Our restaurant reviewer visits the Geffrye Museum, where there yes, is a problematic statue, but also, a generous and charming cafe.
Should Geffrye Fall? Well, yes, according to the Museum of the Home's public consultation last year, in which over 70 per cent of respondents called for the removal of the Museum's statue of 17th century slave owner Robert Geffrye. Yet still the stone figure stands in Hoxton, front and centre of the former almshouses (charitable residential housing) on Kingsland Road that Geffrye donated money to build in the early 1700s. A small sign has been erected nearby, explaining how his money came from "the persistent investment in the forced labour and trade of enslaved Africans". The small sign does not explain that Geffrye still stands because the Culture Secretary compelled the Museum to adhere to the government's 'retain and explain' policy on controversial statues. A policy that is, in this case, deaf both to local residents' concerns, and to the compromise suggested by the Museum's own staff that the statue be retained and explained, but removed from its Kingsland Road pedestal and placed somewhere less exalted within the grounds.
Whether you think the statue should stay or go, I do think you should go to the Museum's new restaurant, Molly's. Not least because profit at Molly's supports the Museum, and it is a result of the government being the Museum's main financial sponsor that it holds so much sway. But, also, because Molly's is delightful. If Geffrye is divisive, Molly's is determined to please everyone. It is a collaboration with the people behind three of London's most excellent food pubs - the Anchor and Hope, Canton Arms and Clarence Tavern. And depending which door you enter through, Molly's serves as a pub too. Just as inside the Museum one wanders through an enfilade of rooms showcasing interiors of different eras from the 1630s to the 1990s, here you walk through the pub and suddenly find yourself in a primary-coloured canteen with cakes and Allpress coffee on offer. This merges into a highly 'grammable foliage-draped dining room – and then, through another door, into a terrace, one with that makeshift, very London feel, unlikely to be used 10 months of the year because it's raining and we've all vanished inside.
I manage to visit Molly's in a brief week of summer and the terrace is blinking in surprise, a glorious sun-trap, with the smell of mint wafting from a herb box, and the gentle rumble of an Overground train pulling into Hoxton station. It's the sort of day when wine goes down like water, especially when it is four quid a glass of very decent Cataratto. Welcome to the Terrazza del Hoxton, grins our lovely server, who later brings us free mini pours of lager to refresh after too many glasses in the blazing sun.
Molly's is generous and charming, as is the Europe-hopping, daily-changing, something-for-everyone menu of small plates and large. On my visit there are panelle, saucy little Sicilian chickpea flour fritters, chive-flecked and Maldon-dusted and so good that I burn my tongue twice in greed. There is a rugged, olive oil-sheened gazpacho with grated egg and excellent croutons. Russian salad is a menu staple: that ultimate un-salad of mayonnaise with potato, egg and peas. I once lived off Russian salad for a week in Spain when, with infallible 17-year-old logic, I realised that I needn't spend any money on food if I kept drinking beer in bars and eating the free tapas. Here at Molly's, any sense of parsimony is nullified both by sheer quantity, and the absurdly generous pile of smoked salmon that comes with it for £11. There are some lovely rainbow-hued beetroots snuggled under a big blob of sheep's ricotta - basic, but delicious, and as summery as the smell of Hawaiian Tropic.
On a sunny weekend, I would happily linger over three or four of these summer-ripe small plates with a bottle and a friend. On a more typical British summer day, I might pop inside for one big plate - something salad-y, like the very good chicken Caesar or a Nicoise - or a coffee and hunk of poppyseed cheesecake. There are also heftier gastropub classics, T-bone to share, or veal chop, or baked cumin lamb with Greek salad; excellent looking Sunday roasts and overflowing lunchtime baps for six quid too. Crowd-pleasing, good value, and far better than necessary for a museum caff.
And of course, you could have a lovely time at Molly's without knowing a thing about slaveowner Robert Geffrye. But I think context is important, and if a problematic statue is retained, it's worth explaining that it is because the wishes of those who actually work in and live around the Museum have been wilfully ignored.
Images | mollys cafe