Hackney, Hackney, Hackney. Remember when everyone was talking about you being full of dickheads? Hail the rise of the dickheads! Well, that’s long gone now. We’re in a post-dickhead time. Now we’ve been left with blocks of apartments un-ironically called The Overdraught, and more craft breweries than actual pubs. Yet, Hackney is still cool. So cool that it’s cooler to hate it than actually enjoy it. During all this love/hate business, great restaurants have continued to serve great food on a pretty much incomparable scale to any other borough in London. It’s relentless. And we like it. Here’s our guide to best places to eat in Hackney.
n.b. if you can’t understand why there aren’t any Shoreditch restaurants here, that’s because Shoreditch is important enough to merit its own guide.
If eating foods that are considerably bigger than your face is something that appeals, then you’re probably going to like Yard Sale. This North London pizza joint (it really is a joint, they’ve got plastic furniture and all) has only gotten bigger and better ever since it first opened. The pizzas (always get the 18 incher) are delicious, and good to share between three (or even better shared between between two). We’re big fans of the TSB and Cour Blimey, but pretty much everything is great. Just don’t forget to get the homemade chilli oil and garlic dip, oh and also the brownie. Their brownie is no joke.
If our neighbours were dumplings, we would eat them. We wouldn’t be able to resist. It would be headline news, The Daily Mail would say ‘CHOP (THEM UP), STICK (THEM IN A CELL)’. And we would shake our head. Not in regret, but at that awful, awful pun. Thankfully that won’t happen because My Neighbour The Dumplings is a restaurant, and a bloody fine one at that. The har gau (prawn) and shu mai (prawn and pork) dumplings are the sort of things you could very easily eat on a daily basis. There’s a bar downstairs which means you can easily spend an evening here. That sounds like a good idea to us.
Uchi is a sort of humble Japanese restaurant that does very nice sashimi, nigiri and rolls. There are hot things too - like yakitori and kara-age - and all in all it’s a solid neighbourhood option.
A biker cafe in Clapton sounds a bit dangerous, doesn’t it? Like that scene in True Detective. You know, the one where Matthew McConaughey goes into a meth stash house undercover with lots of angry, hairy men. Well Jim’s Cafe is nothing like that. Swap the meth for moreish brunch and burgers, and the anger for an extremely comfortable and diner-ish environment, and then you’re more on the mark. Jim’s is one of Chatsworth Road’s most reliable hangouts. The coffee and breakfast is good, and the burger is, whisper it, definitely one of London’s best.
Sometimes you walk into a restaurant and just think, “Yes. Yes I am going to get very comfortable here, almost definitely drink a bottle of wine and eat some lovely food. Yes”. P. Franco is one of those places. It’s an extremely cosy wine bar that’s basically a kitchen island, some racks of wine, and two induction hobs. The food is cooked by by rotating chefs who change every few months and regardless of who’s cooking, it tends to be excellent. The wine isn’t too shabby either. There aren’t many places in London to get a dinner like P. Franco serves: relaxed, delicious, intimate, and individual all at once.
There’s a shop in Clapton that bears an uncanny resemblance to a high street supermarket. Locals fondly refer to it as ‘Fake Sainsbury’s’. It’s a pillar of the Upper Clapton Road, and so is the pizza restaurant bang opposite it. Sodo pizza is thought of similarly fondly, without any of the same concerns over trademark. The sourdough pizzas here are consistently up there with the best in London. They’re the kind with a crisp base and crust that taste of a lot more than dough. Plus the candlelit space itself is an extremely reliable (and cost efficient) casual date or dinner location.
Andu is a straightforward Ethiopian vegan café that’s BYOB. We say it’s straightforward because there’s only one thing to order here, their sampler platter. It’s made up of six dishes, ranging from vegetables to stews, that’s served with either rice or sour injera bread, we recommend the latter. It’s a great and cost efficient spot, as well as being a pretty healthy and tasty.
In what was formerly Efes pool hall, Kingsland Road’s most endearingly grotty space, we now have Earth: a music and arts venue. Earth Kitchen is the all-day restaurant and bar attached to it and, once you come here, you probably won’t be pouring one out for the loss of Efes. This place is useful and delicious on lots of levels. For soups and sourdough toasties during a working day, or for a slap-up meal of braised lamb followed by ginger pudding in the evening. It’s the best kind of British cooking.
