I have lived in East London for about half a year now but even before then have spent the majority of my nights out and brunches in this part of town. Of course there are certain cliches associated with living and hanging out here. Yes, people can say Dalston is full of hipsters that have triggered a gentrification of a traditionally deprived area , that east London is full of pretentious artisan coffee shops and that it is all style over substance here, but to be honest I have never cared much about what people think is cool or not and with London being an ever evolving and changing city I think we should celebrate when an area flourishes rather being constantly cynical in our outlook. I have found east London to be laid back, fun, good value for money and full of young people that just want to have good time. You can go out dancing in your trainers, eat delicious food from all over the world and get inspired by people that dress in whatever way they like. Many say East London is no longer the place to be but I am rather happy with the spots that have become akin to a second home for me whether they are the latest place to be seen or not.
As my regular readers may know I have tried many, many brunch places in London in my time, brunch being unarguably my favourite mealtime of the week, however it is always Workshop coffee that I return to on an almost weekly basis. Why? Well the food here is not your average brunch of full English ( in fact the only sausage on the menu is chorizo), no it is imaginative Antipodean inspired cuisine that combines unusual and fresh flavours into dishes that are an absolute joy to eat and that surprise your flavour buds. I have had my sweet breakfast phases here with their banana bread with date and orange jam and coffee mascarpone or incredibly moist ginger cake with toffee sauce, have scoffed down their braised beans with truffle mascarpone on sourdough to cure the worst of hangovers and have recommended their signature corn fritters with halloumi to too many of my friends to even count. It is one of those rare places that you can literally eat your way through the entire menu and be still be guaranteed to be served an amazing dish, a place that serves one of the best flatwhites in town and a place that anyone I have ever taken there has returned to on many occasions after their first visits. I love a little bit of routine even at my weekends and there is no bigger joy for me than spending a saturday or sunday morning with a friend catching up here and enjoying food that leaves feeling happy every single time!
Burgers are of course a very contentious culinary topic. London is full of places claiming to serve the best and I have had some good, some mediocre and some down right tasteless varieties. My favoruite burger joint in terms of flavour and atmosphere has to be Lucky Chip. Firstly there is its rather peculiar but fun location, in residence at a pub ( the Sebright arms), maybe not the most obvious place to enjoy a good burger, pubs rarely known for their high culinary standards, but here adding a certain cosiness to the whole eating environment that makes it almost compulsory to spend hours on the slightly worn seats with a glass of house wine, enjoying the completely unpretentious yet fun atmosphere of the place. The burgers are far from average too, each one named after a famous personality ( think Bill Murray life of the aquatic - a beef patty combined with deep fried soft shell crab) and combining some seriously good flavours with high quality ingredients for burgers that will leave you in awe.
The veggie burger is the best I have had to date, aptly named the Woody Harrelson, he indeed being a vegetarian, it comprises of a delicious combination of aioli, chargrilled veg, cheese and sweet chili sauce - far removed from the stodgy, one dimensional and rather dull veggie burgers most places serve up. The same is true for the fries, which coming with skin on, are served with wasabi mayo and a good helping of cheese. Yes, it isn't fine dining even when compared with the likes of Honest Burgers. You do eat from paper plates and with plastic knive and fork if you are not quite confident enough to freestyle with your hands and you are essentially in a pub in the middle of Hackney but the slightly off the wall setting and extremely high quality of food for decent prices make Lucky Chip without a question my personal and overriding favourite place for a burger in London.
Nearest Tube: Bethnal Green
For people watching:
There is nothing I enjoy more than going for a walk and watching the life and people around me. When I first moved to London that meant exploring the more central parts but Soho and the like became increasingly repetitive and touristy to the point where they felt almost a little soulless. This is why when one of my friends mentioned Broadway Market in Hackney I was more than keen to have a look what this suburban looking street with various shops, cafes and bars as well as a weekly food market that takes place on a Saturday had to offer and I have since returned almost weekend for a wonder around the area and for chance to clear my head from the week gone by. On warm evenings the streets are swarmed with people eating, drinking and socializing al fresco style and when the markets is on cute dogs, fashionable types, children and anyone up for sampling the numerous cuisines on offer ( anything from Ghanaian to German) circle their way around the various stalls. Climpson and Sons, a tiny coffee shop on one of the ends of the street, is my favourite spot to people watch. Perched on one of their wooden benches outside with a flatwhite to fuel me I can sit there for hours on a Saturday or Sunday and watch the world go by. To find such a tranquil, interesting and inviting place in London that has a real neighbourhood feel is not easy in London which is why I am so glad to have found it.
