DECEMBER 2019: We’ve added a cluster of Dalston favourites including Angelina (a chic Italo-Japanese mash-up) and the Littleduck Picklery (a ‘fermenting kitchen’ related to Ducksoup). We also love the Dusty Knuckle Bakery, Violet (another laid-back bakery/café), and trendy daytime spot Snackbar. Finally, we’ve added a couple of reliable old faves: Andu Café (Ethiopian, vegan and BYO) and Del 74 (a garish, grungy Mexican bar/taqueria).
Dalston may be known for its buzzing bars and thriving nightlife spots, but its dining-out scene is just as exciting. The area boasts all kinds of killer kebabs, thanks to several of London’s best Turkish restaurants, alongside global cuisine and tons of excellent cafés serving up mouthwatering – and hangover-curing – breakfasts.
Here’s your essential guide to the very best restaurants, eateries and coffee shops in Dalston. Go forth and consume!
Ethiopian, vegan and BYO, this Dalston café knocks out hearty plant-based food in a friendly no-frills setting of fairy lights, religious prints and artificial plants. Decide whether you want traditional injera bread or rice to go with your six-dish ‘sampler platter’, which is all about greens and aromatic stews made with beans or lentils and pimped up with plenty of garlic, ginger and turmeric. Prices are ridiculously low (around £12 for two) and you don’t even have to pay corkage.
Japanese and Italian may seem unlikely bedfellows, but Angelina’s cross-cultural mash-up (‘itameshi’) is an elegant addition to the Dalston scene. The five-plate tasting menu is a steal, especially as it includes extras like homemade focaccia and bonito-dusted doughnuts with anchovy aïoli; after that, expect starters with heavy umami nods to Japan and mains with Mediterranean overtones (a giant raviolo in tonkotsu broth with crispy guanciale, for example). While the space itself whispers monochrome sophistication, service is down-to-earth loveliness personified.
Part restaurant, part bar and part music venue, this seriously hip Hoxton joint takes its cue from Japanese izakayas – ‘pubs’ serving cooked snacks. To eat, expect an impressive range of sushi, sashimi and tempura, plus zingy salads, sides and special dishes ranging from tuna katsu with wasabi and chilli to robata-grilled Korean lamb chops. Inside it’s low-lit, with DJ sets and regular live jazz adding to the atmosphere (the place is named after a Thelonius Monk album).
Fried chicken heaven for hard-core fans (with a side order of killer cocktails), Chick ‘n’ Sours serves its chooks in various forms, but nothing beats the K-pop sandwich/burger. Looking a bit like a Jackson Pollock sandwiched into a brioche bun, it comes with squirts of fiery gochujang mayo, Asian slaw and crisply battered buttermilk-bathed thigh meat. There’s also a supporting cast of jazzy wings and drumsticks. Either way, this is mercilessly messy stuff, so don’t go dressed in your date-night finery.
The hipster’s ocakbasi of choice in Dalston, smart yet cosy Cirrik has a way with the Turkish classics: use the charcoal-grilled bread as a spoon for meze dips, share thin-based yet fluffy pide, and don’t forget standards including the garlicky lamb beyti with its peppy yoghurt and mint dressing. The huge, sizzling grill adds atmosphere to the otherwise ‘meh’ surroundings, but regulars bring their own buzz.
A garish, grungy Mexican pop-up bar/taqueria gone permanent, Del 74 promises banging beats, good vibes and easy-drinking margaritas, plus a bar menu of well-crafted classics – pork pilbil tacos, brisket tostadas, ‘tinga’ quesadillas, that sort of thing. Veggies are guaranteed to do well here. Drop by at any time for a cheap eat, although the best value is on ‘Taco Tuesday’ when the happy hour lasts all night long and you can pick up tacos for £2. Their brunch offer is also worth knowing about.
Fans of the Dusty Knuckle Bakery can now take advantage of its airy brick-and-steel café/shop across the yard from its original shipping container home in a Dalston car park. Racks of organic rye and sourdough loaves (including an excellent potato version) line the walls, while the counter is piled up with glistening sticky buns, croissants, chocolate and fruit brioches, apple turnovers, savoury bakes and doorstep sandwiches with imaginative fillings – although these are quickly snapped up in the morning.
