The East London borough of Hackney is booming, particularly with regard to new restaurants, cafés, bars and speciality delis. Alongside long-established Vietnamese and Turkish eateries you’ll now find a Swedish corner café, a Ghanaian pop-up and even a farmyard bistro. A funky restaurant aesthetic has emerged, characterized by bare bulbs, monastic wooden benches and fresh local ingredients artfully displayed. This is a guide to eating in the area, which will take you on a trail from old classics to new independent restaurants to some alternative choices that are well off the beaten track.
You’ll find foodie Nirvana every Saturday in Hackney at the stalls of Broadway Market: sample everything from Norwegian salmon to Gujarati snacks and cute American cupcakes and whoopee pies. Variety and quality are the key words, plus there’s a high bearded hipster count.
A social enterprise offering something a little different: cooking classes where a “Mama” from a different part of the world teaches you her home cooking. At a recent event in Hackney, Mama Thamara shared her love of vegetarian Sri Lankan food with a group of aspiring cooks. Future events feature Mama Susana who will teach you how to make a three-course Mexican meal, and Mama Esther spreading the word on Camaroonian cooking.
This bakery started life in a kitchen in the E5 area, and now occupies a vaulted railway arch near London Fields in E8. At the front of the space are trestle tables and a counter laden with Bakewell and treacle tarts, Eccles cakes, chocolate brownies and more. But the powerhouse of
is the open kitchen at the back, where you can see dough being stretched, pumelled and shaped into the sourdough loaves that are the Bakehouse signature product. Try their Hackney Wild loaf, and if you’re bitten by the sourdough bug take one of the Saturday cooking courses. These are very popular so you have to sign up in advance, but you’ll end up with your very own pain de campagne, ciabatta, 66% rye, and bagels, plus a sourdough starter to launch your bread-making career.
This is one of the longest established supper clubs in town, and aside from excellent cooking is distinguished by the fact that it’s a highly successful fundraiser for Médecins Sans Frontières. The club operates from Alicia Weston’s Hackney home, where each week Alicia and a group of volunteers create a banquet for guests. The themed suppers range from Diwali celebrations to Georgian and Syrian feasts to a Chinese night that contrasts the earthy food of peasant revolutionaries with lavish dishes from the Imperial Court. It could be the tastiest £45 you ever spend in Hackney – especially as £35 of the fee goes to charity.
The Vietnamese community has been part of the fabric of Hackney since the 1970s. Initially the new immigrants worked in the garment industry, but when this began to falter they switched to the restaurant business, and now the southern part of Kingsland Road has been rechristened Pho Road for the large numbers of cheap, cheerful Vietnamese noodle joints. You can’t go too far wrong here, but you might want to try Mien Tay, a south Vietnamese restaurant where the speciality is the seafood cuisine of the Mekong Delta. If you don’t fancy Mekong catfish, try the fresh rolls, crammed with prawns, noodles and crisp greens.
With a cosy alternative vibe and a packed programme of events, the tucked-away Russet is emerging as one of the most interesting venues in the borough. You can attend their film club, take yoga classes and hear live music, and the Mediterranean-inspired food is fresh and seasonal. Salads come from Growing Communities, an award-winning local enterprise that sources excellent local organic produce: their Patchwork Farm comprises a network of growing spaces across Hackney.
If you’re on a budget and have an interest in combatting the scourge of food waste, check out the People’s Kitchen, based in boho backstreet venue Passing Clouds. Each Sunday, a group of volunteers set out on bikes from Passing Clouds to collect food from nearby shops which would otherwise end up in landfill. They return to the venue’s kitchen to create a veggie feast – visitors then pay a donation for the food, a film screening and discussion. As well as raising awareness of food waste, the project aims to foster communality and cooking skills.
The principle behind the White Rabbit sounds a little esoteric. You pick tapas-style dishes from a menu divided by three cooking styles: BBQ, wood oven and stove. Once you’ve got your head round the concept, sit back and enjoy the fact that whatever you select will be delicious, from ox cheek with pearl barley to roasted butternut squash with hay-smoked yoghurt, pomegranate pearls, honey comb and… ash. With its parquet floor and long bar, this friendly restaurant is one of the area’s most attractive new arrivals.
This stylish bare-brick shop and café is new to London Fields, and sells a wide variety of products without packaging. Bring your own tubs and bags, and fill up on muesli, nuts, oils, jams and much more. The café offers some unusual breakfast options like root vegetable bubble and squeak with poached eggs and chilli jam, while for lunch choose from soups, mezze and interesting mains.
Helena Smith writes about food and community at eathackney.com. On 4 October the Eat Hackney Cookbook will be launched to raise funds for the Hackney Migrant Centre and North London Action for the Homeless. These two charities feed 100 homeless and vulnerable people in Hackney each week.
Explore more of London with the Rough Guide to London or find more quirky and exciting restaurants, bars, cafés and events with the Rough Guide to Vintage London.
Helena Smith grew up near the Trossach Mountains in Scotland and under Zomba Plateau in Malawi, two beautiful places which inspired her love of the outdoors. She is a writer, photographer and co-founder of Wilder, a social enterprise doing wildlife planting in urban spaces. Follow her on Twitter