JANUARY 2020: We’ve added a bunch of Hackney favourites, notably Casa Fofò (a solo venture from former Pidgin chef Adolfo de Cecco), Bright (a vibey venue from the guys behind the P Franco wine shop) and Mao Chow (vegan street food with a Sichuan accent) – as well as hip hangout Peg, known for its Japanese izakaya-style small plates. Others worth an honourable mention include Caribbean Kitchen (no-nonsense food and punchy cocktails) and El Ganso (pimped-up Spanish tapas).
Hackney – that inner-north-inner-east patch of London – is edgy, sleek and home to some of the city's most exciting restaurants. With everything from swish restaurants to new-age gastropubs and dumplings, you'll never be short of eating options if you're in the area and need a feed. Here are 22 places for your consideration – in Shoreditch, Dalston, Hoxton, Hackney Wick and the many other suburbs that make up this very liveable London borough. Go east(ish) and eat.
The best restaurants in Hackney
Nestled on Kingsland Road, this neighbourhood café bashes out hefty portions of ridiculously cheap Ethiopian vegan food in a friendly, no-frills setting. Take a seat among the fairy lights, framed photos and artificial plants and 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 pimped up with plenty of garlic, ginger and turmeric. You can also BYOB with no corkage charge.
Serving a cross-cultural mash-up of Japanese and Italian cuisine, Angelina is an elegant addition to the Hackney-Dalston scene, with its fancy monochrome dining room and bustling L-shaped bar. The five-plate tasting menu is a steal, especially as it includes extras like homemade focaccia and bonito-dusted doughnuts. After that, expect dishes with umami nods to Japan as well as Mediterranean nuances – unagi risotto (eel, to you and me) with velvety burnt soy butter and dashi, for example. Service is down-to-earth loveliness personified.
Hackney is awash with artisan bread these days, but this café and bakery offers something a bit different with its Danish-style yeast-free goodies. Chef Christoffer Hruskova specialises in naturally fermented organic rye loaves and wholemeal boules, although we’d die for his truly wonderful cinnamon buns and bargainous bacon butties. The location isn’t exactly cosy, but it’s perfect for a quick brekkie or daytime pitstop. Alternatively, grab a coffee to go and fill a paper bag with goodies for later.
A lovely, shiny, vibey eatery from the team behind super-cool Dalston wine shop P Franco, Bright is (perversely) a low-lit metal-and-glass box of a place with a thrumming atmosphere, packed tables at the back and a bar-counter with stools for those who are flying solo. The pay-off? A line-up of randomly eclectic small plates that are cute, clever, cutting-edge and utterly brilliant – the kind of food that makes you want to return asap.
North Hackney’s latest Instagram-friendly café is achingly stylised but well curated – a pastel-toned brunch-based photo op complete with retro furnishings, hand-picked condiments and a menu that soaks up influences from Spain, Mexico and beyond. Expect anything from peanut butter and banana on toast to fish-finger tacos, huevos rancheros and stacks of pancakes, plus cups of Dark Arts coffee with cute heart-shaped sugar ‘cubes’.
A blast of totally tropical sunshine on south Hackney’s grungy Mare Street, this happy and utterly charming joint does a banging trade in no-nonsense Caribbean fare at knockdown prices. All the usual suspects are present and correct: jerk pork and chicken, curried goat, chickpeas in coconut milk, plantain, patties, rice ’n’ peas… you get the picture. To drink, knock back a Guinness punch or a homemade sorrel and imagine you’re in a Tobago beach shack.
This solo Hackney venture from former Pidgin chef Adolfo de Cecco serves up one of the best-value tasting menus in town (including a full vegetable option that’s guaranteed to get those vegan juices going). If cutting-edge combos such as duck liver with black bean and hoshigaki or asparagus, lovage and green strawberry float your boat, head to Casa Fofò and soak up its down-to-earth homely charms. The whole set-up is a totally unpretentious delight.
Fried chicken heaven for hardcore fans who like their bird 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 in a brioche bun, the crisply battered buttermilk-bathed thigh meat comes with squirts of fiery gochujang mayo and Asian slaw. There’s also a supporting cast of jazzy wings and drumsticks. Whatever you eat, this is mercilessly messy stuff, so don’t go dressed in your date-night finery.
Charismatic plant-food champion King Senathit (aka King Cook) is having a ball at this funkily designed location close to Netil Market, serving up affordably priced bowls of vegan rainbow goodness crammed full of vegetables, tofu or fake chicken. Top picks such as the jerk combo on brown rice or the ‘full English’ with scrambled tofu ‘egg’ etc are satisfying rather than stellar. Order and pay at the counter, then collect when your number is called.
