bubblegum infancy by its camp 70s crapness.

Bright orange school chairs, silver futuristic tables, walls a 1974 outback brown, and perplexingly framed film posters.

The trip to the toilet through the kitchen gives a house party/pre- drinks vibe that leads in most cases to a whopper of an evening.

The required optimistic hip-hop and disco permeates, but it’s at a bearable level (a rarity in the area). Moustachioed and mulleted waiters bounce around quietly while waiting for your plate to shoot out from the kitchen’s hatch. The whole place is casual to the point of comedy.

Chalkboards advertise the mini-menu, so bring your glasses (which I, of course, did not).

Big Night plays off the Japanese yakitori izakayas but doesn’t claim to be a traditional restaurant.

Izakayas are a bit like pubs in Japan, but with more of a slow and communal food offering akin to Spanish tapas bars.

Yakitori are chicken skewers served at specific versions of these taverns, but Big Night brings a seasonal British fusion and fun-focused attitude which is in equal parts enchanting and a little irritating.

Take, for example, serving a fernet-branco shot in all its thick, wallpaper-matching hues with a chaser/mini-side of pickled kumquat. Genius. Insane, but genius. Water-like smooth vodka with a little mound of sauerkraut? Now that’s just silly, and I appreciate silly.

Spring homemade kimchi, a Barbie pink that will blow your eyelashes off, and tasty bread, a burnt chargrilled naan interpretation, are great partners. Pair these with a bigroni, a negroni made with fernet-branco, making it more lurid, deeper and altogether even more grown up, or a crisp gimlet. Both are under £10 (yay) but served in tiny water glasses (boo).

The cocktails are tasty but on the small side. Photograph: courtesy Big Night

Even the glassware is on theme. Remember running out of cups at an early dinner party and having to serve your first-ever successful homemade margarita in a mug for the latecomers? I certainly do.

More substantial (although not by much) dishes are the charred broccoli, a soy and veg pile of tangled green tendrils, with dollops of yellow dotting it prettily.

The dishes come thick and fast at this point and the little table is crowded as we wind forks and chopsticks between the metal plates.

Chicken skewers are thankfully a jubilation. The meat is so rich it almost tastes like pork, and the rolled parcels of white and black dusted meat disappear at shocking speed.

The mushroom option is even better. Oyster and king oyster mushrooms are so heavily marinated they become so much more than a fungi’s fruiting body, they become truly meaty. So much so that my vegan mother would most likely cry at tasting them – a winner in my book.

A Georgia-inspired skewer is more filling, a warm pleasant ball of sheep. But as someone who has been to Tbilisi, I didn’t particularly get the reference, apart from using mutton and the ever-present tang of rhubarb (’tis the season and this is a deeply seasonal offering).

Have a break from all the picking with a grapefruit margarita, a lovely twist on the tart classic.

Ten or so cocktails are available, with spirits provided by a nice round-the-corner partnership with East London Liquor.

Once fortified, dive into a plate of chargrilled swede with wild garlic. If you think of wild garlic as Wuthering Heights’ Catherine Earnshaw and the regular variety as Catherine Linton, you’re on the right track. Seasonality winking its knowing eye, and showing its best TV smile.

Finally, you can have a beautiful miso-encrusted banana, scooping it out of its blackened skin, which has a slight but not unpleasant bitterness. Such a curated desert, so sophisticated. I have only one wish: that it wasn’t halved.

There is also a creme tea caramel if you’re potassium-averse.

The little half-banana leads us on to the unpleasant discussion of size and price.

If only fun, funky and fascinating food could be beyond such concerns, but we must address the elephant (shrew) in the room.

The dishes march out two by two, meaning most skewers are a duet and cost £7.

The mushrooms, sublime though they are, total only four.

We sampled almost everything on the menu and, although scrumptious, it came to about £70 and was very much snacks, not a meal.

I realise that this is partly the aim, but a full meal would put you back £140 and involve the indignity of ordering everything twice.

There are noodles available, and ox tongue, and these might provide more stodge, but with the size of the plates, I can’t imagine them doing much good.

We are caught between worlds, as the drinks menu is a little too curated to be a full bar, but the food menu is too limited and expensive to be a full restaurant.

It’s like an evening of culinary foreplay that never leads to the orgasmic finish. However, I did thoroughly enjoy the journey (I mean, who doesn’t?).

I like the hehe-hoho approach to cuisine. I like the seasonal focus, even when the pink flash of rhubarb rather loses its initial igniting effect. I like the memory of our red-haired waiter calmly swaying away while waiting for our “mains”.

So I say, raise a little hell and get that extra plate of oyster mushrooms, you’ll need it. Guzzle the cocktails, devour plate after plate of the outstanding chicken, and spend an evening in Big Night’s embrace.