Acme Fire Cult, Abbot St, London E8 3DP, not located in Kingsland Shopping Centre whatsoever, regardless of what Google claims.
Acme Fire Cult: Great open-flame cooking, no doubt- but I’ll definitely take another chilli lemonade over the Kool-Aid, for now
“Acme Fire Cult- It’s not JUST a restaurant, it’s a cult”. Rather than invoking ‘meep-meep’ and clang of anvils, it sounds more like something you’d hear advertised on the radio in any one of the Grand Theft Auto’s. Suitably, it’s a proper little side-quest to get to, especially if you’re placing your faith in the hands of the yet-to-be-updated Google Maps that’s insisting you can basically walk through the walls of the shopping centre nearby.
Turning that final corner, you’re met with that viscerally reassuring blast of burning wood, motes of ash swirling upward in intermittent waves across the courtyard that’s shared with the Dusty Knuckle Bakery. Acme Fire Cult is an aptly dark and brooding place that feels just a few Nordic runes short of Valhalla’s canteen, which is not just an overwrought analogy because upon meeting my friend, he’s so hungover he looks close to actual death. A single tear forming in one eye then receding because his body can't afford the loss.
The healing begins with sourdough courtesy of the Dusty Knuckle, utterly saturated with Marmite butter and snowed with pecorino. This once light and buoyant bread now unctuously sodden to its core, but retaining its crisp edges that are just strong enough to keep all that umamified fat hemmed in. Sort of.
Here it is- grilled hispi. How could it not be? I will say this- at least it’s half the price of Fallow; a vibrant riff on the usual ‘hard-sear-and-fat-brushed’ theme; the pumpkin seed pistou is bright, zesty and thorough with garlic- a really pleasing reposte to the bitterness of that serious char.
Ever since Brat with their fudgy little pink fir torpedoes doused in smoked butter, it’s caused me to search for similar elsewhere. And the search continues- these are deceptively and moreso, deflatingly dry- even when they’re doused with a liquid ruby seed rayu that is drink-from-the-bowl good.
Chris, though a man of minimal words today blurts out his need for the Dorset crab, bone marrow, salted cabbage and jalapeño verde. Everything is saddled on top of a shingle of toast that is bowing under the weight whilst gladly absorbing all that marrow. The tangles of toothsome shredded cabbage and sass of the verde punch through all that lies beneath, making it absolutely howl with robust balance. It’s a defibrillator of a dish for my ailing friend.
“If there’s a sausage on the menu, Max- order it”
Mutton is just something I’m drawn to by instinct and with the sage advice of Mr. Halley Snr. still reverberating around my skull, my chubby hands are tied. Autumnily burnished with a skin that snaps to reveal a gentle flush of pink in the centre, it’s all jazz-hands with cumin, paprika and a bit of fennel with a little buzz of heat. The hibiscus is forlornly faint in the pickles which are slicingly tart with vinegar. A plasterer’s smear of labneh clings to the side of the bowl, a few pickled peppers and a heavy-knit dollop of wild garlic pesto for which the sausage acts like a water break- Alan Partridge would look upon it with favour.
The Trombetta courgette, Vadouvan curry butter and black chickpea is a mixed bag. Firstly, it’s a testament to the mastery of fire and vegetable here- the courgette still beating with a juicy bite with a caramelised skin that develops only through being well-nursed on the flames. It’s glimmering in a vadouvan curry butter and sparkling with shards of fried curry leaves but overrun with the wetness of the puréed black chickpea which, along with a lick of crème fraîche, causes the dish to texturally drown a little. All the moisture you need comes from those skillfully prepared courgettes as it is.
My boy, now at 50% HP, needs the bavette. Billed with ancho koji, mustard greens and pickles and not perturbed by the adorable Jimi Famurewa’s comments of the price (owing to the native and rare breeds preferred here) we get ‘er dun.
Immediately apparent is the outright succulence, even before eating. The way the fibres react to touch, that blushing cross-section moving apart like a fleshy mosaic, the beast clearly lived and died with honour. A fistful of gherkin coins and our old friend crème fraîche doing a Yoko Ono and making yet another bemusing appearance. The ancho koji is boss, however. Depth, fruitiness, umami and sweet gentle spice, I let each slice of meat steep in it. Hand-drippingly messy, it’s an excuse to order more flatbread.
Which we did. A lot.
And that’s not to say we’re (Chris) so hungover that we need to basically replace our plates with the stuff, but that they come in roughly the dimensions of a coaster and neatly divided into four. In a place that seems to be all about sharing, it’s a bit cynical. Flatbreads are meant to be these gert dorsals of carbs that occupy the centre of the table, to be torn at with abandon because A) they’re cheap and B) the food requires it. Not eeked out and rationed. If you’re going to put them on the menu, make them so they at least cast a shadow and not pre-portioned in a thimble. You feel like a bit of a prannock asking to re-up every time staff walk by.
A dessert of hazelnut chocolate ganache, beer molasses and crème fraîche seems like another obvious choice. But the ganache is a touch rough, unyielding and the molasses too acidic which isn’t helped by this bloody crème fraîche. Give me the labneh if anything. Please. The toasted hazelnuts are just that and on paper, this appears to be a thoughtful variation on a stalwart flavour combination but ends up feeling like a bit of an afterthought.
There’s a missed opportunity to involve fire and smoke here which could well lead to something of a revelation (the toasted hazelnuts notwithstanding). That aside, in terms of sweet things, the chilli lemonade is superb and could happily delve into a pitcher of the stuff alone- that moreish interplay of brash acidity, flaring up into heat and quenched with another sip in between bites is a cycle that’s a shame to break. But Chris has to collect some lizards, so we wrap things up. Classic Chris.
To say it’s a cult is a bit of a reach- this sort of cheeky hubris inevitably goes one way or the other; yet another Nathan Barleyism of London that you can imagine Jonatton Yeah? giving the green light to in the boardroom. “It’s a cult, etcetera?” he muses, over some Dutch wine. Given that the place is still in its infancy, they’ve perhaps painted themselves into a corner in which they didn’t cut-in first. It’s great open-flame cooking, no doubt- but I’ll definitely take another chilli lemonade over the Kool-Aid, for now.