It’s been a long time since these green pastures were the retreat for the nobility (we’re talking Henry VIII here.) Still as central London becomes insanely expensive, Hackney is moving up in the world and there are so many fun things to do in Hackney including eating!
The Yuppies Barbers are now serving real yuppies who are snapping up lovely Georgian houses which are getting more and more pricey each year. (Read this if you want to get scared: Hackney on the Rise). Thank goodness local joints still abound – but more and more hip and trendy places are gaining momentum as the neighborhood changes. Let’s hope it retains some of its grittiness, still it is nice to know you can get a great pizza and warm ginger molasses cake too.
Things to do in Hackney
Using Henry Dimbleby’s (of Leon Restaurant fame) great article in the Conde Nast Traveller UK, Hungry For London, as a jumping off point, I made my way to Mare Street E8 to begin my food fest. Getting to Hackney now is easy as pie! The London Overground has made the East incredibly accessible and from my place in south London, it took maybe 40 minutes.
On the way to stop number one, we encountered two great pubs – one old school and one very new school: THE COCK TAVERN (from above) and the OLD SHIP INN. The former is dark and woody with a great selection of beer. Warm and cozy with its fair share of locals for added grit. For the Old Ship Inn, you walk down a rather uninspiring walkway off Mare Street, then the surprise comes as it opens into a light, bright and lovely pub inside. The emphasis is on the food here which we have not tried but it looked so yummy that I am definitely coming back!
This is Henry Dimbleby’s favorite Vietnamese place in London and I couldn’t fault it. We ordered spring rolls, aubergine in garlic sauce, Saigon prawn pancake and Bún chả (grilled pork, more spring rolls, noodles, herbs with a side dish of dipping sauce). Kingsland Road restaurants became a deep dark memory as these flavors blew them away. Every dish was piping hot and super fresh. I only wish we could have ordered more but we were on a mission to eat a lot of little dishes at several places…but now that this place is on the radar, I just can’t go anywhere else. Plus I loved the cheesy yet pretty Southeast Asian decor.
LE MI SUPERMARKET & VIDEO CENTRE
As we doubled back to get to our next stop, we paused to take in the tiny and packed Asian “supermarket/video centre.” This term is used very liberally as it is a hole in the wall but if you need and want ingredients for your next homemade Pho, this is the place. Not only was it stuffed to the gills with product but it also was jammed packed with people. Unfortunately the video centre was closed as it would have been interesting to see what the stock consisted of: Beta, VHS, DVDs?
When I read in CNT that Henry Dimbleby’s recommendation was a pizza with lardo (basically prosciutto without the meat and only the fat left), I was resistant. In my humble opinion, pizza is not pizza without the tomato sauce – here it is served with spinach and egg. The pizza dough was cooked perfectly and lardo was draped onto the crispy dough melting into it. It was scrumptious. I still wouldn’t call it a pizza but I gobbled it up anyway without much ado. The surprise was the Punterella Salad – which is one of my favorites but not easy to find outside of Italy. Going back to try the pasta next.
Hobbling out of LARDO with our tummies full, we made our way down Richmond Road and over to Wilton Way to “exercise our eyes” (shop!) until we could eat again. We found these great places:
A great store that needs to be all over London – the concept on their site goes as follows: ” We believe that a lot of packaging is unnecessary so we’ve removed it; just bring your own containers and reuse them each time you shop.” They even have refill rules:
* Remember to bring your containers* from home (if you forget, you can buy reusable containers here)
*Weigh your containers at the counter then choose the product & amount you want
*Pay at the till
*Take your goods home & enjoy
*When you’ve run out, come back for a refill, simple as that!
Simple, it is and the way of the future – I hope!
Wilton Way had a plethora of great shops: TOPPERS OF HACKNEY – loving the Skull & Cross bones – I thought Sweeney Todd worked out of Fleet Street. As Hackney is so trendy now, he has moved up in the world and is now cutting heads, I mean hair, here!
Although THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PILLOW is closed permanently on Wilton Way, the windows are still chock full of VANS. They are looking for a new space in East London and are active online. I love VANS and think it’s great that someone out there is sourcing the old ones.
BOROUGH WINES, one of the great London wine shops, has an outpost here in Hackney as well as Islington, Stoke Newington, Dalston and Borough Market. They also have two restaurants: Mayfields also on Wilton Way (we just couldn’t eat anymore) and L’Entrepot in Dalston (for another day!). Check out their blog as well – it has great wine-y bits. Before heading to VIOLET for a sweet treat we popped into J. GLINERT – a super chic shop with loads of bits – books, jewelry, stationary, and other things to please the eye.
There is only one word and that is “ooohhh.” Everything on display was “ooohhh” as in gooey and yummy and gorgeously delicious. We bought a bag of treats because one each was just not enough. The ginger molassas cake stole my heart and the brownie was gooey – I said it again – and the perfect end of the perfect day of gorging. A cup of tea, a slice of cake – it doesn’t get any better than this. Only wish there were a Violet in South London so that everyday I could feel as good as I did then!
RIDLEY ROAD MARKET BAR
49 Ridley Road, Dalston, London, E8 2NP
The minute I walked in I knew…this bar was definitely a Best Bit. Just what you want – a ginger mojito, grapefruit and tequila, red stripe served in plastic cups – no fuss, no muss. Just great music, drinks that make you feel good and cool company. The decor is simple yet inviting. No attitude, no guest lists, no reservations. Usually there is a meatball van outside, but the night we were there was the Japanese Omelet guy. Who knew that a ginger mojito would go so well with a mayo covered veggie omelet–well it was my third…
THE COCK TAVERN: 315 Mare Street, London E8 1EJ thecocktavern.co.uk
THE SHIP: 2 Sylvester Path, London, E8 1EN, T: 0844 2641444 oldshiphackney.co.uk
TRE VIET: 245-249 Mare Street, London E8 3NS, Tel 020 8533 7390 / 020 8986 8885 treviet.co.uk
LE MI SUPERMARKET & VIDEO CENTRE: 257 Mare St, London E8 3NS, 020 8533 1020
LARDO: 205 Richmond Rd, London E8 3NJ, 020 8985 2683 lardo.co.uk
UNPACKAGED: 197 Richmond Rd, London E8 3NJ Tele: 020 8986 7933 beunpackaged.com
TOPPERS OF HACKNEY: 65 Wilton Way, London E8 1BG, 020 7254 0005 toppersofhackney.com
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PILLOW: 61 Wilton Way, London E8 1BG the-other-side-of-the-pillow.com
BOROUGH WINES: 67 Wilton Way, London E8 1BG 020 7923 2001 boroughwines.co.uk
J. GLINERT: 71 Wilton Way, London E8 1BG 020 7249 6815 jglinert.com
VIOLET CAKES: 47 Wilton Way, London E8 3ED violetcakes.com