Given a lift following the arrival of chef Tom Oldroyd (he of Oldroyd restaurant in Islington), this Hackney hostelry is a now a foodie pub with a vengeance – tables in the bar are laid with cutlery and there’s a jolly dining room for those who want to avoid the boozy scrum. The food has flashes of brilliance (chunky roast squash with goat’s curd, roscoff onion, toasted hazelnuts and oregano, for example), but some dishes can lack finesse. Even so, this is still a grand old place to hang out if you’re a local.
Fans of The Dusty Knuckle Bakery can now take advantage of its airy brick-and-steel café and 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.
Some of London’s hottest kitchens get their breads from Ben MacKinnon’s tiny bakehouse, and E5’s hand-baked wares are top stuff if you’re stocking up on the staff of life. You can also use the place as a drop-in café for (organic) breakfast or lunch during the week (veggie black-bean chilli with roast squash and lime salsa, say). On weekends, take the brunch route with sausage rolls, spanakopita and suchlike.
With its exposed brickwork, Moorish tiling and a healthy smattering of Spanish-speaking customers, El Ganso (‘The Goose’) feels like the real thing – only transported to Broadway Market. The chef hails from Valencia, although he gives traditional tapas a modish, contemporary spin when it comes to presentation: fried octopus might come with smoked paprika, chimichurri and purple potato purée, while chopped pears add a surprise to spicy chorizo in cider. El Ganso also serves an Anglo-Spanish breakfast every day.
A master butcher and cookshop by day (look for the carcases hanging the window), Hill & Szrok morphs into a no-bookings suppertime haunt with its massive marble slab becoming a communal table and counters gaining high stools – all primed for a nightly parade of walk-ins. A short menu spells out the evening’s free-range rare-breed cuts – steaks, rack of lamb, pork chop and so on – which are preceded by, say, duck rillettes or fried pig’s head with sauce gribiche.
Head to this super-cool Japanese joint in Dalston for its wonderful yakitori (grilled chicken skewers). We’re particularly fond of the wings with shiso and lemon, but there’s plenty of good stuff on offer here from chicken hearts with bacon and, on the small plates front, 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.
East End hipsters channel their inner ‘Easy Rider’ at this reborn greasy spoon while ogling the leather jackets for sale (courtesy of co-owners the Black Skulls motorcycle collective and online retailer). Custom-built for Clapton, Jim’s is a cool outfit with its menu of modish breakfasts, all-day plates and potent booze: freaky shots, trendy cocktails, indie beers and cider. Mugs of hot chocolate with marshmallows also go down well if you don’t fancy the hair of the dog.
It’s a pizzeria, but not as we know it. Named after the cured back fat of a pig, Lardo is a cool industrial-chic space complete with a disco ball oven and an Italian-themed menu that mixes wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizzas (gluten-free if required) with handmade pasta, trendy salads, spuntini, salumi, small plates and fish specials. Lardo is bang on for weekend breakfast and brunch in Hackney too, while drinks have a distinct organic and vegan bias.
The flawlessly chic mezzanine space above The Laughing Heart’s cave-of-wonders wine shop and off licence is manna for Hackney Road’s late-night drinkers, with its epic list of organic sips and intriguing menu of Asian-inflected pan-European small plates. Dishes vary from day to day, so expect anything from skewered duck hearts or hispi cabbage with sourdough miso and winter slaw to monkfish with oyster mushrooms and garlic. The name? It’s the title of a poem by American scribe Charles Bukowski.
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 are available too.
It’s never easy to find proper Chinese food in vegan form, but this cute, fun-loving hipster hangout in Hackney really nails it with a short menu of terrific Sichuan dishes. Current hits range from smacked cucumber with black vinegar, sesame oil and crushed garlic to deeply satisfying dan dan noodles topped with soft, moreish vegan mince made to a secret recipe. Staff are jovial, and prices are pay-packet-friendly – just remember it’s cash only.
A completely different kettle of salt cod to the original Morito in Clerkenwell, this branch of the Spanish-North African hybrid is an expansive, high-ceilinged concrete-chic space – civilised and minimalist, with a menu of sassy small plates backed by dukkah for dipping and pomegranate cocktails for sipping. With acres of space, an enormous horseshoe counter for walk-ins and a bevy of cute staff straight out of charm school, this place is an all-round winner. Note that it’s vegan-only on Mondays.
