Check out the varied and lively bars of Shoreditch – from live music at Big Chill Bar and the amazing view at Boundary Rooftop to the whimsical charm of Callooh Callay. This being Shoreditch, expect classic cocktails, craft beer and hipster stylings throughout. Do you agree with our choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions. And don't forget to visit our guides to Shoreditch pubs and clubs.
Please note, the review below refers to a previous menu. - The Food and Drink Editors, Dec 2016 Up the spiral staircase from the bustling downstairs bar, the dining room at this 250-year-old corner premises is a good-looking, cosy space. A dozen linen-clothed tables – candlelit at night – are served by a small team of young, efficient staff. Choosing from a menu that included wild boar scotch egg, Chart Farm fallow deer and a host of seasonal goodies wasn’t easy, but the kitchen more than fulfilled its remit. Rich ham hock, foie gras and pork knuckle terrine benefited from tangy piccalilli, and sour goat’s cheese was a lovely foil for the sweetness of roasted red and yellow heritage beetroot. Mains of beer-battered fish and chips with mushy peas and tartare sauce, and Cornish brill with pea purée and black pudding were done to a T; the last ingredient slightly overpowered the purée, but it’s a minor quibble. Simple but effective afters might be chocolate fondant with vanilla ice-cream, or an artisan cheese sold by the slice – the Lancashire ‘strong bomb’ is sensational. There’s a choice of wine by the glass and carafe, as well a wide range of bottles (including five rosés), which goes for interesting tastes over establishment favourites and is aware of current trends: the wine of the month when we last visited was from the Lebanon. There are also local beers, such as Wandle Ale from Sambrook’s in Battersea, on tap, and East London Brewery's Nightwatchman. A top-notch opera
Venue says: “Check out our newly refurbished bar located on Rivington Street. We've gone back to our musical heritage and designed the bar to suit!”
Strongroom Bar & Kitchen has been a Shoreditch fixture for nearly 20 years which, admirably, makes it something of a stalwart in a part of town not exactly averse to a whim or two. It's home to Strongroom recording studios, a free late-night music venue and a restaurant serving food from breakfast onwards. The kitchen hosts three-month pop ups. It's now being looked after by Salt & Dry - a street food duo specialising in pizzas, own-cured meats and grills cooked up on a barbecue set up in a burned-out Morris Minor. Dishes range from pulled pork and kimchi pasties, poutine and hot wings to salads, a burger made with Hereford blade, mackerel escovitch and a Ghurka chicken curry. The extensive beer lays heavy emphasis on microbreweries both home-grown and international. Check their website for details of live music and DJ nights.
Just off the North Circular in Brent, the Ace Café is in its seventh decade serving up coffee, rolls and rock ’n’ roll to the leather-clad faithful. It’s the oldest biker bar in London. And the newest? Welcome to The Bike Shed: originally a blog and forum for custom bike nerds, now IRL and occupying two big railway arches right next to Shoreditch Town Hall. Alongside a shop selling biker bits and bobs (and a rockabilly barbershop) this Shed contains an upmarket cafe/bar/restaurant for bougie bikers and dedicated pedestrians alike. In fact, it’s only the faint smell of engine oil and the choppers parked up outside that give the game away. With a wooden bar up one side and red leather booths down the other, The Bike Shed looks like any other trendy arch-based London eatery. Burgers, bangers and other biker caff staples share a menu with superfood salads and detox juices. There’s an extensive breakfast/brunch selection, a long list of cocktails, and beers that range from Peroni to Beavertown, including non-alcoholic options for anyone actually on wheels. To drink after 8pm you need to either order food or become a member, which should keep the bikers safe from rowdy City boys. Both our burgers – one meat, one veggie – were accomplished and generous, piled high with onion rings and served in brioche buns with homemade gherkins and coleslaw. Crispy mushroom and polenta fritters made a great starter. Prices are decent for Shoreditch, and the portions are hefty enough to refuel e
Designer Claudio Silvestrin’s showcase modernist restaurant is highly memorable, though not perhaps entirely as intended. At peak times, noise in the glass, porphyry and limestone interior can be overwhelming, and staff have to dance round the large white leather and chrome chairs to catch anything softer than a bellow. The food, however, is often sublime, carefully sourced and skilfully prepared. Beef tagliata was a beautiful construct atop a marrow bone pillar, and its magliocco sauce a pure essence of beefiness. Tagliatelle with wild mushrooms and truffle appeared artless by contrast, but once again the flavours were resonant, yet subtle. Chard and soft cheese tortelli with toasted hazelnuts was a perfect marriage of flavour and textural contrasts. These creations come at City expense-account prices, so any disappointment is irksome – a crab and asparagus starter, while delightfully fresh, was scant and not shell-free. Then again, the set menu with its verdant soup and palate-teasing liquorice zabaglione seemed a bargain. Wines run the gamut from cheery glassful to splash-out showcase, and staff serve even the most modest orders with grace and flair. A special request produced the proud claim: ‘We are Italian, we can do anything.’ Except, perhaps, soften the acoustics.
