Booze-thirsty packs of people moving up and down the Kingsland Road is probably Dalston’s most common sight, and the jangling of cans in blue bags its most common sound. But although this part of east is well known for parties, it’s also excellent for parties of two, four, or more. Here’s where you should be eating and drinking in Dalston.
In an area blessed with plenty of Caribbean options, it’s Ewart’s drum barbecue in the middle of Gillett Square that’s the most unmissable. Chicken thighs, wings, and pork belly chunks all emerge from its smoky innards, crisp and char from a jerk rub that favours smoke over spice. The setup is takeaway-only, but there are plenty of places to perch in Gillett Square; where the soundtrack is always complimentary.
Unsliced rather than sliced bread is the greatest thing ever, as evidenced by the potato sourdough, squishingly oily focaccia and everything else coming out of The Dusty Knuckle. This social enterprise bakery has been doing good things in lots of ways for a years now and it’s a great place for a pastry first thing (the morning bun), sandwich (any) at lunchtime, or sourdough pizza on the weekends. Things change daily, but look out for their beetroot or chicken caesar sandwiches, in particular. True classics of the genre.
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 opting for the latter for maximum mopping. It’s a great and cost efficient spot, and a platter of yesimir wot, gomen, and more ticks both the tasty and healthy boxes.
Mangal II is part of the old school of N16′s Turkish restaurants, but it’s the only ocakbasi restaurant we know that’s mixing the old with the new, and also with low-intervention wine. The menu still features homemade kofte, grilled onion salad (one of our death row dishes) and grilled lamb chops, but you’ll also find deep-fried chicken livers alongside a feta slaw, or courgette fritters with beef sucuk fat mayo and dill oil. The Dirik brothers have taken on their father’s restaurant to try and do something different and it’s very much working. Not least that mackerel pide sandwich with dill mayo.
Ararat Bread is a teeny-tiny hole-in-the-wall bakery on Ridley Road making brilliantly tasty and brilliantly inexpensive flatbreads. You can have your naan topped with cheese and garlic for just £1, watch it bubble and sizzle under the rotating oven, before inevitably sticking it in your mouth far too quickly and injuring yourself in the best way possible. If you want meat, the keema is a quid more and the mince mixture is packed full of coriander seeds. Though it’s not essential, we tend to get an egg cracked on top as well. Whatever you choose, grab it, go, and then come back for more.
Snackbar is a breakfast, lunch, and weekend brunch café slash working space on Dalston Lane serving excellent Asian-influenced dishes in a bright, industrial space that was probably once an art gallery. Or a squat. Or both, simultaneously. The menu spans from brioche toast soldiers with coconut jam and an onsen soy egg yolk at breakfast time, to kimchi and cheese or Balinese porchetta sandwiches, or tempura mushroom rice bowls at lunch.
There’s something of a perma argument over what is the ocakbasi to eat in Dalston. One person’s Mangal, is another person’s Cirrik, which is another person’s Umut. We often opt for the latter, if only because elderly Turkish gentlemen have a habit of inviting us to sit down for soup at their table here and we like that). Umut 2000 is a no nonsense ocakbasi restaurant. The smells coming off the grill consistently make our stomach do somersaults, and the lamb ribs are Dalston’s finest. Eat in or takeaway, you’ll never be anything less than delighted.
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 open. It is, in essence, a big middle-class kitchen. Everything is served in, on, or around terracotta. The menu is on two blackboards that read like a weekly shop in the Ottolenghi household. There are 36 ceramic jugs of every size hanging above the hob. The small plates are nice: some good things, some alright things and lots of pickle-y things. It’s an all-day place so come for breakfast, lunch, dinner or, naturally, a pickling workshop.
Amazingly, Attawa opened a few months into lockdown. The Punjabi restaurant around the corner from Dalston Junction operated on a make-do takeaway basis, but indoors, dimly-lit with cocktails flowing, is where it’s best. The extensive menu spans from soft shell crab to tandoori paneer to dhal maakini and much of it is very tasty. Vegetarian dishes, ike the stuffed baby aubergine tadka, are particularly good, and its six-variety-strong bread selection of naan and parathas is excellent.
The first time we went to Micky’s, we arrived from the Army & Navy across the road ten minutes too late. The fryers were gleaming, the little saveloy windows were empty, and there wasn’t a Pukka Pie in sight. But on top of the counter was a plump leftovers package. Compliments of the chippy. Haddock, fried chicken, and chips: some fat, some crispy, some soggy. All perfect. The fresh batch we came back for the next day was even better. The moral? You can’t put a price on a local chip shop as good as Micky’s.
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. Whatever you do, don’t skip the lamb sweetbreads. Offal is probably the best thing off of the grill here, so gather your friends and/or family, and order big. Also, it’s BYOB.
A few doors along from Shacklewell Lane’s most famous venue - home to opaque memories or worse, clear ones - is Oren. The menu is eastern Mediterranean, calling on Israeli and Greek influences, plus some hybrid-type dishes. But the thing to know about this corridor-ish restaurant is that everything is really very good. Stone-baked flatbread still warm at the table, pickled vegetables and standout tzatziki ready to be piled on, a whole pork chop with roast garlic and preserved lemon perfect and a little pink inside. Much of the menu reads fairly simple and much of the menu tastes fairly fantastic.
Picking up a patty or two from Peppers & Spice has long been one of our favourite it-would-be-rude-not-to activities around Dalston. In fact, everything from this local takeaway favourite hits the mark. Their jerk - marinaded, oven cooked and finished on the grill - is best slathered with a pot of fruity, punchy sauce, and although it’s not cooked fresh, the skin still manages to retain a smoky hit. On a full plate next to their oxtail stew and macaroni pie, it makes for an extremely satisfying meal. Expect to queue, expect to have a nice chat, and expect to leave very happy.
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 exactly 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.
The original Chick ’n Sours still holds a special place in our hearts (and stomach rumblings). Its location between Shoreditch and Dalston makes 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 sour cocktails are also a cracking match, making this a great destination for a boozy (and messy date), or a catch up with mates.
There are a few Caribbean spots on Bradbury Street (adjacent to Gillett Square) but this, we think, is the pick of the bunch. All Island Grill’s wet marinaded jerk chicken still has the kind of char that flakes away, and the chicken is impossibly moist even after a being warmed up. It’s a two person portion that, wherever you eat it, can easily be dispatched by one.
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 and 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.