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Pulsating with a dynamic vibe, east London is a hotbed of creativity across its neighbourhoods, many of which have been revitalised over the last few years. While cosmopolitan in its outlook, you can still find pockets of the unique Cockney charm, giving this region of the capital a diverse and spirited energy. We show you where to eat, sleep and play in trendy boroughs such as Hackney, up and coming south-east London neighbourhoods such as Peckham and well-established areas such as Shoreditch.
Where to… Eat?
Yes, it’s about pizzas and beer, but Crate Brewery in Hackney Wick is top of its game with both. The pizzas are hand-rolled, stone-baked and come in an assortment of unique topping combinations (think more along the lines of Middle Eastern lamb or sweet potato with Stilton and walnuts rather than a Hawaiian) and the craft beer is brewed on site. You can book on a tasting tour of the microbrewery while here, or simply enjoy this innovative venue that’s completely upcycled – its bar, for example, is made from old railway sleepers. Plus, its location on the banks of the Hackney canal and DJ sets every Friday and Saturday nights always attracts a young, hip crowd.
From one independent kitchen and bar to another, Grow sits in an old sausage factory by the River Lea and is a sustainable and ethical business working closely with local artists, DJs and musicians. This summer its menu is by Slow Fire London, using British seasonal ingredients inspired by Middle Eastern flavours, sourced locally and sustainably. Don’t just come for the food though; Grow also runs free events, from open mic to art festivals, music from live jazz and blues to reggae.
On the more upmarket side, Hackney is also home to Forman’s Restaurant, a riverside eaterie that specialises in salmon and seafood – it’s run by Forman’s, one of the oldest and most famous producers of London cure-smoked salmon. You can also visit the onsite smokehouse to see how these delicacies are prepared, before tucking into a menu that features treats such as warm smoked eel fillets, poached turbot with scallops and smoked Scottish salmon and Cornish crab salad.
Part of the creative and cultural destination that is Peckham Levels – a transformed seven empty levels of a multi-storey car park – is newcomer West Kitchen, bringing a slice of California to south-east London. It describes itself as a conscious kitchen – practicing minimal food waste and using seasonal ingredients from sustainable farmers – elements that sing through its menu that includes seabass ceviche and Ayurvedic kitchari. An added bonus is its all-day natural wine bar.
At the heart of Peckham is the Peckham Refreshment Rooms, a pared-down style restaurant situated in a 1930s Art Deco block that always has a bustling atmosphere. Here you’ll find a menu of European treats, from aubergine parmigiana to bavette steak, brought together from small-batch and artisan producers.
Peckham Bazaar offers customers a menu of pan-Balkan mezze and grill, taking inspiration from across the Balkan region, using traditional recipes blended with indigenous ingredients, all cooked over a charcoal grill. Try dishes such as grilled rabbit with Cyprus potatoes, pork and lamb adana and braised and grilled cuttlefish with Greek orzo.
Proving the Shoreditch scene is still attracting the cool chefs, Brat was opened earlier this year by ex-Kitty Fisher’s chef Tomos Parry, who has brought a bold blend of Welsh and Basque cuisine to east London. So how does that translate onto a menu? Gorgeous dishes such as Herdwick lamb, pork and laverbread salami, wild rabbit with blood sausage and beans, and whole turbots.
Another new kid that’s popped up in 2018 is the Vurger Company – bringing a slice of vegan heaven to Shoreditch. Once a pop-up restaurant, this is the company’s first permanent site and one that was crowdfunded in less than 72 hours, such is its popularity. All its burgers are made from vegetables, nuts, grains, seeds and legumes – try its Tabasco Auberger, packed with aubergines, chickpeas and red onion – and there’s must-try vegan versions of mac ‘n’ cheese and milkshakes.
You can’t go wrong with a well-established eaterie in Shoreditch; Lyle’s is an innovative British restaurant with a passion for using British produce on its menus but, being at the forefront of the restaurant scene, it also brings the talents of international chefs to its kitchens during its Guest Series. Seasonal produce is also a key focus for the restaurant – come September, for example, there’ll be a focus on game dishes.
Where to… Sleep?
Located in an old post office – and interestingly still run by the same family who used to run the aforementioned post office – the Avo Boutique Hotel is cosy and chic with varied décor in each room, and it’s just a five-minute walk from Dalston Overground station. While there’s plenty to see and do in the area, if you fancy just staying in for the evening you can take advantage of its comprehensive DVD and games library.
Looking for a cool place to stay that won’t put too much strain on your budget? Kip, which has a new Hackney Central location, is all about affordable, stylish accommodation. Yes, it’s unpretentious and practical in its style, but you’ll find every type of room spec here, from single, twin, douples and studio rooms to group rooms, family rooms and even a penthouse suite.
Located in a building dating back to 1878, the Victoria Inn is a boutique hotel and modern gastropub in the heart of Peckham. All 15 rooms are individually designed and range in size from single occupancy to space for a family of four. Then pop downstairs to the gastropub to sample one of its ten locally sourced beers and ciders and its British seasonal menu.
Describing itself as offering ‘simple, elegant, affordable rooms with a lick of Africa cool inspired by the vibrant multiculturalism of our very special neighbourhood', the Peckham Rooms Hotel is just five minutes’ walk from the neighbourhood’s high street. This independent boutique hotel is run by a family local to the area – great to ask for recommendations of all the places to visit locally and further afield.
