It is not a very good idea to visit Hackney stadium from the centre of London in a mini-cab without an A-Z since, having successfully navigated miles of small and complicated roads, you find yourself at a gigantic road intersection faced with three sets of blazing stadium lights leading in different directions. Once safely at the correct stadium, however, you are met with the warmest of welcomes. At the magic words "Cafe East 15" , the pounds 4 per person entrance fee is miraculously waived and you are ushered into a lift by a girl in a multi-coloured waistcoat and matching bow tie, and swept upstairs feeling very important and already eight quid up on the evening.
The two restaurants share a long, three-tiered space with a massive sloping window giving on to the race-track. When we arrived, it seemed to be featuring a tractor race with only one contestant. We had been a little worried about dress code, torn between teetering down to the terraces to place bets in posh restaurant ensembles; or nibbling foie gras bouchees sporting grubby Levis and a flat cap. But there was no cause for concern. Bets are made without so much as rising from your seat, taken by an attentive chap a bright green waistcoat . The place feels definitely more stadium than West End - all rather geometric and bright, with TV screens showing the track and details of form, rubbery green plants in tubs and indeterminate pop music, but it's very comfortable and jolly good fun.
"I'm enjoying the feeling of light and space. I find the whole setting rather colourful and pleasing," declared my date. And, indeed, one wall was painted fashionably bright blue, another fashionably mustard yellow, and the padded chairs and miniature table lamps were in rich shades of red, blue and purple. The whole area was less than half full - understandable, since it's so new - apart from the tables on the bottom layer next to the window. These we deeply envied since each was equipped with a miniature TV screen on a stalk, where you could choose between greyhound facts and figures, shots of the track or even the normal telly. Given how often you see couples dining out without a word to say to one another, on-table television screens might well be more widely applied in restaurants, thereby ensuring that gentlemen could do their romantic duty without ever having to miss the football.
The races set off every 15 minutes, heralded by a fanfare. In the excitement we found it extraordinarily difficult to order, and not only because there was so much going on. "I don't want pig's ear," said my companion. And although everyone knows knows that the hares the dogs chase these days are not real, I didn't want hare and lentil soup either. What with the souped hare, ox tongue, foie gras, veal kidneys, oysters, pig's ear and pig's cheek, we found it hard to avoid an image of many disembowelled and slithery small animals wibbling in a big washing-up bowl by the cooker. This was not helped by the fact that for our first race we betted on the same dog, which collapsed in a heap halfway round the track and had to be carried off towards the kitchen.
When my terrine of pheasant, foie gras and celeriac starter arrived, however, it proved fantastic. Normally I'm not keen on terrine, which usually features lumps of fat and jelly. But this was smooth, rich, generous on the foie gras and the stripes of crisp, tasty celeriac were an inspired addition. It came surrounded by a circle of pureed prune in walnut oil which was just the ticket. My friend liked his baby gem, soft boiled egg and anchovy salad, too. "I wouldn't have said it was Michelin, but it's not Kwik-Fit either, and it's much, much nicer than I'd ever have expected to eat at the dogs."
The same sentiment went for our main courses. My friend's grilled rump of lamb with rosemary and tomato was beautifully presented, sitting on a bed of aubergines, lightly and deliciously spiced with curry, but was, as he reluctantly pointed out, "a bit Brian Clough". My roasted chicken was a bit on the tough side, too, though in a very good tarragon gravy. Somehow it was hard to imagine that Michelin star-winning Richard Corrigan had actually cooked those particular bits of lamb and chicken himself, but what's food when every 15 minutes there's a fanfare followed by 30 seconds of hysterical excitement trying to pretend you know which dog is yours, and then the man in the green waistcoat returns, beaming, to present you with a pile of pound coins.
My luck was really picking up by now, I was going into profit and could do little more than fidget with my sorbet - fine but nothing special - while counting my money and gloating. My friend went on and and on about how great his lemon tart was because in every other respect he was loosing hand over fist. Then the ingrate ruined the entire evening by putting a fiver to win on the last race, which brought the green- waistcoat man back with a crisp twenty for him and not so much as 50p for me.
The bill came to pounds 75.15 plus service for three courses, coffee, water, a bottle of wine and two glasses of champagne, which we thought, with all the fun included, was pretty good value. But if I'd only had the sense to put pounds 5 to win on Attractive Belle instead of 50p each way, they would have paid us to eat it.Reuse content