Where to stay
Nobu Hotel Matsuhisa Benedict for breakfast (that’s tofu, crab and
salmon egg with a shiso béarnaise), a bento box for lunch, then Wagyu
with foie gras gyoza or black cod den miso for dinner – there’s so much
to like about Nobu’s first hotel in the UK, and that’s before you even get to the bedrooms. When you do, you’ll find modern, stylish design
befitting the famous brand – all with an elegant simplicity that has a
distinct Japanese flavour. Doubles from £195.
10-50 Willow Street, 020 7683 1200, nobuhotelshoreditch.com
The Old Ship Inn Ten rooms are available above this East End pub
that blends the old-school charm of a London boozer with all the
gastropub niceties that come as standard these days. Based in Hackney,
solo travellers are catered for as well, with a neat, modern single coming
in at £80. Food is anything from rotisserie chicken to burgers to sharing
plates, with Sunday lunch being another big draw at weekends. Doubles
2 Sylvester Path, 020 8986 2732, oldshiphackney.com
Redchurch Townhouse Part of the Soho House group with 37 rooms
decked out in 1950s-70s-inspired decor. Ranging from ‘Tiny’ (20 sq m,
but still with king-size beds, en-suite bathrooms and rainforest shows), to
‘Large’ (38 sq m and space for a freestanding bath tub and an en-suite –
this feels more like an apartment than a hotel), they’re all of the excellent
quality you’ve come to expect from the group. Doubles from £190.
25-27 Whitby Street, 020 3819 8180, redchurchtownhouse.com
Town Hall Hotel With its impressive art deco interiors and award-winning
destination restaurants, Da Terra and the Corner Room, this former Bethnal
Green council building which sprung to life in 1910 and has become one
of the East London’s go-to places to stay since opening to provide five-star
luxury in 2010. Rooms are seriously huge, with accommodation options
including two-room suites with their own kitchen, for those who might fancy
the odd night in, and quirky artworks abound throughout. Doubles from
8 Patriot Square, 020 7871 0460, townhallhotel.com
Where to eat
The Clove Club Based in Shoreditch Town Hall, which dates back to 1866, there’s little else dated about a restaurant which is Britain’s highest entry in the World’s 50 Best, at 33. Four-course lunch from £65 (excluding wine).
380 Old Street, 020 7729 6496, thecloveclub.com
Cornerstone Tom Brown, a master of his art, here serves up a concise
fish-only menu in an industrial setting – all concrete floors and not a
lampshade in sight. The potted shrimp crumpet is legendary. From £50.
3 Prince Edward Road, 020 8986 3922, cornerstonehackney.com
F Cooke An East London essential. Order pie or eels and mash, even if
only to tell everyone you’ve visited a London institution dating to 1862.
Small pie and mash from £3.70.
9 Broadway Market, 020 7254 6458
The Frog Hoxton Expect refinement, balance of flavours, zero waste and
a seven-course tasting menu at what feels like a bargain £60. There’s
also, downstairs, whisky-driven bar Iron Stag, and, around the corner,
Bean & Wheat, for coffees and craft beers and light bites. From £55.
45-47 Hoxton Square, 020 3813 9832, thefroghoxton.com
Hill & Szrok A 24-cover restaurant with a meat-heavy menu right above
its own butcher’s shop of the same. Go for the Sunday lunch. From £19.
60 Broadway Market, 020 7254 8805, hillandszrok.co.uk
Leroy From the people behind Ellory, this acclaimed, Instagram-friendly
corner restaurant serves inspired plates with plenty to keep veggies happy,
too. From £44.
18 Phipp Street, 020 7739 4443, leroyshoreditch.com
The Marksman Proper East End boozer turned into a modern pub but
still awash with character. Their Chinese-style buns are reason enough to
visit, likewise the devilled pig’s skin to dip in smoked cod roe. From £44.
254 Hackney Road, 020 7739 7393, marksmanpublichouse.com
Rawduck It’s not just about the drinking vinegars and kombuchas, as
good as they are; go to start a Sunday with a flat white and breakfast
roll and also for Med-inspired plates to share with friends. From £40.
197 Richmond Road, 020 8986 6534, rawduckhackney.co.uk
Rochelle Canteen Margot Henderson and Melanie Arnold’s intimate
canteen is all about the flavour without the frills. Seating 40, the menu is
full of hearty flavours. Start with ‘snails, trotter and kale’, a good bit of fish
or pie for main, and end with apple crumble and cream. From £40.