A former pop-up offering dim-sum-style dining for local hipsters, MNTD’s watchword is definitely not ‘authenticity’. Still, the dumplings are excellent, with handmade pastry and irreproachable fillings such as lamb and coriander or courgette and wood ear mushrooms. We’re also fans of the fusion salads and hot dishes including roasted chicken thigh with miso sauce. There are some cracking sake-based cocktails too – great while you’re waiting for a table (no bookings, obvs).
Do you like your plates small and your options even smaller? Then you’ll love Nest with its no-choice seasonal tasting menus and its limited opening times. The owners focus on just one rare-breed cut each month (perhaps rose veal or 60-day dry-aged Yorkshire beef), although there’s more to the line-up than meat – anyone for cod’s roe with seaweed or honey and lavender tart? We also like Nest’s funky soundtrack, low-intervention wines and all-round feelgood vibe.
Venue says Join us for Sunday Roasts - built around our In House Meat at the time - currently Yorkshire Beef before we move on to Hogget in February
With its tropical-chintz detailing, a veritable canopy of foliage and enough skewed pastels to delight Wes Anderson, Palm Vaults might seem like Instagrammable fluff, but appearances can be deceptive. Okay, dedicated caffeine fascists may baulk (lavender latte, anyone?), but the kooky photo-op drinks and vegan food are great. Those in the know order cashew-milk mochas, turmeric-topped avocado smashed on to gluten-free toast, and pastel-hued matcha chia pots scattered with fresh berries as diet-regime comfort.
Standing on the Hackney site once occupied by Legs, Peg serves up Japanese izakaya-style small plates in an achingly hip setting. This is a fertile hunting ground for diners who seek out the communal tables and prime counter seats in search of grilled chicken body parts, katsu sando (a chook sandwich with white cabbage and pickled mooli) and other hits from the tiny menu. Just add a vinyl soundtrack, switched-on staff and accessible prices.
Former street-food upstart Randy’s now has a permanent roost by the canal in Hackney Wick, and its chicken wings (served by the dozen) are the business. Try the barbecue-sauce-slathered Kansas option, sweet ’n’ sticky Korean-style Gangnam or harissa-infused Casablanca with pomegranate seeds. If the weather’s good, grab a spot out on the grassy knoll by the water (deckchairs provided). Wherever you sit, you’re allowed to get as messy as you like.
London’s first vegan ‘chicken shop’ (yes, you read right) was born out of Hackney’s Temple of Seitan street stall. It’s all about ‘meaty’ wheat gluten (aka seitan) here, whether you order peppery popcorn-style nuggets, battered strips or a burger. Add-ons such as zingy red slaw or vegan mac ’n’ cheese with smoky ‘facon’ cubes are bang on-trend too. There’s no indoor seating here, the music’s deafeningly loud and you can’t buy booze, but the place still gets packed.
The surroundings are as eye-catching as the sushi at this Japanese spot on the fringes of Hackney, where the brushed gold countertops, soft lighting and dainty crockery are all worthy of a Pinterest board. Raw fish aside, top picks include the piping-hot chicken karaage and charred pork belly skewers, although veggie combos are also an unlikely standout here – don’t miss the fleshy, earthy mushroom and spinach nigiri with hints of sesame.
A sheeny all-day eatery from the guys behind the now-glorious Sebright Arms in Bethnal Green, The Vincent serves up everything from late breakfasts to dinners with lots of inventive veggie and vegan trickery woven into the mix: on the one hand there might be spicy stir-fried octopus and duck breast with orange sauce; on the other, you could find halloumi buns and mushroom balls with brown rice. Weekend brunch on the terrace is a popular gig.
Run by Californian-born cook-designer-stylist Claire Ptak, who made Harry and Meghan’s wedding cake, this backstreet bakery and café has a laidback vibe that’s topped off by a cavalcade of 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 the 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.
The name stands for We Are Vegan Everything, and this trendy café from the team behind Cupcakes and Shhht proves its point with a menu of brekky bowls, Bali bowls, mac ’n’ cheeze, mock-salmon bagels, innovative salads and mighty looking freakshakes. With its chic but cosy tropical-meets-Scandi decor, this is a strong shout for a vegan lunch in Hackney, especially if you stick to the savouries.
Famous for being the pizza place where Macaulay Culkin’s band played an impromptu show, this branch of the lo-fi neighbourhood mini chain deals in double-fermented stone-baked pizzas served fresh from the oven on 12-inch or 18-inch bases. Toppings range from classics such as margherita to jokily named combos like Pepe Le Pew (fresh garlic, red onion, jalapeño peppers and parmesan). Sit down with a bottle of beer or use the takeaway counter.