These days, restaurants like to tell us exactly what we’re eating, how it’s feeling, and the precise method of cooking. Things like “Shy cauliflower cryogenically frozen for 14 years charred with the 2012 Olympic Torch” feel commonplace. Pizza Union is nothing like this. It’s the literal definition of fast food, but not the bad way. These are simple, tasty, crispy pizzas for under a fiver that will be ready in under five minutes. Sure, they’re not the best pizzas in the world, but they’re nowhere near close to being the worst.
After a long-winded legal battle with Chris Martin over the naming rights of his unborn child, Little Duck The Picklery was granted permission to keep its name and opened in 2017. It is, in essence, a giant middle class kitchen. Everything is served in, on, or around terracotta. The menu is on two blackboards, reading like a weekly shop in the Ottolenghi household. There are 36 ceramic jugs of all sizes hanging above the hob. It’s very much from the P. Franco (liberal, private) school of thought. The small plates are decent: some good things, some okay things and some extremely pickle-y things that will make you go a bit wide eyed. It’s an all day place so come for breakfast, lunch, dinner or, naturally, a pickling workshop.
The kebab is a stalwart of British cuisine and Mangal Ocakbasi is a stalwart of the Kingsland Road. The koftes are lovely, the salads fresh, and the bread dangerously addictive. This is a place to have a good time and eat good food with good people (your friends, family and the staff). Oh, and it’s BYOB, so happy days. Also, they pretty much had best restaurant Twitter game in the business. Check it out.
Pizza by the slice isn’t really a thing in the UK. We don’t know why. Someone, somewhere, probably with a name beginning with G, decided that the only slice we’ll eat on the move here will be a steak one. It’s a shame because if there were more pizza by the slice places like Voodoo Rays around, then we would all be much, much happier. Slices are £4 a go for the most part and it’s a very satisfying large snack or small dinner if you need something quick. The King Tubby - also, incidentally our childhood nickname - is a favourite, with a killer combo of sausage, caramelised onion, kale, and other delicious stuff. If you really want to feed a family (yourself) go all out with a whole one.
The original Chick ’n Sours still holds a fond place in our hearts (and stomach rumblings). It’s location between Shoreditch and Dalston make it, probably, the number one spot for a post-pint dinner in this area. The Korean fried chicken sandwich, dripping in gochujang mayo with a handful of daikon and coriander slaw, is even better than it sounds. The stomach rumbles have started just writing this. The sour cocktails are also a cracking match, making this a great destination for a boozy (and messy date) or a catch up with mates.
Following the ‘this is what you’ll eat, and this is what you’ll drink’ naming approach pioneered by Chick ‘n’ Sours a few doors down, Beer + Burger is a sum (and restaurant) that will make you happy. As the name suggests, this is not a complicated place. And we’re glad for that. The burgers here are up there with the finest in the city - a little bit charred, still moist, and slightly (but not entirely) sloppy. As if that wasn’t enough, there are also twelve changing beers on tap. And if that wasn’t enough, they also serve chips and gravy.
So, turns out that sliced bread isn’t the greatest thing ever. At least that’s how it seems judging by the amount of bakeries in East London these days, and, to be honest with you, we’re not complaining when bread is as good as The Dusty Knuckle’s is. This social enterprise bakery has been doing good things in lots of ways for a few years now and it’s a great little place for a pastry in the morning, or sandwich or soup at lunchtime. Things change daily, but look out for the vegetable sandwiches in particular, we prefer them.
An East London favourite for a few years now, Hash make what can only be described as extremely proper brunches. Their classic sweet potato and chorizo hash comes with spinach and a couple of poached eggs piled on top. Oh, and some umami dust. We’re not sure what that is either. Unsurprisingly this place pops off in the peak self-pity hours of 11am-2pm on the weekend, so expect a wait if you turn up then.
Jolene is the all-day restaurant you dreamt about when you thought you could work freelance, before realising you just watch Mad Men everyday and pretend you work in an ad agency. Telling your crumpets you need that deck by EOP is not work. Basically you’ll want to get out the house and to this Newington Green spot early. Not just because it fills up, but because by the time you’ve finished your jamon and eggs, done a bit of work, moved on to a salad, and done a bit more work, the day will be over, and you’ll be very very content.
