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 around Hackney, from Clapton, down to the Hackney Road.
n.b. we have separate guides if you’re looking to eat around Dalston or Stoke Newington, and 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 too.
The general rule of coffee shops is: buy one coffee, buy one muffin, move in your entire life’s possessions for circa five hours. It’s minimal expenditure for maximum gain. But it’s not what you should do at Pophams, because you want to be eating as much possible at this café, bakery and dinner-time pasta spot. It’s their second location and this one is perfectly Hackney-fied. You could easily turn up at their whitewashed space for a techno night on Friday, only to find they’re serving delicate and delicious handmade cappellacci, and be back happily munching bacon and maple pastries come Sunday.
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 rotating chefs who change every few months, but 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.
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.
If eating foods that are considerably bigger than your face is something that appeals, then you’re probably going to like Yard Sale. This 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.
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.
Mao Chow is a tiny Chinese spot on Mare Street making some of the tastiest vegan food in London. Their sesame dan dan noodles, complete with soy mince and spicy sauce, are tastier than meat versions we’ve had elsewhere, while their handmade dumplings and vegetable dishes are never lacking a strong kick of chilli. The space is walk-in only, though squeeze-in would be more accurate. FYI, it’s cash-only.
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.
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. The sourdough pizzas at Sodo Pizza 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.
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.
Unless you’re the kind of person who pops to the shop in a Ferrari and boils their pasta in a pot full of Voss water, then you probably don’t think of tasting menus as particularly good value. So it’s a welcome surprise to find that Casa Fofo, a casual Hackney tasting menu restaurant, offers both good value and a good atmosphere. Their seven courses change daily, and at £39 for the whole lot, that works out to just over a fiver a course. Not bad. Especially as some of the food here is very good. It makes for an excellent date night that’s out the norm, at a fairly normal price.
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.
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.
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.
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 twenty 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 you head there later on.
One of the trailblazers of small plates eating with their original Exmouth Market location, Morito has continued doing what they do best on 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.
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 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.
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 makes it seem like someone made Campania filter for your phone camera, optimised for cobbles, candlelight, and 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.