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 Mare Street, down to the Hackney Road.
n.b. we have separate guides if you’re looking to eat around Dalston, Stoke Newington or Clapton, and if you can’t understand why there aren’t any Shoreditch restaurants here, that’s because Shoreditch is also important enough to merit its own guide.
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.
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.
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.
Every Sunday the world and its dog descends on Columbia Road to have “a pahnd a pot” shouted at them whilst they shuffle up and down the flower market gripping a 3ft fern like a pillow on a hangover. After this, most people go to the pub, but really they should be going to Brawn. It’s a confident and casual sharing plates restaurant that’s been making some of London’s most delicious food for some time. You can just as easily come here for a lazy lunch with a friend, polish off a carafe alongside some oysters, ravioli, and the inevitable tiramisu order, as you can do the same with a date, or your dad.
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 Fofó, 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 that are 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 a 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 hung 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. That said, 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 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.