Rumour has it that if you roll three Burford Brown eggs down Stoke Newington Church Street, a bearded man in wayfarers will appear and give you his secret shakshuka recipe. It’s just a rumour but we suspect that’s why Good Egg opened down here a few years ago. They knew this was the spot that wanted brunch and they have very much provided it. The shakshuka here is decent and the shawarmas are very nice. Warning: prepare to queue on the weekend and prepare for buggies.
Our favourite type of restaurant is the one you walk past for months and months before eventually remembering to give it a try, and it turning out to be absolutely brilliant. Rubedo is one of those and we already regret telling you about it. The food is Italian-inspired but generally it’s just excellent, fresh-tasting produce being treated very simply and very well. Think burrata with Italian anchovy fish sauce or prosciutto with quince and radicchio. Paired back, delicious things that work well together. The wines are natural, much like the rest of the approach here, and, once you settle in here, it’s very, very easy to forget you’re in England, let alone the top of Church Street.
If a nice brunch place in East London takes bookings, is it even a nice brunch place? This is a question we often ask ourselves and at the moment the answer seems to be... no. Esters is easily the best brunch place in Stoke Newington, and probably the whole of East London. Yes, you have to queue, but time it right and it won’t be for very long. Besides, it’s worth it. They get pretty creative with their food here, like confit pork with fried egg and rhubarb ketchup. It’s just really good. They take their coffee seriously as well, but none of this makes for a poncey atmosphere - it’s relaxed, friendly and generally easy-going.
A tapas bar that’s serving Spanish cuisine via Scotland may sound odd initially, but the more we think about it, the more we like it. Haggis croquettes. Churros with a Mars Bar sauce. We’re geniuses. Admittedly, this is nothing like what Escocesa has on offer. This is a neighbourhood tapas bar where all the seafood has come from oop there, and is used to make some familiar and delicious tapas plates. Things are best here when the seafood is left to do its thing, like grilled octopus or tortilla with prawn. It’s a nice setting - particularly sitting up at the bar - and it makes for an ideal spot for a date. Or to take your parents, oddly.
Billed as ‘modern Australian’, Wander is a standout in Stoke Newington’s slightly underwhelming dinner scene. There are certain dishes that make you think, ‘hello’. Chicken liver and bacon parfait served on a hot cross bun with a touch of raisin chutney is delicious and quite unique. Wild garlic spaghetti with crab, ’nduja, and crouton bits is excellent. Not everything is perfect and things feel a bit off the cuff at times, but this is a small plates and natural wines restaurant that has all it needs to set itself apart from the rest.
Hackney proper (and beyond)
Peg is proudly one of Hackney’s most Hackney restaurants. It’s got everything you could theoretically sneer about: plants, a terrazzo counter, vinyls, beaujolais on tap, pastel-coloured crockery, and also, some of the best food in London. Always remember, you can’t chew if you’re sneering. The food is Japanese-inspired yakitori and small plates. Yes, it’s meat on a stick. It’s also the best meat on a stick you’re likely to eat in London. Unless you’ve worked out a way of sticking ragu on a skewer. This place screams cool date. It also screams order the entire menu.
We’re here for a good time, not a long time. So, frankly, our heart probably isn’t laughing considering we eat twelve meals a day, but places like the Laughing Heart on Hackney Road make it worth it. This late-night wine bar and restaurant is the place to go for a good time. The small plates menu is constantly changing but usually has a few gems, and the service is extremely friendly when it comes to making a wine choice.
Bright is P. Franco’s younger sibling. The one who’s been travelling and comes back wanting to do everything their cool older sibling does but bigger. And with bookings. The good news is that Bright is every bit as superb as P. Franco. The bad news is nothing. This is one of the best places to spend your day or night in London. The food is terrific, the service is that unique blend of Australian humour, alcohol, and the eating of all things delicious. And the menu changes daily which means there’s no reason not to go back. At least, that’s what we keep telling ourselves.
