I overheard a girl on the tube the other day scoffing and saying that ceviche was ‘so 2013’. I was aghast. I had ceviche recently.
I like ceviche. What happened in the intervening months between now and the New Year to completely eliminate this Peruvian delicacy?
In London, you constantly feel like you’re balanced on the knife-edge of what’s in and what’s out. There’s a real sense of being leading edge or bleeding edge here. If you don’t know the latest vogue tearoom-cum-record shop, then you’re behind. It makes for an interesting experience – crowds spin in and out of the various cafes, restaurants, clubs, bars and circuses, each clique taking a bite then passing it on to the next. We’re a city saturated with choice, leaving us with the inevitable problem that it’s incredibly hard to not only be memorable, but to remain memorable.
Stage 3 is a venue that understands the promiscuousness of London’s taste. Situated in still hip, not-as-hip-as-two-years-ago Hackney, event curators Platterform – an amalgamation of platter (food, vinyl) & perform – have taken over the downstairs space in Hackney Empire to create a form of perpetual theatre, a Darwinian restaurant that endeavors to evolve from day to day, week to week, month to month.
This is the first truly permanent location Platterform have occupied. Perennial chameleons, they’ve mastered the art of shift and shape through several years of pop-up bars and restaurants. Ranging from sea adventure to Germanic ski-chalet, they’ve run the gamut of cuisines, venues and collaborations. Stage 3 is meant to be a shifting, evolving space in the middle of Hackney. Not quite restaurant, not quite bar, Stage 3 hosts varied events that rotate in and out.
‘Turn Tables’ captures Platterform’s ethos – an event that matches a guest cuisine with a selected DJ, usually with an appropriate pun or metaphor to connect them. Then there’s the cutely-named ‘Chi and Tea’, a boozy Sunday event mixing yin and yang themed cocktails with free aromatherapy consultations. Finally, ‘TV Dinners’ combines cult classic films with a fitting menu. They’re all designed to keep you coming back for a different slice of the same pie.
Upon arrival, the first drink we’re presented with is straight from a slushy machine – the King Creole. Laden with spiced coconut cream, rum and pineapple, it’s a pleasant surprise. It’s not painfully sweet like many of its contemporaries, and there’s enough booze to make it feel like an adult’s drink. The walls are stacked high with djembe drums, tiki dolls and filigreed lanterns. The music is good – old rock’n’roll on crackly vinyl, a large selection of which is hung up on the back wall – they’re collaborating with a local record shop to showcase independent records.
The starter is a play on the classic ‘chips and dips’. Strips of tortilla come served with a slightly outlandish selection of substances to spread across them – the butternut squash hummus is a little too sweet for me, but the baba ganoush is salty, pungent and packing an excellent wallop of garlic.
Next up is a plate of daintily stacked Vietnamese summer rolls – lighter, less greasy versions of their seasonal counterpart. They’re redolent with crunchy, fresh vegetables, and the dipping sauce that accompanies them has a hint of vinegar to cut through the sweetness.
Post-starter, we settle back for a brief rest, but our reverie is interrupted by a fully clad geisha – make-up, kimono, obi and traditional wooden shoes all present – who comes bearing a small metal teapot filled with Dr. Chan – Stage 3’s alcoholic green tea. A medley of ingredients is identifiable, from aloe vera to ginseng, but the menu mysteriously lists ‘Zen’ as the kicker. The whole experience is certainly somewhat mystical in nature.
The Rastafari Calamari is jerk squid, an interesting combination that tees up well with the ‘Jerk ‘n’ Stormy’, a cocktail made with homemade jerk bitters. The cocktail is sharp and refreshingly limey. The squid is slightly charred and has a good hint of smoke, suggesting it’s been cooked properly over open coals.
We finish up with two dishes – beef rendang and Platterform’s signature chicken satay. The rendang served in mini roti wraps with small, salty pickles. It’s viciously flavorsome, decadently infused with a mass of spice and flavor. It looks as if it’s been cooking for half a week, broken down into a thick, fibrous paste that requires little chewing. Traditionally a main course, I prefer it in this smaller, sharing plate form– after a roti each our palates are saturated, and a whole plate of it might have been too much. The satay are towering, gleaming monstrosities, liberally doused in a thick coating of rich, fragrant peanut sauce. Again, the smaller quantity is a boon – the saltiness and the tender, pull-apart grilling of the chicken leaves me wanting more, but I feel pleasantly satisfied.
The one thing I find myself asking throughout the meal is if Platterform are trying to do too much, to combine too many different flavors, experiences, cuisines, Japanese entertainers and musicians in one place. I’m not sure there are many places where you mix middle-eastern dips, South-East Asian curries and Caribbean squid, but I’m not sure it matters. As a new venture, there’s going to be an adjusting period as they find their feet, trim the menu and find out what works.
The important thing – and this isn’t something I can say for every restaurant – is that Stage 3 Hackney is a lot of fun. It’s not necessarily down to the food and drink, or even the geisha. It’s because you get the impression you’re in the middle of a creative cacophony. I keep expecting the chef to run out of the kitchen with his hat on fire, or the male bartender to suddenly stamp out from behind the counter wearing a frock to demand that I call him Trudy. It’s hard to be surprised in London, it’s hard to be memorable, but I don’t think I will be forgetting Stage 3 any time soon.
Stage 3 is at Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Street, London, E8 1EJ. See www.stage3hackney.com.
words Will Squires