The premises vacated by Mason & Taylor are now home to the second branch of the Aberdeenshire brewery of the same name, after the original in Camden. You can buy Brewdog beers in Tesco and Asda now, and it has bars in almost every major British city, but it still somehow maintains independence and an air of rebelliousness. Brewdog Shoreditch looks bit like a foundry (bare lights, bits of iron, moulded aggregate). It's not as sterile as it sounds, and there are wooden booths for a bit of privacy from the crowds. As with Camden, it’s often rammed with hopheads male and female – it's all about the craft beers here. There isn't a single sop for Carling or Krony lovers in sight. Everything on offer is a celebration of the endless drinking possibilities that arise when malt, water, yeast and hops come into contact, from the dark and spicy Alice Porter to the sharp and fruity Raspberry Revolver. The most popular brew, Punk IPA, has enough hops packed into it to dispel all memories of any brackish brown beer you might have tried and hated. Average beer strength must be about 6.5 per cent, and none of it's cheap, so best stick to half-pints. Brewdog Camden sells good pizzas and burgers; here it’s 'Japanese street food'. In a Scottish brewery's craft beer bar in London. Why this is so isn't clear. But it's not bad – a ‘gyudon roll’ was stuffed with slow-cooked, salty sweet beef, and ‘katsu skewers’ were deep-fried morsels of lotus root and okra on sticks with dipping sauce. I'm not s
There's certainly plenty of pedigree to this quirky Hoxton haunt - it's the former studio of Goldsmith graduates and YBAs, Gary Hume and Sarah Lucas, plus the owner's apparently a bit of a face on the art and music scenes. And then there's the roster of top-notch artists and bands who have played in the separate gig venue downstairs, 'The Underbelly'. Upstairs, it's more of a diner, DJ bar and cocktail joint, with Paul Daly's design bringing together mismatched furniture, rocking horses, bicycles and surf boards hanging from up on high. There's a jukebox providing the tunes when the DJs take a break from the ones and twos, and with a capacity of 520 - plus space out on the terrace for a further 100 - there's plenty of room for those packing their dancing feet. It's also home to Hoxton Square Craft Beer, so the booze is a bit of a strong point, with house brews such as London Plane Ale served alongside pints pulled from fresh tanks of Budweiser Budvar and Brooklyn Lager. The food menu ranges from classic British dishes such as bangers and mash, fish and chips and shepherd's pie to those with US influence - think burgers, BBQ ribs, nachos and pancakes for breakfast. Pizzas also prove pretty popular.
Venue says: “Come down and enjoy your summer evenings with our exciting cocktail list!”