An excellent option for when you want to get some good food late on, Lardo is an easy choice for a last minute date night or catching up with a couple of mates. It’s primarily a pizza place, but there are salads and specials are also good too. If you want to spend less than 20 quid in a buzzy but intimate atmosphere, then this is a very reliable choice. It gets pretty busy for both brunch and dinner so it’s best to book unless, like us, you head there later on.
In our mind Bistrotheque is one of the original kinda trendy Hackney restaurants, even though the pedants amongst us say it’s just across the border in Tower Hamlets. The fact it’s still going strong shows that they know exactly what they’re doing. And more importantly, they’re good at it. This all-white warehouse is equally lovely on a bright day or for an evening with your better half. Food-wise it’s modern European, whatever that means, so you can get anything from posh fish and chips to steak tartare. Expect recognisable, tarted up classics served in a very nice setting. The days of it being the hippest place in town have long gone and that’s probably for the best.
Martello Hall is one of those rare restaurants that laughs in the face of time. Not in a ‘we serve brunch until 3PM’ way, but as a late night beacon calling you to pizza. Stop serving at 9PM on a Saturday? You’re having a laugh mate, we serve pizza until 3AM. Meatballs at 11.30PM on a Tuesday? Why the f*ck not? The pizza is not just your usual slap, bang four-cheese pizza situation either. The Green God (roast squash, beetroot, broccoli, ricotta, kale and pistachio pesto pizza) is incredible. And sure, some of the other dishes might not be revolutionary, but on a Friday night with nothing but Maccy D’s and day-old, cold pasta at your disposal, the food here will start tasting real good, real quick. They’ve also got you covered for the morning after, with a £25 bottomless brunch, a roof terrace, and enough mimosas to keep you feeling classy.
One of the trailblazers of small plates eating with their original Exmouth Market location, Morito has continued doing what they do best at the Hoxton end of the Hackney Road. If you don’t know Morito, then get to know it. If you do know Morito, then you obviously don’t mind us talking about it. This is one of our favourite places to eat in London: the tapas approach means that you can keep going if you aren’t satisfied, but if like us you find it all to be a bit tempting and have anxiety regarding going hungry, then you’ll be fine. The menu switches about but it’s hard to go wrong. Roast quail, seafood rice, any croquette and cheese fritters are favourites. Oh, and roast cauliflower salad. But you’ll be happy whatever. Room-wise, sitting at the counter is perfect for a couple, or bring the parents if you want to modestly impress them.
A reliable and tasty restaurant that serves a mixture of Vietnamese and Xi’anese cuisine? Is this a dream sequence? No, no it is not. Don’t worry, you’re not going to wake up eating a summer roll in your underwear. Green Papaya is a very good Hackney go-to when you’re looking for a casual lunch or dinner that’s always going to deliver on flavour. The pho and bun are reliable favourites, but get the concubine chicken noodles when you want something more spicy and oily.
Turns out London is really good at Italian restaurants, and Campania is one of the best around. Its picturesque setting off Columbia Road and old dairy shopfront mean its absolute Insta-heaven. We wouldn’t be surprised if a Campania filter is released soon enough, optimised for cobbles, candlelight and nonna making pasta. The food here is good though, particularly the pasta and mains, and it pretty much suits any occasion, if you can get a booking.
A daytime butchers and nighttime restaurant, H&S is a good little place if you get a hankering for a bit of meat. It’s a very nice atmosphere, thanks to the fact you’re all sharing one big marble island, and there are artfully hanged bits of meat here and there. Maybe less so the latter but it’s fun. The menu is brief: starters, meat, sides. The main attraction is very nice but there isn’t too much going on otherwise. It’s a good place for a catch-up with friends, unless they’re vegetarian.
The definition of a gastropub has broadened in the last couple of decades. What was initially defined by lamb shank and creamy mash has grown into something else. This something are pubs that get given Michelin stars - ones where you’ve got more chance of getting a celeriac crisp than a salt and vinegar one. It’s hard to say whether these are really pubs. Actually it isn’t. They’re not. The Marksman is part of the this pub not pub thing. Whatever it is, it makes some seriously delicious food. This is classic British grub done good. Enormous pies to share, crispy skin duck breast, brown butter tarts. This is a restaurant that looks like a pub and we are very into it.