Hand-painted signs for Merci Marie lead round the back of the Arcola Theatre, through a graffitied car park and a security fence and up two floors via a fire escape. Taking ‘tucked away’ to an extreme, this little white-painted canteen in a former shoe factory is a great find in the heart of Dalston. The tiny kitchen demonstrates cheffy ingenuity, with a step ladder being hauled around to access stashed away ingredients. And the utilitarian fold-up chairs in the dining space mean it can be used for meetings and film screenings as well as for the restaurant’s Sweet Friday BYO pop up.
The unaffected rural chic of the restaurant is courtesy of chef and owner Marie Gonfond. She comes from a small village near Arles in Provence, and the current focus on simple, seasonal food is clearly in her DNA. Marie has lived in Hackney for eight years – she started out as an interior designer but a love of cooking combined with a desire to be her own boss led her to open Merci Marie. It has grown organically, starting as the work canteen for neighbours the Bootstrap Company.
As far as the food goes, expect a modern spin on French classics, partly inspired by Hackney’s multicultural fusion and the exotic produce Marie buys at Ridley Road Market. Marie will be branching out on 15 March with an international pop-up: Around The World in 80 Days. Her commitment to good affordable food and a pitch-perfect pop-up aesthetic will make this a trip well worth taking.