Despite its inconspicuous location at the bottom of a spiral staircase on a quiet street in Shoreditch, Ninetyeight is not a bar afraid of its own ostentatiousness. Inside, it’s as bizarre as it is colourful, and a range of quirks in the decor – from spray‐painted chairs to toy dinosaurs on the walls to a ‘bandage room’ (literally a room in which everything is covered in bandages, available for private hire) – places this joint above the darker, stuffier cocktail bars nearby. Cocktail‐wise, you’re looking at a small but impressive menu of original innovations (no bog‐standard mojitos or margaritas here); the Candylife, served with enough strawberry puree, yoghurt and Haribo to overwhelm its vodka base, will please anyone who favours sweetness above all, while the Smoking Head (whiskey with coffee liqueur and orange bitters) and the Chilli Treasure (chilli‐infused tequila, lime and agave syrup) should satisfy anyone after something a bit harder. In terms of sheer quality, you can’t go wrong with their Green Lady: gin complemented by cucumber, apple and cucumber liqueur and pepper – the latter of which didn’t quite give the kick it was probably supposed to, but the rest of which worked well for an easy‐drinking yet complex cocktail. Ninetyeight is practically empty in the late afternoon and early evening, but the crowds really ramp up from sundown until closing (at 1am). Despite that, table service is the norm and the servers are as friendly as they are knowledgeable about the
The eastern outpost of Fitzrovia’s Lantana is roomier and serves an evening menu as well as the lunch and breakfast dishes Lantana is known for. The stack of corn fritters with crispy bacon, spinach and roast tomato, with avocado-chilli-lime salsa and crème fraiche, is a must-try in both locations. More sizeable mains such as a moreish Asian sticky chicken salad with nuoc cham dressing generally hit the spot too. Good, own-made cakes are baked daily, and often reflect the café’s Antipodean heritage – you might see friands arrayed on the counter. Weekend brunch is popular, for the easy-going atmosphere as much as the near-perfect comfort food. Such dishes include delicious french toast (a dreamy toasted coconut version with ricotta, lime syrup and pistachio), inventive eggy combos, and specials such as grilled asparagus with black pudding, roast tomato, poached egg and hollandaise on sourdough. Add a generous bloody mary and you’re set up for the day. Noise reverberates around the industrial space (all exposed pipework and bare walls), but, visually at least, Salvation Jane is softened by a charming collection of mid-century modern bits and pieces. Staff are kept busy, working both the room and the outdoor terrace, but efficiency can tail off at night.
Venue says: “Winner of the 'world's best high volume bar' at the 2016 Spirited Awards. Open seven days a week 6pm-1am. Cocktail classes also available.”
The menu is housed in an empty cassette case, the toilet is hidden behind a secret door in the wall and the cocktails have such cringe-o names as 'Ume? Yes You' and 'Fennel Countdown'. Sure, Callooh Callay sounds gimmicky, but the tipples at this long-established Shoreditch bar are the real deal. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable (no moody, 'I'm actually in a band’ hipsters serve here) and mix delectable elixirs like vodka and rhubarb with vanilla shrub and whisky with apricot jam and chocolate bitters (just ignore the names). The exposed brick walls, Milk Tray-coloured soft furnishings and abundance of tealights make Callooh Callay a very cosy spot to sit. Neither trashy nor pretentious, the vibe here is fun but still stylish, and, unlike in neighbouring bars, you won't be surrounded by swarms of obnoxious suits or stag-dos.
The headlines you’ll read about this Hoxton cocktail bar will proclaim that it doesn’t use ice. That shows how extraordinary it actually is to dispense altogether with such a time-honoured way of chilling drinks, but it’s not even the most exciting thing about White Lyan. It was the first solo venue from single-minded cocktailian Ryan Chetiyawardana (see Dandelyan too), and not only has he chucked out the frozen water, he also employs no citrus, sugar, fruit or other perishables, and next to no branded products. You can’t order off menu, and there’s only one of each colour of wine and one lager. The former White Horse pub in the untrendy bit of Hoxton doesn’t give much away from the outside, but once inside it’s clear this is no standard operation. It’s all-black with a minimalist New York ’80s sort of look about it. Instead of a back bar stacked with spirits there are big fridges holding the pre-made products of hours of labour by Ryan and his team – most of the hard work here is done before opening. Spirits are especially made to order, or refined and ‘rebuilt’ using filtered water and distillations. All this, unsurprisingly, results in some pretty unusual drinks. The Moby Dick Sazerac is made with rye, Peychaud’s bitters and absinthe-soaked rice paper. The whale reference comes from the addition of ambergris – yes, the sperm whale secretion – which adds body. The Monkey Ball contains scotch, cassia, chocolate, and truffle and banana soda. Czech lager is the only beer, b
This Curtain Road venue is close in style and sentiment to its big sister, The Blues Kitchen over in Camden. Expect, then, a restaurant, bar and music venue with a hefty Stateside influence - from its bourbon and its barbecues all the way to its blues. Music does have a big part to play here. There's live artists pretty much every night of the week, with everything from rock 'n' roll to swing, motown, roots and even gospel complementing all that smokey blues. Keep an eye out for nights where food and music combine in happy harmony - think bargain ribs gnawed to a soundtrack of soul. An in-house barbecue, with meats smoked over fruit woods in their own fire pit, is kept busy - orders of beef brisket, smoked chicken, short beef ribs and burnt ends glazed with a beer and hickory barbecue sauce prove popular. Burgers, chilli, lobster, gumbo and a catfish jambalaya also feature.