16 Playground Gardens, 020 7729 5677, arnoldandhenderson.com
St Leonards Stripped-back interiors, serving up plates to share, but some
to keep to yourself, like the almighty Tamworth pork chop from the menu’s
‘hearth’ section (which also includes a 100 day-aged Hereford sirloin).
A ‘raw’ menu has the likes of beetroot, garlic, walnut and crème fraîche. From £50.
70 Leonard Street, 020 7739 1291, stleonards.london
Food and Travel Review
‘Silicon Roundabout’ doesn’t sound like the name of a gourmet gateway. It certainly doesn’t look like it either. The Old Street traffic filtration system comes complete with two staggering steel arches stretching over a quartet of giant, luminous billboards advertising the latest Apple gadgetry. It seems as far removed from a food-obsessed culture as possible. Definitely more tech than taste; convenience not provenance.
And yet East London’s most famous car carousel – which gained its ‘Silicon’ moniker due to the propensity of web-based firms starting up around it a decade ago – pretty much marks a point where the City-goers shrug off their suit jackets and loosen their ties. It’s where bankers and brokers join the start-ups, fintech entrepreneurs and gastro geeks in search of new flavours. Shirt sleeves become tattoo sleeves, jackets are vintage rather than Valentino and belts are switched to braces.
You can see the change in the buildings, too, as they start to loosen up. While the roundabout is loomed over by mirrored hulks of architecture lit with the incandescent rage of a thousand angry halogen bulbs, as you step towards the lands of Shoreditch, Hoxton and the other man-made wonders of East London, the office blocks take on a softer facade. Some businesses shrink from the outside world completely. Not wanting to ruin the vibe, they hide behind a discreet Victorian courtyard with double-fronted stable doors, or inside a converted warehouse once used for something far stickier and sweatier than designing a new app. It is pockmarked with the odd modern eyesore, but generally the buildings that can’t be hidden do what they can to fit in. They apply some face paint with 1980s-style graffiti murals on any surface they can find; they scrub their walls to reveal an old furniture ad from the turn of the century (and if there isn’t one, they stencil one in); or they let an Aussie guy with a man bun open up a coffee shop in any available crevice. The first key thing here is not the man bun, but the fact that the coffee is probably the best you’ve tasted in this hemisphere. The second thing is, there’ll be another brilliant barista on the very next street.
For some, East London is about style, but that shouldn’t detract from the incredible substance and diversity of its food and drink scene. There’s not a palate left uncatered for and the array of cuisines is dizzying. There’s quality to match any West London fine diner, too, not least because some of those Michelin-quality chefs who set out to make a mark in the capital have found themselves inextricably drawn to the wonders of the East.
‘My God, I don’t fit in, I used to work in Westminster,’ explains Adam Handling, chef-owner of The Frog Hoxton, which is two minutes’ – and about 30 places to eat – walk from the roundabout. ‘When I opened my first one in Shoreditch, one of my chefs had said this great little site had become available, it’ll be perfect.
‘It was in East London, I’d never been in my life, but holy crap, it was cool, and the people were cool. Some of the outfits freaked me out, but the beards, the tattoos – it was art land. I loved it.’
That first East London restaurant was The Frog E1, Handling’s maiden indie venture having previously opened his breakthrough Restaurant Adam Handling at Caxton in SW1’s St Ermin’s Hotel, which won a Food and Travel award the year it opened. When the lease came up on The Frog E1, he decided to stay East but head to Hoxton Square and a former Byron Burger joint. So cavernous was the space, he opened not only The Frog Hoxton, but also Iron Stag and Bean & Wheat. Three separate, neighbouring entrances, three completely different experiences and one single kitchen. It’s a microcosm of East London. You have the underground cocktail bar Iron Stag, decked out with deep-buttoned brown sofas, walls covered in random art (all commissioned by Handling), but still all darkly cool and snug, and with a whisky-driven menu, too. It raises the bar in every sense. Then you have Bean & Wheat, a zero-waste coffee shop accessed via Old Street that sells lighter bites until 10pm, and has a vast craft beer selection. It’s a slither of a venue, but the mac ‘n’ cheese with truffle is ridiculously good, each piece of macaroni seemingly having been smothered, injected, bathed and sprinkled in the cheese. Or cheeses, as he uses three: Cheddar, Parmigiano Reggiano and Gruyère. It’s not just rich, it’s got bite and tang, and even as you feel your insides being enveloped with every decadent mouthful, you think about ordering more.
