An alleyway in Dalston, Sunday evening, 7.30 pm prompt: a giant man with a red bowtie opens the pale blue door. You enter set designer Tony Hornecker's magical workshop, part home restaurant, part cabaret. Strangely proportioned with tiny windows, large doors, rickety windy staircases, small tables perched on balconies, it's like opening a chapter of Alice in Wonderland. Or perhaps one of the more psychedelic episodes of The Avengers...stopped clocks, freaky dolls, candlelight, toy prams stuffed with knitting in progress, red velvet tented ceilings. Lighting is kept low and flattering, fellow guests shimmy in pearls and little black dresses. The atmosphere is breathy, close, claustrophic almost.
Staff... "so bad they are good" according to Tony.The maitre d' laughed when I tripped and hoped I could do it again later
"as part of the show".The waitress, attired in various outfits throughout the evening, performed in drag. His Tina Turner was uncannily accurate.
The food was simple but tasty. A greek salad with good quality feta cheese and warm pitta to start. My vegetarian option for mains was a kind of pissaladière tart, puff pastry topped by caramelised onions and tomatoes. My companion had beef slices, perfectly cooked. These were accompanied by buttery new potatoes and Savoy cabbage. Dessert was rhubarb crumble and cream. Half a bottle of wine is included.
Sam Bompass of Bompass & Parr was in the bedroom upstairs with his girlfriend. You got there via a tiny crooked staircase and a small hatch-like door. A great place for a hot date.
Everywhere you looked was full of character, decorated dolls houses, chandeliers, gilt mirrors, fisheye port-holes, odd sayings chalked on little blackboards, lacy curtained windows. Crockery was vintage and mixed. I noted hand-made cloth serviettes in different fabrics, run up by Tony himself. There was attention to detail, atmosphere and warmth.
At one point all the guests got up to dance. The waitress announced a birthday. Later we found out it was Tony's birthday too.
His kitchen is small but efficient. The food is made with love, you can taste it.
The bill, when it came, was just a number, £60 felt-penned onto a scrap of paper, tossed onto the table.