Billed as a ‘modern greasy spoon’, this friendly all-day Dalston caff has perfected the art of curing hangovers – thanks to its devotion to hash browns and all things porky. Its quirky brunch dishes (available Tuesday to Sunday) strike the perfect balance between wholesomeness and the restorative powers of fried bacon – although they also sneak in a surprising amount of veg, from kale to homemade baked beans. Veggie options are genuinely decent, and there are cocktails for that hair-of-the-dog recovery trip.
Although ‘yakitori’ translates as ‘fry chicken’, there’s nothing Dixie about the indulgent, crisp-coated koji skewers served at this sociable and super-cool Japanese joint in Dalston. We’re particularly fond of the wings with shiso and lemon, but there’s plenty of good stuff on offer here (chicken hearts, gizzards, crispy skin, even katsu curry Scotch eggs). Our advice? Grab a few mates and try as much as you can – with some craft beers and cocktails on the side.
Billed as a ‘fermenting kitchen’, this sibling of Ducksoup (and Rawduck, RIP) is dominated by a giant marble table and various pickling projects – there’s even a muslin bag of home-produced labneh hanging from the ceiling. The scribbled blackboard lists natural wines, home-brewed infusions and a daily changing roster of seasonal small plates – many involving cured or fermented ingredients, of course (mackerel under oil with purple sprouting broccoli and pickled kumquats is typical). Weekend breakfasts and great-value lunch deals too.
East London’s most famous ocakbasi restaurant has been around for more than 20 years, but this kebab king still lures in passers-by with enticing smells from its enormous mangal grill. Meat is the main event here – so hold out for the succulent cubes of grilled lamb in the insuperable ‘cop sis’, or the garlicky lusciousness of the minced chicken beyti. Don’t expect trendy decor or deferential service; do expect banging value and authentic flavours.
Originally the sister venue to Mangal Ocakbasi (or Mangal 1) up the road, Mangal 2 is a little smarter – and bigger – than most other east London kebab joints, but hungry Dalstonites don’t come here for the looks. They come for the top-notch grilled meats and kebabs cooked ‘ocakbasi’ style over charcoal (cop sis, beyti and kulbasti are some of the dish names to look out for). The menu also touts hot and cold meze, plus various seafood and veggie options.
Just down the road from Dalston Junction, Snackbar is a charming spot filled with a good-looking young crowd who like its cheery staff, minimalist decor, funky plants and cool design quirks. The food’s pretty tasty and very Instagrammable too: items such as the rice bowl topped with crunchy tempura mushrooms, pickled squash, sharp kimchi, cavolo nero and an egg yolk are fun for the eyes and a joy to eat. There are also some delicious sweet treats to sample.
With a big communal table in the centre of the room and walls plastered with flyers and artwork, this Dalston café puts everyone at ease. There is reliably great ‘third wave’ artisan coffee (try a Gibraltar – a hybrid of latte and macchiato) and, on weekends only, a simple brunch and lunch offering (think porridge, pancakes, eggs and bagels). But, the real reason to come here is the warm, friendly vibe and cosy setting. Made for lingering. Card only.
A good shout for proper Turkish food in Dalston, this wonderfully smoky bolthole is dominated by a long silver grill that sizzles along the back of the room. Customers sit at bare tables, savour the aromas and tuck into classic kebabs and grills prepared with real care – the lamb chops are a must-have, but don’t ignore the succulent ‘tuvuk sis’ chicken or the whole sea bream. Everything comes with nutty brown rice, house salad and a long, thin green pepper.
Run by Californian-born cook/designer/stylist Claire Ptak, who made Harry and Meghan’s wedding cake, this bakery/café on a Dalston backstreet has a laid-back vibe that’s topped off by their twee, pretty treats decorated with real flowers. As a sampler, try the gorgeous cinnamon buns, the moist, swirly halva tahini brownies or something seasonal from their line-up of US-style mini buttercream cupcakes. You can buy to take home or eat upstairs in a pretty space done out like a 1960s living room.