Café Cecilia

Hackney, London

Max Rocha’s neighbourhood bistro is so much more than just another Hackney hotspot


East London isn’t exactly lacking in small plates restaurants. Every six months or so, another one pops up and greeted with the sorted of fevered favour that most restaurants elsewhere in the capital could only dream of. From the outside looking in, Café Cecilia, which launched in the summer of 2021, looks like it might be just another of these on-trend hotspot – reliable, not remarkable. But to assume such a thing would be to do a supreme disservice to what is arguably one of the London’s best new neighbourhood restaurants.

The man behind Café Cecilia is chef Max Rocha, the son of Irish designer John Rocha, who cut his teeth cooking at The River Café, St John Bread & Wine and Skye Gyngell’s Spring, before taking the plunge and opening his own place. His time at St John, in particular, appears to have rubbed off, both in Café Cecilia’s minimalist design and its faultless gastronomic simplicity.

Rocha’s menu takes inspiration from the chef’s Dublin roots and combines it with elements of both Mediterranean and modern British cooking to great effect. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, dishes change constantly, but there are some mainstays that typify Rocha’s cooking style. They include a moreish Guinness bread; a lip-smacking onglet served with chips and peppercorn sauce; and an indulgent deep fried bread and butter pudding with cold custard that playfully elevates a nostalgic old school pudding for a new era.

Overlooking the Regents Canal towpath, the dining room features wooden tables, whitewashed walls, a narrow bar down one side and a small open kitchen at the back. Because of its modest size, it also only holds a limited number of covers – about 30 in total – which meant that in its early days trying to get a seat felt like an impossibility. Even now it can be a challenge, particularly at weekends; but for those willing to make the effort, your patience will be well rewarded.
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