And it might be a little further out in Camberwell, although only 20 minutes’ walk from Peckham, but the Church Street Hotel is a quirky treat in south-east London, rocking a Spanish Americana vibe. Hand-painted Mexican tiles adorn its rooms and you can enjoy a drink in either its Havana lounge and Communion Bar.
The Curtain – a six-storey hotel and members’ club by hospitality guru Michael Achenbaum – opened in the area just last summer and remains hot property. Guests can check out the rooftop pool, screening room and spa, plus it’s the first London outpost of soul-food specialist Red Rooster from Michelin-starred Marcus Samuelsoon. Expect classic décor from this trendy Shoreditch property – think exposed brick walls, specially commissioned artwork and hardwood flooring. And its seriously chic bar Green Room opened in May 2018, making The Curtain a destination to see and be seen.
Nobu Shoreditch is another relative newcomer to the Shoreditch scene, opening last year and being the first Nobu hotel in London. Contemporary and elegant, its style is inspired by Japanese architecture and décor as well as east London industrial style. Head to its fantastically cavernous restaurant for Japanese delicacies such as oven-roasted lobster with Hakaido scallops or the exclusive cilantro aioli and Ikura.
Another property to look out for over the coming months is a Shoreditch outpost of Mama Shelter. The French brand is said to be taking over the current RE Hotel; word on the street is that, like other properties in the group, it will be tech-led and offer plenty of social activities for guests, designer bedrooms and open social spaces.
Where to… Play?
One legacy from the borough’s industrial past is the building space now used by street artists; just wandering around the area you’ll see works from legendary names such as Banksy and Stik Man. Plus, as the area attracts a youthful, party crowd, the nightlife is eclectic, so you’ll find everything from traditional-style pubs, pop-up cocktail bars, late-night drinking establishments and diverse clubs to enjoy. One cool east London bar is The Elephant’s Head – originally serving customers back in the 1890s, it’s been restored and reopened as a must-visit Hackney bar but one that maintains its old-school charm.
Hackney is a haven for markets; as well as browsing the stalls, independent shops and cafés of Broadway Market, which has been running since the 1890s, head a little off the beaten track to the newly opened Mare Street Market. A much more chilled-out vibe here, you can wander this cobbled street and enjoy the craft breweries, cafés, pop-up clothing stores, vinyl record shop and the sounds from the market’s own radio show; TV chef Gizzi Erskine is also opening her first restaurant here soon, The Dining Room.
Time for a spot of culture? Along from Mare Street market is the Hackney Empire, the East End theatre associated with pioneering and avant-garde theatre and comedy. And for something that’s going to get everyone talking, head to the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities situated in a small Hackney basement. It displays everything that its founder has found fascinating, whether it’s rare or commonplace, from unusual finds from the world of nature to pop art prints and sketches from prison inmates.
Peckham is creating a name for itself as a hotbed of street artist talent; make sure you keep a look out as you explore the area for its emerging graffiti art scene. And discover diverse creative art events, music, film, comedy and theatre at the brilliant CLF Art Café, housed in a multi-warehouse space, the Bussey Building, which is fast-becoming one of the go-to places for London’s cool crowd and cultural aficionados.
You’ll find brilliant prices for blockbuster films at Peckhamplex, an independent multiplex cinema that shows a range of new releases, with tickets costing a value £4.99 all day every day, and it’s also the place to catch works by independent film-makers as well as art exhibitions.
Right next door is Peckham Levels, a multi-purpose, artistic space created in a multi-storey car park that has also evolved into a foodie and nightlife destination. Head to the top-floor bar Frank’s Café for gorgeous panoramic views of the capital’s skyline while you enjoy a drink or two on summer evenings. Or spend an evening over craft beers at the Brick Brewery, located under Peckham Rye train station’s railway arches, where you can sample brews straight from the source in its Tap Room.
Fancy stepping back in time? Peckham’s Four Quarters is London’s first arcade bar – test your retro game skills on 15 original arcade games dating back to the 1980s, then dance the night away at its basement cocktail bar and club, The Confession Box.
Long a hotbed of emerging talent and hub for creative minds, Shoreditch continues to be at the forefront of critically acclaimed contemporary culture. There are a number of galleries worth visiting, such as Kate McGarry gallery, where you’ll find video artists and performance fine art among its works and the Jealous gallery, where you can buy prints from well-known artists and photographers such as David Shrigley and Russell Marshall.
Theatre-goes looking to expand their repertoire should try out the New Shoreditch Theatre, which features artists from all creative backgrounds, whether that’s plays, live music or art, film screenings and installation work. And a fantastic line-up of gigs take place at independent music shop Rough Trade East, which also offers a sublime collection of music (plus plenty of choice for vinyl addicts).
New bars and clubs continue to open in the area, such as Parisian-style wine bar and bistro Leroy, with its 100-bin wine list and their own Vermouth behind the counter. Quirky takes on classic cocktails are found at The Office on Kingsland Road, which opened at the end of May, and try out the fascinating array of unusual spirits, such as Portuguese fig fire water and Umoshi plum wine, on offer at the Smoking Goat, which opened at the end of 2017.
To blow the cobwebs away after a night out in Shoreditch, there’s probably nowhere more pleasurable than a stroll through the iconic Columbia Road Flower Market, just over a ten-minute walk away. The blooms are heart-lifting and the independent shops surrounding it are a joy to explore; vintage-clothes shops sit alongside small art galleries and antique stores and you can always find a caffeine hit at one of the cute cafés along the way. More great shopping can be found at Shoreditch’s Boxpark – the former shipping container that’s become a pop-up mall, a haven of independent shops, global names and restaurants.
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