The Laughing Heart, a thrilling London kitchen and cave on Hackney Road, has closed. Proprietor Charlie Mellor announced the news on Instagram, with the service on Sunday 31 July proving to be its last.
Writing an emotional tribute to its staff of past and present, as well as its guests, and the ability of a restaurant to give “so many beautiful people the chance to explore their dreams,” Mellor was also ambiguously frank about the circumstances of the closure:
All the details of how we arrived here are too long, sad and gruesome to list in this forum. The business has fallen victim to these dark times we live in. Almost saving it almost killed me.
After opening in 2016, the Laughing Heart went through several guises, some by choice and some necessitated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mellor launched a popular delivery market, Big Night, while streamlining the menu to a price fixe as restaurants first reopened in summer 2020; it evolved again with the appointment of Adam Boon as head chef following Tom Anglesea’s departure, bringing in a lengthier, more formal progressive menu alongside a brief a la carte.
But across those changes, it remained true to its respectfully, racuously improvisational ethos that Anglesea and Mellor had inculcated since 2016. In its heyday, buoyed by a 2 a.m. license and a kitchen that would continue until 1 a.m., it was a thrilling scene, as suited to a very elegant date as much as a late-night feast, stuffing olives with pork and lime leaf, steaming Paula Cheung’s superb dumplings, and passing over crème brulées with the numbing zip of Sichuan peppercorn; stuffing paté in a bun with a wink. Mellor’s Australian background, and particularly 10 William Street in Sydney, was the inspiration:
“They were way ahead of the curve, serving amazing charcuterie and pasta, but that pasta might have XO sauce. They’ve been doing that Chinese-Italian fusion thing for a long time, which is reflective of the Australian way of living.”
And if the food changed over time, the one constant was Mellor himself, a host of infinite gregariousness and keeper of one of the most approachably nerdy modern wine lists in the capital.