Best bus to take: 55
It may not look very promising walking down Ridley Road in the middle of Dalston at night, boarded up market stalls and a distinct smell of meat still in the air from the butchers shifting their goods during the day, but keep on going and you will find this little gem and with it one of the best places to spend a night out in London. Imagine a suburban town hall circa 1973 throwing a Hawaiian themed party and you get a pretty accurate impression of the slightly off the wall but very fun interior at Ridley Road. Drinks are incredibly good value for money and very very good for that with bartenders that know their stuff. Famous for their Ginger Mojitos and Pina Coladas ( £5 a pop) and with a dance-floor in the back where you can enjoy changing DJ sets most nights, playing anything from Hip Hop to French Pop, you are most likely to see me here at least once a week. A true London gem that I am glad to have found. Nearest Overground: Dalston Kingsland Road
For me there is not much in life that is better than a good slice of pizza or a great cocktail which is why I was almost guaranteed to love Voodoo Ray's. Why? Well at Voodoo Ray's in a strike of culinary genius they have combined the two to create one of my favourite places to eat and drink in London. Of course one could quite easily assume Voodoo Ray's is more style than substance with its neon signs, barren walls and hip hop playlist, but the pizza that is served here by the slice is fresh, tasty and extremely good value for money with slices around the £3 or £4 mark. Toppings mix the traditional with the innovative ( bacon dust anyone?) and are baked right in front of your eyes in one of their ovens. My favourite is the Green + White, an irresistible combination of ricotta, spinach, pints, grana padano and mozzarella that has become an almost essential part of any night in Dalston. Cocktails are equally great, with anything from their fantastic Amaretto Sour ( and I am an expert as its my favourite cocktail), to their frozen margharitas or Bloody Maria, their take on a bloody Mary, all well made, cheap and are real joy to sip on whilst you wait for your pizza to be delivered to your table on one of their paper plates in real NY pizza style. Voodoo Ray's is with out a doubt one of those places you want to introduce all your friends to and spend many evenings drinking, eating and catching up at.
London is filled with clubs and nightlife but it is far from easy to find a place where you can dance the night away surrounded by decent people and good music without having to spend a fortune on getting in or having to dress up in a by the opposite sex positively perceived way. I love hip hop, I dress for myself, no one else, and I like my drinks cheap and cheerful rather than fancy and pretentious. This is why when I, after frequenting the Dalston nightlife for a few months , discovered Visions Video Bar I couldn't help but feel at home. Yes, it is essentially a dingy little basement with a crap sound system and with a guarantee to get your shoes a little bit ruined by the end of the night but it is also open until 6 am Friday and Saturday nights, plays a fantastic array of hip hop and generally is just a really friendly and fun place. You can come her as a girl and be pretty sure not to be preyed on even if you let your inner Beyonce out and you can easily have a chat with anyone from the barman to the security guard, who will after a few visits know your name and welcome you with a smile. Of course I have had some minor dramas, some drunken incidences and some nights cut a little short here but I always look forward to just having a good time here and enjoy the atmosphere with people that have the exact same aim!
Nearest Overground: Dalston Junction
And finally where to have that much needed bagel at 6 am....
Everyone has those moments when only drunk food will do and it is almost certain to taste like the best thing to ever go past your lips. East London has quite a good choice of the places that will serve you pretty decent fare way past midnight. The Turkish restaurants on Kingsland road whip up some amazingly fresh and flavourful wraps, the meat charred on one of their open grills and topped with garlic sauce, and do so until around 3 am even if you have to brave some queues to get your hands on one. If you do soldier past those times though, and we all know of the type of nights that do, Mr Bagel just off Kingsland Road on Ridley Road, will still be there for you with it's doors open. Yes, it may also sell an obscure array of cakes and even chicken bryani but it will always serve you a fresh and with smoked salmon and cream cheese packed bagel that has on many occasion proved the delicious (and hangover preventing) end point to my night! Nearest Overground: Dalston Kingsland Road