This striking timber edifice has popped up on the edge of the Olympic Park in a high footfall location between Westfield and the Aquatic Centre. It is of course a three storey Alpine-themed hospitality pavilion.
It opened in September, construction having been underway throughout lockdown. It goes by the name of Haugen and is part of the well-established D&D dining portfolio. It's aiming for an Austrian après ski vibe, which means modern European cuisine, fondue and plenty of beer and spirits. It consists of a rooftop bar on top of a sizeable restaurant on top of a cafe. And although you could come here with family or friends and siphon money into the owner's coffers I'm much more interested in what we're being encouraged to do for free, which is climb to the top.
One set of steps curves up the front past the restaurant entrance, but the best way to reach the summit without getting in the way of would-be diners is to head round the back where there are two more flights. I guess they double up as a fire escape... although given the structure's mostly wooden, including the stairs, I wouldn't recommend being up here if a conflagration breaks out. According to signs at ground level the roof terrace viewing areas are open to the public from 8am to 7pm daily, which is good to see in print because you wouldn't necessarily risk trespassing otherwise. Prepare your nostrils - it still smells like the shed section at a garden centre up here.
After 30 steps you reach the first floor landing to the rear of the restaurant, at which point the staircase splits to offer a choice of routes to the top. It's easy to imagine bright young things loitering with a tray of shots or a signature cocktail in warmer times, but midmorning on a winter weekday expect to have the labyrinthine exterior to yourself. I queried the Polite Notice urging departing revellers to keep the noise down "to avoid disturbing local residents", given that every surrounding building is either an office block or an Olympic-sized swimming pool so you'd have to be particularly vocal to annoy anyone at home.
The rooftop terrace is surprisingly big as outdoor spaces go, thereby providing maximum opportunity for al fresco grazing. Stools, chairs and benches are scattered around in cosy clusters allowing groups to hunker down and enjoy a £52 bottle of Riesling, £10 dose of Black Forest schnapps or £8.50 bowl of luxury nuts. For families from Essex who've wandered in for the experience but don't fancy going overboard, three quid Coca-Colas are also available. Adverse weather conditions are catered for by means of copious sunshades, currently tightly tied, and an army of planet-destroying patio heaters for those who've not come dressed in skiwear thermals. Pick your chosen perch and enjoy the view.
Pick well and the Aquatic Centre swoops alluringly across an empty promenade with a patch of park and a sliver of stadium to one side. But from most angles the rooftop panorama is a tad disappointing, mainly due to the aforementioned encircling office blocks. The red-fronted block opposite is home to hundreds of Transport for London personnel, while the Financial Conduct Authority operate from the greyer tower alongside. Revellers might choose to raise a sloe gin or green chartreuse in salute to the poor souls they can see toiling behind these nearby windows. Immediately beneath is Endeavour Square, a wind-whipped piazza supposedly enlivened by a few piddly fountains. And round the back is a deep chasm filled with a sheaf of railway tracks, indeed this lightweight restaurant sits directly above the DLR.
What should be a glorious vista across the Olympic Park, and would have been had Haugen been prefabricated three years earlier, is instead blocked by the emerging East Bank cultural hub. In decent visibility a distant outcrop of contours is visible in the slot above the train tracks, which I think is Stamford Hill, but it's not going to wow anyone who's made the effort to ascend. The red-ribbed building on the right is occupied by Cancer Research and the British Council, and beyond that (until it too disappears) is the geometric facade of John Lewis. Ten years ago we all stood up there amid the Wenlock keyrings and gawped at the emerging Olympic venues, and now at least two flanks of real estate get in the way.
When you're done with attempted sightseeing, aim to wend your way back down via a different staircase to vary the experience. I spotted a waitress tweaking a table setting during my descent but was convinced the upper deck's emptiness had been down to Haugen being closed until lunchtime. Not so. A chalkboard confirmed they'd been serving breakfast since 8am in a ground floor spin-off called the Deli for those who fancy ham & cheese rolls, vegan schnitzel and smoked German sausages to kickstart their day. At least the coffee looked competitively priced compared to Pret opposite, but the same can't be said for the evening options. Reviewers from the Guardian and the Financial Times came away with very different views.
As is the case with many of these huge, tourist-magnet restaurants, Haugen relies on a one-time clientele who will be bedazzled by the decor and unquestioning of the menu’s prices and provenance. This pains me. There is fresher, better grab-and-go food in the M&S food hall a short walk way, even if you do have to eat it on the wall outside the Holiday Inn. I’ve tried my best to love Haugen, but my overall tip re their fondue is fon-don’t. Grace Dent, Guardian
Haugen could quite easily be a cynical theme restaurant but, weirdly, it’s charming. The food is extremely good and the cod-Tyrolean stylings are executed with total commitment, a straight face and a good heart. Their Black Forest gâteau might not be quite ironic enough for my barbarous English taste, but for introducing me to my first leafless salad I shall remember them for ever. And for the fondue, I’d stand on the pitch at half-time and yodel. Tim Hayward, FT
I also noted that Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park's Visitor Information Centre has now been squeezed into the rear corner of Haugen's mega-chalet. It used to be in a cheap portakabin halfway across the bridge where everybody walked past it, but now it's hidden in an ill-signed cubbyhole just far enough off the beaten track to be entirely missable, so I imagine sales of QEOP mugs and sketchbooks have slumped. At least you'll spot it if you decide to take advantage of the viewing platform by clambering over this peculiar Alpine restaurant, whether you decide to linger for an après ski beverage or not.