Then there’s the one that will pique the interest of Michelin, The Frog Hoxton, which offers a tasting menu for a comparatively reasonable £60. Duck livers with plum on toast is so soft and creamy, it should have a flake in it; crispy vegetable shavings on top of a cod brandade give it a crunch to go with the melting sweetness of the cod beneath; and good bits of meat, in this case, venison, are just allowed to be good bits of meat. Mother, created for his vegetarian mum, is salt-baked celeriac with truffled cheese, apple and dates, which punches you with every flavour in every bite, kicking all the taste buds into action.
A few roads – and a dozen coffee shops – away from Handling’s trio is St Leonards. It also opened last year, but unlike Handling, chef-director Andrew Clarke knew what he was getting into on the East London side. ‘For me, it’s the most progressive part of town. People do things in East London and make mistakes, and they don’t give up,’ says Clarke, who lives in Hackney. ‘In Britain we pick on people for failing. There’s an embarrassment, a stigma to it. But in East London we see people setting up a little restaurant, it goes under, they try again, maybe with pop-ups. They’re always testing the water. If it’s not a restaurant, it’s art, or film.’ Clarke is passionate about his manor; he talks of his favourite locals, from Lahore Kebab House (‘spicy dals, grilled meats, super cheap’) to Dark Arts Coffee (he’s wearing their T-shirt when we talk, ‘a great roastery that does amazing food’), and loves the northern Thai flavours coming out of Som Saa and Smoking Goat. ‘Those places are buzzing,’ he says, ‘they’re looking for flavours that London hasn’t been exposed to yet.’
His own restaurant has a simple, unfussy design, with glowing hanging lamps to cosy it up, with two ‘open’ kitchens for essentially plating up and a serious one out back for the tough stuff. His menu is split between ‘snacks’, ‘raw’, ‘shellfish’, ‘hearth’ and ‘sides’. He wants you to try assorted flavours and meander a night away; dip quails’ eggs in forest salt (dried mushrooms), enjoy the sweet refreshment of a raw bream and kumquat with artichoke and bitter chicory, fill your boots with a gargantuan Tamworth chop, then get a pleasant surprise with the pear and celeriac dessert. ‘I wanted to set the scene for a nice, convivial table of friends to just tuck in and try different things,’ he says.
St Leonards hasn’t all been positive for Clarke: it has had a knock-on effect, delaying the recording of a new album with his band, Hot Piss, for whom he’s the guitarist. ‘It was a joke name to book the studio, but we’ve not got around to changing it yet.’
He often fuels his dual career with pie and mash at weekends, always from the same place, Broadway Market, a mile or so east, on the doorstep of his home. F Cooke has been serving pie and mash with liquor and jellied eels in one way or another since the 1800s. Even today, the fourth generation, Joe, sells you double pie and mash for £4.30 or large eels and mash for £8.25.
The market itself runs over the Regent’s Canal at one end – itself home to assorted cafés and lunch spots – and to London Fields at the other. And while it shares a lengthy history with F Cooke, it was relaunched by the local community in 2004, and it’s the modern artisans who’ve helped regenerate this stretch.
All around, in reused garages, civic buildings, basements and bookshops, you’ll find a new food or drink experience. Underneath an arch nearby you might be lucky to find the Secret Smokehouse, which supplies London’s finest restaurants with cured and smoked salmon, trout, haddock and kippers, but doesn’t reveal its address. On the theme of fine fish and slightly further out east in Hackney Wick, Tom Brown’s Cornerstone is making waves. After spending a decade at the apron strings of Nathan Outlaw, Brown launched his restaurant with the balls to offer a menu showcasing dishes that all include fish. It was one of the best-reviewed restaurants of 2018 and goes to show that when a solid idea, one chef’s determination and good product align, people will travel to consume it. Oklava, Selin Kiazim’s temple to Turkish flavour, is an example of how broad the area’s palate has become. Focusing on niche, unfamiliar spice blends and cooking techniques, its success goes from strength to strength and has brought Kiazim’s star to a national stage with appearances on Great British Menu and MasterChef.
Street-food stalls in this part of town have a habit of launching culinary careers. Here, you can meet the Meringue Girls, buy a cheese toasty called Hamish Macbeth, order a portion of Lord of the Wings, queue for what feels like an age to get a flat white and a sourdough loaf – yet you know it’ll be totally worth it once you taste them.