'Bull in a China Shop’ – a strange name for a bar, with its connotations of crashing-around clumsiness. And when you read their website, it does little to alleviate fears: ‘Our menu boasts eggs benedict, superfood salads, charcoal bun sandwiches, and Asian-spiced whisky glazed rotisserie chicken. Our bar serves an extensive selection of over 30 rare and premium whiskies, hailing from Japan and Scotland.’ Yet despite such a smash and grab of influences, Bull works. The spirits selection makes it a proper whisky destination – it has more Japanese whiskies than anywhere I’ve seen in London, from the cool Nikka From the Barrel to rare Karuizawa bottlings. There are some brilliant Scotches too, and a list of inventive whisky cocktails (a Wabi/Sabi at £12 was made with Hakushu single malt, vermouth, green tea syrup and black walnut bitters). The Bull’s menu, with its breakfast-to-late-night diversity, has a lot of good stuff on it. The rotisserie chicken is brined with ginger, marinated in yogurt and grilled with that whisky glaze – it’s great, although served in an annoying mess-style enamel bowl that makes it hard to cut. Most humans – civilians, at least – prefer to eat off plates. Remember that, restaurateurs. No bull: this Bull is a great place and a destination for whisky fans. All breakages, however, must be paid for.
This Hoxton restaurant comes from the Jamie Oliver stable. Since 2002 it has followed an admirable not-for-profit ethos, giving disadvantaged young people an apprenticeship in the culinary arts. They recruit 18 people every year, giving them tools to become professional chefs. On our visits, the quality of the food has been high. Dishes range from starters of quail with corn, pickled girolles and coriander, and Dorset crab with courgette, dill, crème fraîche and almonds to mains of guinea fowl with burnt celeriac, smoked bone marrow, baby leek and girolles, and iberico pork shoulder with wild mushroom, leek and smoked walnut. Desserts include a coconut panna cotta with roasted pineapple and coconut crumble. Cocktails feature on the drinks list, with options including a rose gimlet (Beefeater gin served with a house-made yuzu and rose water cordial), and a calavera (mezcal, Lillet Blanc, orange liqueur, lime and absinthe). The wine list leans on the old world, and 13 are available by the glass. Keep an eye out for cocktail masterclasses and other special events, too.
The two London Rivingtons could be called the mid-market arm of the very smart Caprice Holdings group (Le Caprice, The Ivy, J Sheekey), although prices still aren’t cheap. The dining space at the original is calm and white, with crisp linen and enough of both formality and trendiness to gratify different audiences. Contemporary art such as a Tracey Emin light sculpture add a splash of Shoreditch cool. Menus follow the distinctively British style set by Mark Hix, chef-supremo of Caprice group when the Rivington opened, using fresh, seasonal British ingredients from sustainable sources. The wine list offers an excellent choice by the glass or carafe. Which is all to the good, but the cooking for our Sunday lunch was pleasant without offering any kind of zip. Queenie scallops with garlic butter had mellow flavour, but hadn’t been cleaned properly; strathdon blue cheese and chicory salad, and Sunday roast rib of beef and yorkshire pud were decent yet anonymous. Fish and chips was somewhat better than you get in most gastropubs, though at twice the price. Since the Rivington opens early, there’s also a big choice of breakfast and brunch-style dishes. Perhaps these are what to go for.
