It takes confidence to open a walk-in only restaurant that, for the most part, serves meat on a stick. Even if it does come on a pretty Pantone plate. And it takes even more confidence to do that, sit you on an arse-numbing stool, and take 30-odd quid off you for the privilege. That, though, is what Peg does. It’s the latest spot from the people behind P. Franco and Bright: the two other Hackney-based wine bar and restaurant hybrids that make you: 1) feel cool, 2) inexplicably lie to your date and the person serving you about regularly drinking Blossom Hill, and 3) want to come back for more.
Peg is a restaurant with enough flair to distract you from its flaws. There’s a cool-but-casual atmosphere that feels natural to all three restaurants, and at Peg it’s been turned up a notch. Things like reservations, seats with backs, and printed menus have been done away with. All of them carefully and deliberately placed into a bin likely made out of recycled Actimel bottles. What we’re left with is as baffling as it is brilliant: a walk-in only, natural wine serving, Japanese-inspired, counter-only restaurant, plopped between Hackney Central and Homerton.
The menu is split between two sections: grill (food on a stick) and plates (food not on a stick). The grill section, which reads like an edible biology syllabus, ranges from wing to thigh, and everything in between, like liver and heart. You want to be trying it all at Peg. That’s because every skewer, regardless of which part or animal, arrives in a puddle of flavour. Chicken thighs with a tangy yuzu chutney lie in their own sweet, sweet juices. Liver covered with fresh horseradish in a pool of something rich. A dripping meatball on a skewer is, in looks and taste, the dog’s bollocks, but it’s made from chicken. All of it 100%, not from concentrate, flavour.
It’s unexpected then that the vegetables are the things that stay with you most after visiting Peg. For all the glory of the grill and everything charred and juicy that it produces, it’s a plate of turnip and mizuna (a Japanese green) and a bowl of raw cabbage in a lickable sesame dressing, that will have you thinking about popping back to Peg most often. The vegetables here are as consistently vibrant as the coloured plates, funky wine, or eclectic vinyl.
Although the skewers, the salads, the wine on tap, and the gleaming white room look minimalist and straightforward, nothing really is at Peg. It’s a restaurant of contradictions that will make your head spin. It feels comfortable, but your arse will be as numb as a botoxed Arctic explorer when you eventually slide off your stool. It feels accessible, but a proper meal with skewers, plates, and wine (which is essential) will cost you at least £30-£40 each. It doesn’t feel perfect, but you want to try it again.
Despite its imperfections, you’ll probably still like Peg. That’s because, ultimately, as you finish your crab chawanmushi, and drain the last drops of your rosé crémant, you’ll bask in the coolness and confidence of this skewer and salad seller and think: If only they opened a restaurant with more. Thankfully, they already have.
Pork collar, meatball, liver, thigh, heart, wing. Those are all the various animal parts we’ve had off of the grill at Peg. That’s also in order of preference. The juicy chicken thigh is like skewer 101, and it’s always on. So is the liver, which is entry-level innards. But it’s the specials, like the charred pork shoulder topped with a peanut and chilli sauce, that are really the ones to look out for.
Or rather, the asparagus skewer. It’s nicely charred and topped with a yuzu and pepper hot sauce. One to nibble away at throughout.
We have a slight (and no doubt pedantic) gripe at this chicken being either all boneless, or all bone pieces. A mix would be nice, but it’s delicious nonetheless. There’s a Japanese rub on top which makes your tongue two-step, and lemon mayo to dunk in.
If there’s one salad on: get it. If there are two on: get both. The raw cabbage in sesame dressing number has got a fantastically addictive quality to it. You’ll crunch a bit. Look around. Crunch some more. Then before you know it, you’ll have crunched the bloody lot. As for the turnip and mizuna salad: we’re still thinkin’ ’bout you.
Chawanmushi is a savoury egg custard, in case you’re unfamiliar. If you are familiar, then you’ll know it can be very good. Both spinach and crab versions we’ve had here have been lovely. Though the vegetable one edges it for superior broth. You should order it regardless.