When Luca Mathiszig-Lee used to walk down Broadway Market, he was taken by an old school butcher’s shop. ‘It was never open though, or it was open at weird times, like on a Tuesday morning, then closed in the afternoon, but it was such a beautiful shop,’ he says. A few years later, the space became available. He missed out, but a sweet shop opposite that was on the market offered a similar vibe. Refitting the whole place with cream square floor tiles, black tiles and marble aplenty, he opened Hill & Szrok, butcher by day, restaurant by night. ‘Young people are more than happy to eat at a restaurant, but they’re not as confident at a butcher’s,’ he says. ‘They don’t know what stuff is called, and have to point at things. But now you come here, eat lamb neck, and the next day you buy it in the shop. We have really low wastage.’
Walk into the shop and you’re greeted with a large square of Carrara marble filled with the finest cuts, joints and birds. Marbled in all the right places, ruby red when they should be, firm and tender where required. Head upstairs of an evening to the 25-cover restaurant and you’ll get to see just how that sweet marbling melts on the 550g sirloin or 850g côte de boeuf. ‘Sometimes it’s just the simple things,’ says Mathiszig-Lee. ‘People taste a quality chicken and they’re like “wow”, that’s how a chicken is supposed to taste.’
Like Shoreditch before it, Hackney now has the highest of standards on the food front. Clare Lattin is another London Fields local, but opened her first restaurant, Ducksoup, in Soho, before coming home to Hackney with Rawduck. It’s here the locals (and City-weary Londoners) come to try their kombuchas (fermented drinks) and drinking vinegars (variants include fig, white currant and hibiscus, and beetroot and carrot), before taking brunch, lunch or dinner with their seasonal menu. ‘We do about 12 different vinegars a year, and they’re seasonal, too,’ says Lattin, who also has Little Duck – The Picklery, a fermenting kitchen and wine bar around the corner, where they make, sell and serve their drinks with a simple, Mediterranean-inspired menu. ‘There’s a coffee one, blood orange; we did quince for Christmas and we’ve got a rhubarb one now.’
In her 15 years as a resident, Lattin has seen this part of East London change dramatically, namechecking certain roads as ‘hellholes’, before going on to list the great places that have opened up since then: Lardo (pizza), Brawn (seasonal meat and fish), Scout (cocktails), Pidgin (which serves a different four-course menu each week) and new opening Two Lights, which is so tricky to get a table at, a reservation holds the same resonance as an 8pm seating at American Psycho’s Dorsia. Rochelle Canteen makes her list, as it does the list of anyone who’s eaten in these parts.
Dusting off the cobwebs and breathing new life into archaic old spaces is part and parcel of what East London has become. Town halls have ‘50 Best’-calibre chefs taking up residence and dishing up world-beating £145-a-head taster menus. While, glue factories become distilleries – we’re looking at you East London Liquor Company – churning out gins, whiskies, and rums as confidently as if they’d been doing it since the days of Gin Lane.
And in the bike sheds of what was once a school during the late 1800s, you’ll now find Rochelle Canteen. It’s a fitting end to any East London journey as it encapsulates everything that’s good about the area. What started out, and indeed still is, a catering business run by Margot Henderson and Melanie Arnold, has become everyone’s favourite neighbourhood restaurant. First it was the people in the neighbouring studios that started to get drawn in by the sights and smells emanating from the kitchens, then word spread, and as more tables and chairs were added, a restaurant was inevitable. The food isn’t complicated. A chicken and bacon pie here is how all pies should be. Big chunks of meat, creamy sauce spliced with smoky bacon, topped with pastry that’s soaked up the best of what lies beneath to give you that gooey underbelly but still manages to stay all crispy and flaky on top. Cauliflower and crouton soup is the ideal antidote to any chilly evening, while ginger loaf, served with warm poached pears and smooth custard, should be the finale to every meal. ‘A friend bought a school and suggested we put a restaurant in the bike shed,’ explains Henderson. ‘It’s the worst-kept secret it the world. It’s actually the oldest council building in Europe.’
Henderson’s first East London experiences were in Brick Lane, ‘having a rummage around the market, where people sold what they’d found in rubbish bins. I picked up my first wide peeler here. We’d come for a bagel, chopped liver on toast – Jewish food – or a good pie and mash shop,’ she says. ‘The art world were all here, too – they get everywhere first, looking for cheap studio space.’
What makes East London special? ‘We’ve got Soho, which is party central, but here it’s interesting architecture, it’s mismatchy, it’s not too shiny, you can’t be too fancy. And there are great people, a mixture of old and new; it’s just vibrant.’ Eclectic people, places and plates. ‘It’s the heart of London,’ Henderson says, adding, ‘There’s everything going on here and I love it’.
Get Premium access to all the latest content online
Subscribe and view full print editions online... Subscribe