Cat & Mutton
We go back a long way, The Cat & Mutton and I. My first years in Hackney were spent tip-toeing around the threshold to what was a definite ‘locals’ pub, and only once or twice did I dare enter that dark and forbidding doorway. Inside you could play pool with whole squads of men who appeared to have just been released from prison. I still have feelings for ‘er, they would all opine, to a man, about the lost love of their life. I used to sup nervously on watery pints while the sovereign-ringed ASBO-king behind the bar leered threateningly at me. I don’t know why I stood out. But let’s not pretend I didn’t love it.
Anyway that all changed several years ago with the gastrofication of The Cat (76 Broadway Market, E8 4QJ). Out went the stained and smelly carpet, the manky old pool tables, the shuttered windows and the squads of ex-cons (at least, the squads of obvious ex-cons). In came, literally, a breath of fresh air, as well as a vast, light interior, decorated with comfy sofas and handsome tables. The beers and wine improved immeasurably, and the best change of all: great chefs arrived, who cook in full view of the bar, and who prepare really delicious food for a lunch and dinner setting every day. Result: packed pub full of happy, well-fed punters. As conflicted as I initially was about the passing of another East End boozer, the regenerated Cat & Mutton offers far more than was lost.
If you sit against the back wall, next to the wall-sized menu, with a cold glass of wine, you can look out through the massive picture window at the real-life cinema of Broadway Market. You can see right across London Fields to the Lido, and watch the darkening sky come down to envelop the trees. All in a warm, welcoming environment (the staff are uniformly friendly). The Cat & Mutton has managed that amazing trick, of regenerating into a truly divine gastropub, while not becoming snooty about its clientele. You can still sup a pint with a builder at the end of his shift, while in the evenings you’re just as likely to be as squeezed against a banker, bouncing his toddler on his knee, as you are to find yourself squashed against a local artist, ferociously discussing plans for her new installation. It’s all great stuff. Come and have a drink in The Cat. You’ve got only one life, after all, not nine.