photo credit: Karolina Wiercigroch
The first thing you need to do when you go to Esters is very quickly and wholeheartedly leave your cynicism at home, or at least on the pavement whilst you queue. We say this because you could probably get the wrong idea if someone were to give a basic description of this excellent neighbourhood cafe. Imagine someone talking about “a no reservations Stoke Newington cafe that serves pretty funky breakfast, brunch, and lunch. And it makes its own rhubarb ketchup!”. You can see how this sort of thing could be misleading to the wrong mind. It could easily be misread as: wanky place, half an hour queue, 4x4 buggies, men who want to be Jeff Goldblum, little Theodore on the iPad. You’d be wrong though, because Esters is sincere, genuine, and interesting. And they’re probably making the best breakfasts and brunches in London.
The food here is definitely not your usual egg and avocado on toast affair. They describe it as ‘innovative’ and there certainly are some innovative elements to each dish - a burnt clementine here, a bit of bee pollen there - but more than anything the food feels thoughtful. Poached eggs come with fried leeks in a vinaigrette alongside preserved lemon and walnuts. It sounds a bit weird but it’s really good. It’s tart from the lemon and creamy from the egg, and there’s a bit of crunch from the nuts and leeks. Everything works. It’s the zingy start your day needs, even if you plan to spend it on the sofa. There are more familiar combinations as well, only in less familiar forms. Pork and ketchup, staples of every great breakfast, are here, only it’s confit pork and rhubarb ketchup. It comes with a fried egg, white bean salad, and pickled radish. And it’s delicious. Similarly, french toast is on the menu only it’s with whipped ricotta, kumquat, and cranberries. A proper plate licker.
As is convention with non-booking brunch spots, going on a Saturday and Sunday between the hours of 11-1 isn’t recommended, though turnaround is pretty regular. It’s small and functionally fitted inside: not quite comfortable enough to bed in and have a lazy two hour plus brunch, but not so uncomfortable that you’re in and out in 45 minutes. Like we said, they’re thoughtful.
There is one terrible downside to Esters and it’s that after you come here, every brunch you have suffers by comparison. This is a place that is ruining and inspiring competitors in equal measure. It might be three bites in or it might be when the bill comes but eventually one of you will say, “It’s nice but it’s nowhere near as good as Esters”.
Ester’s change their menu pretty much daily but if you see anything similar to these three, we’d highly recommend you order them.
Poached Eggs With Leeks
As refined a brunch as you’re ever going to have. The leeks are super smooth and come with preserved lemon and walnuts - which makes for a lively mouthful. You can get black pudding or chorizo on the side as well, we recommend the former.
Confit Pork Belly With Fried Egg
Scratch that, maybe this is the most refined brunch plate we’ve ever eaten. A wedge of confit pork, a very classy white bean salad, some dressed cabbage and blobs of rhubarb ketchup. Damn.
French toast of our dreams: two golden bricks of toast, cranberry and honey syrup, whipped ricotta on top, kumquats and shards of bee pollen infused white chocolate scattered around it. It looks like a piece of modernist art, and it tastes even better.