How to Eat Like a Hipster: East London's Hot Restaurant Scene
Hackney is becoming so hip, it's tempting to expect the restaurants to be style over substance, aimed at an Instagram generation whose highs and lows may not always be gastronomic.
That's just not true. The cooking and service at many spots rival those in the West End, which tend to be more expensive and formal. It's worth the trip to East London, one of the city's newer dining destinations.
Here are 11 great places to try.
Berber & Q
This grill house in a railway arch in Haggerston serves dishes from across the Middle East and North Africa, including home-smoked meats finished on an open grill. There's a bar along one side of the room, offering craft beers as well as unusual cocktails. For somewhere so cool and moody, the service is friendly and efficient. Dish to try: The Full Israeli brunch at £25 ($35) for two.
Chick 'n' Sours
This colorful café in Haggerston is an unlikely place to find some of London's finest chicken. The birds are free-range herb-fed while the vegetables are from the Keveral Farm organic farming community. The chicken comes hot, sweet and sour in crunchy coatings, while the original cocktail list offers a range of sours. Dish to try: Guest Fry - drumstick & thigh, kung pao glaze, chilli, peanut, spring onion (£11).
The Good Egg
This Stoke Newington neighborhood restaurant traces its tangled culinary roots to Tel Aviv, California and Montreal. It started life in food markets before making it indoors a few months ago. The Good Egg is particularly strong on brunch. Dish to try: Shakshuka - baked eggs in a spiced tomato and pepper sauce, with preserved lemon yoghurt & sumac and a challah roll (£10),
This casual Italian restaurant in a high-ceilinged room is one of my favorites in Hackney. The open kitchen is dominated by a pizza oven turning out creations such as radicchio, gorgonzola, walnuts (£12.50). The cured meats are also big on flavor, particularly the fennel pollen salami (£5.50). Dish to try: Nduja, rocket pesto, fior di latti pizza (£13.20) with layers of flavor from nutty through spicy to very hot.
The novelty of this burger restaurant, almost hidden behind the stalls of a street market, is the excellent wine list. But Lucky Chip can be judged on its burgers alone, and they are among the finest in London. Dish to try: The Royale Wit Cheese (£8.95) is world class if you pay an extra £3 to upgrade to 40-day dry-aged Galician beef, with its deep, smoky flavor.
Mangal 1 Ocakbasi
You might go a long way to taste better kebabs cooked over a charcoal grill and served with salad and warm bread than at this restaurant, which was established in 1990. A simple kebab shows the quality of the juicy lamb. Throw in a starter of lahmacun Turkish pizza (£2) and you are done. Dish to try: Sish kebab (£10.50).
Primeur is favorite among the restaurants I visited in Hackney. It's an understated neighborhood hangout in a former garage, where you may find yourself sharing a table as you check the blackboard and choose from European dishes such as lamb leg and creamed spinach (£15.50). It's not especially cheap but the prices reflect the quality of the ingredients. Dish to try: Spelt, wild garlic and Parmesan (£9).
This London Fields sibling of Ducksoup in Soho serves an eclectic menu of mainly light dishes that are strong on flavor. Rawduck has a high-ceiling, large windows, shared tables and a pared-down design that is typical of Hackney. Dishes that stand out include poached chicken broth, minestra nera, butter beans and polenta (£12). Dish to try: Mussels, pancetta, rosemary and charred sourdough (£10).
This Jamaican restaurant serves fine jerk chicken that has been marinated for 24 hours and cooked over charcoal and wood smoke. It's served with a choice of sauces - papaya, banana pepper, and jerk ketchup - and costs £13.50 for a half or £24 for a whole. Also look out for the special of goat curry. The service is friendly and the cocktails are hot, including she signature Katch a Fire rum punch at £12, or £28 sharing. Dish to try: Jerk Chicken.
Tonkotsu is known for its fine ramen and seafood, including classic noodles with king prawn, squid, clams, seasoned egg, bamboo shoots and spring onions (£11). The Mare Street outlet has one of London's widest selections of Japanese whiskies, including the Yamazaki 18 at £45 for 25ml - or £89 for 50ml. Dish to try: Chicken kara-age burger (£6.95).
Chef Matthew Young and sommelier Jack Lewens opened this 48-seat London Fields bistro in November. The seasonal menu changes daily and features uncluttered dishes that highlight just a few ingredients. The five-course tasting menu costs £38, while the adventurous wine list is also reasonably priced for London, with bottles starting at £20. Dish to try: Raw mullet, rhubarb and radicchio (£7).
Article by Richard Vines, chief food critic at Bloomberg