You have to seek to find this Pearl amongst scruffy estates and warehouses. But the restaurant itself is easy on the eye, with picture windows, a long tiled bar, concrete floors scattered with Turkish rugs and contemporary photography on the walls. And the seasonal food goes down a treat…
Interview with James Morgan
When Australian chef James Morgan founded the Hackney Pearl in 2009, he knew that it would be tough to make it work. But James was attracted by the number of artists in Hackney Wick – many of the warehouses here have been colonised by painters, sculptors and photographers. James trained as a painter himself – you can see his work hanging in the Hackney Pearl – and he wanted a vibrant setting and a clientele he could relate to.
The restaurant is very European in feel and function – James was inspired by eating places in his hometown Melbourne, where there are huge Italian and Greek communities and where the boundaries between bar, café and restaurant are blurred. The Hackney Pearl is all these things, and open all hours. And the continental vibe appeals to Italian and German artists working nearby, who have become regulars and are a great support to James. The food has international appeal too: it’s British, with a strong Mediterranean influence.
James – who still cooks for two shifts a week at the Hackney Pearl – writes the menus with his chef. The menus are led by what’s in season and the bounty on offer from the suppliers: Select Meat in Bow who provide free-range meat, Shenanigan’s in New Covent Garden for veg and Ben’s Fish in Mersea, Essex. Food miles are kept low and nothing is wasted: juice from poaching fruit for example will be used in the cocktails.
Everything on the menu is made with care, from homemade lemonade to Campari spritzes and from creamy breakfast scrambled eggs to slow-roast pork for Sunday lunch. And the whole enterprise is underpinned by James’s knowledge of the industry gained in Sydney and London: he was a dishwasher, waiter, barman and sous chef before working as a manager at St John’s, The Garrison and Smith’s of Smithfield.
James is ready to welcome at least some of the 10,000 visitors expected to pour into Hackney Wick station during the Olympics. Whether the area subsequently booms, busts or continues to maintain its idiosyncratic, appealing mix of artists’ studios and light industry, the Hackney Pearl will always be worth a visit.