Ever been in a pub cellar? Probably not. And you aren’t missing much. There’s the sour tang of spilled beer, the glow of strip lights, lots of things to bump your head on and a crusty old mop in the corner. Mini-chain 5cc has a better use for cellars – turning them into atmospheric cocktail bars. Each 5cc specialises in a different spirit, but all combine a superior level of service with excellent cocktails and a stay-all-night atmosphere. This Old Street branch is hidden below the Singer Tavern, in a building that once housed the sewing machine company’s HQ. The Singer’s not bad (lots of craft beers), but the 5cc below it is the real treat – vaulted, lots of secret corners and some great gin-based cocktails (that’s the speciality here). Bartenders use such rarely seen distillations as Dictador Colombian aged gin. Non-gin-based drinks are inventive but restrained. So if this space is still the pub’s cellar, where have the beer kegs and the dried-up old mop gone? Who cares. It would be great if more pubs did this with their downstairs bits. The Singer has got this one sewn up nicely
It doesn’t sound like a place for an exciting night out, but behind the sedate name is one of the most consistently creative bars in London. The Book Club is a popular, laid back, lived-in basement bar that originally helped Hoxton earn its hip title, and in intervening years little has changed down in the basement, which remains plain and comfortable. You could visit for the drinks alone: cocktails are served in glasses or jugs to share, and come with names like Don’t Go To Dalston, or the Lorraine Kelly (made with tangy grapefruit and rum) – the emphasis is on fun and easy drinkability rather than serious mixology. (A better beer selection would be welcome, however.) You could visit for the food: breakfast starts at 8am, when the laptop tappers who work in the area use it for off-the-cuff morning meetings; lunch and dinner are simple but filling and homely, with a small menu including the likes of bar snacks, nachos and sharing platters (worth a punt). Or – and this is what sets Book Club apart – you could visit for the packed timetable of events, which includes bands, DJs, lunchtime discos, film dance-a-longs, alternative dating nights, ping-pong tournaments, informative talks, life drawing and classic video game nights. The young and relaxed crowd that pack into the spacious artwork-dotted space and its atmospheric basement are here for a bit of everything.
This Shoreditch High Street spot is the east London outpost of the Barrio chain - a group with three bars specialising in cocktails, DJ sets, live music and food of a Mexican inflection. There's a Latin slant to much of the music, with special events, DJ nights and live sets welcoming all things samba, a few Cuban beats, homages to Mexico and nights given over to the tango. They get the odd (relatively) big-name DJ in, too. Cocktails prove big sellers - especially during the popular happy hours. Expect tequila, rum and cachaca to play lead roles in Brazilian ladys, pinata palomas, hand grenade highballs and the Barrio zombie - a sharing cocktail served in a porcelain lucha libre mask. Bites to eat include tacos, quesadillas, empanadas and nachos.
This Shoreditch High Street bar and café is the sister venue to the popular Clerkenwell haunt, Café Kick. There's more to it than food and drink though, with its two floors given over to table-football, stand-up comedy, live sports and even the odd speed-dating event, should you be looking. The food menu ranges from burgers, hot dogs, teriyaki chicken sandwiches and pulled pork baps to Spanish charcuterie platters, cheese boards and a chorizo sandwich made with sourdough bread, rocket and piquillo peppers. Keep an eye out for daily specials, too. There's a Latin flavour to the drinks, with beers from Sagres, Super Bock and Estrella.
Make like Bugs Bunny and eat your carrots before descending the stairs to Worship Street Whistling Shop: it’s so dark you can barely see your feet. But the descent is worth the danger. You enter an equally dim room with the full complement of faux-speakeasy decorations. There are various seating options, some offering so much shadowy seclusion that you could conceive or even give birth to a child and no one would notice. The drinks here have always been right out there, both in conception and presentation. But even when they sound wacky, they have a tendency to taste great. Despite looking a little tired in places (a rumpled, stained drinks menu, for instance), this place is still whistling a happy tune.