It will surprise absolutely nobody to hear that east London is a fun place to go out. It might, however, seem unusual to suggest it as a holiday destination in and of itself, but really you could have a fabulous time going absolutely no further west than Old Street.
Where once Shoreditch and Shoreditch alone held the flame up for a new London, where the industrial and the luxe came into contact, now east London has many hubs worth a visit. Gentrification is a dangerous thing, but sometimes east London’s transformation has meant that classic institutions have found new life and more love as parts of London’s competitive dining and drinking scene. Here we take you through some of East’s best bars, restaurants and hotels. It’s so much fun that it even becomes a good destination for Londoners just looking to shake it up a bit.
Ryan "Mr Lyan" Chetiyawardana's constellation of bestial bars and restaurants, which flit through London like actual fauna, have consistently given the city some of its best bars. I, for one, am still pining after Dandelyan (now replaced with Lyaness at the Sea Containers) or even Super Lyan, the dingy bar full of cocktails and homemade ricotta they had in Hoxton. Luckily, Super Lyan’s upstairs neighbour is still in tact: Cub, part of the same family, is a hyper-sustainable restaurant and bar created with Brighton icon Silo. The menu is often a rotating set menu of plates and drinks served by a selection of wise experts, but the energy is never anything but stellar: every time I go I wish it would turn into a lock in, because it is a place that seems to draw spectacular company.
153 Hoxton St, Hoxton, London N1 6PJ. lyancub.com
You can tell a restaurant must be good when you keep seeing people wearing their tote bags: then again, Jolene has such a singular and powerful visual language that you might be compelled to buy one too after eating there. A light dining room full of carefully curated ceramics and fabrics (with some very attractive toilets to boot) Jolene is the latest from the people behind Western’s Laundry and Primeur. The baked goods are what they’ve become known for – everything is made on site – and their ham and cheese toastie is one of the most pleasing brunch dishes in the city.
21 Newington Green, Mayville Estate, London N16 9PU. jolenen16.com
P Franco is one of London’s greatest restaurants, yet its combination of being small, popular and unreservable means it can sometimes be hard to rely on for food and wine on a trip out to east London. At Bright – the second from the same team – you can book, and it is also damn good. With the crisp, bright air of a Melbourne cafeé, Bright serves up small plates perfectly suited for delving into their wine cellar alongside them: in the past there have been duck hearts, katsu sandos and dawn-red prawns, the last few weeks have seen mussels aguachile, grilled quail and the sexiest words in any language: lasagne fritta.
1 Westgate St, London E8 3RL. brightrestaurant.co.uk
There are many things in this world that don’t need to be tarted up: fry ups, for instance, fish and chips maybe, and your Sunday roast. Yet what The Marksman does isn’t making the roast dinner fancy by any means: it just makes the best version of what you sought out in the first place. Although the menu is subject to change, the lamb roast fell to pieces quicker than Fyre Festival, in a pool of verdant gravy with a celeriac puree that turned the humble root into something sexier than you’ve ever seen before. The roasties too are perfect: the carapace shattering to reveal a fluffy inside, like a savoury flying disc. The buttered greens also manage to be both soothing and yet virtuous at the same time. If you have room for pudding (and you really must make sure you do) the brown butter and honey tart, the definition of what Nigella described as "inner thigh wibble", provides all the sticky Nostos of a treacle tart but with baby food smoothness.
254 Hackney Rd, London E2 7SJ. marksmanpublichouse.com
Known as much for their (now late) hilarious Twitter feed, Mangal II is a Turkish joint with the added accolade of being the regular dinner spot for Gilbert & George. While it might not look all that much different to the Turkish grill you might have in your own neighbourhood, the food here truly is something else. I cannot stop thinking about how much I loved their sweetbreads, and that’s not something I say frequently or easily.
4 Stoke Newington Rd, Hackney Downs, London N16 8BH. mangal2.com
There are very few restaurants in London that can claim a more attractive location than Campania, which has spooled across the many rooms of a former dairy just off Columbia Road. It feels like you’re all at an intimate, snug wedding in the Italian countryside no matter where they plant you.
There’s truly not a single bad dish on the menu here, though the gnudi – pillowy, soft, and then finished with butter and sage – are a standout in a crowded field of masterpieces. The polpettone among the mains is also deeply satisfying: the sort of thing you want served to you on the coldest, rainiest of days, deeply meaty, perfectly saline, swaddled in red sauce. Do everything within your power to have room for dessert too: there aren’t many better tiramisus on this sceptred isle. Plus: Aesop in the bathrooms. Does it get any better?
23 Ezra St, Bethnal Green, London E2 7RH. campaniaandjones.com
Singburi is so popular now that you can either book in at 7 or 9pm, or you can sit at home and wonder how good it would be if you’d got to eat at Singburi. A tiny Thai restaurant in Leytonstone run by an army of women, the food is spicy, the prices low and the booze needs to be brought by you. The real gems here lie on the specials board: you might find crispy pork belly, or sea bass, or even quail or liver. The larb is always exceptional, whatever seafood they decide to drench in a fiery green sauce should be ordered immediately, and everything else is equally delicious.
593 High Rd Leytonstone, Leytonstone, London E11 4PA. Book by calling 020 8281 4801.
Italian pizza is great and all, but New York’s mutant school of bread, cheese and red sauce might be my favourite. Audacious with its toppings, the down and dirty pizza parlours of Manhattan stand out for their shakers of chilli flakes, parmesan and Italian herbs stood by the napkins and cutlery, the ability to buy by the slice, and a broad selection of toppings. Voodoo Rays leans in hard to this tradition, and is just as good for a quick bite as it is for a longer lounge. It's also worth noting that, unlike a dollar slice shop in Times Square, this is exceptional pizza: rich and unctious and deeply pleasing. Even better: the Dalston Ray’s now has The K Hole in its basement: a drag queen-dominated karaoke bar that couldn’t be more fun if it tried.
95 Kingsland High St, Dalston, London E8 2PB. voodoorays.com
Tucked away on the manic, chaotic, and haywire road that is Shoreditch High Street is Lyle's restaurant, a 50-seater eatery helmed by former St John Bread & Wine head chef and winner of Best Chef at last year's GQ Food and Drinks Awards, James Lowe. Walk inside Lyle’s and you can’t help but be smacked with the overwhelming Scandiness flowing through the walls. The room is stripped-back and minimalistic, with simple Ercol chairs and menus coated with Sans-serif fonts adding detail to the white-washed walls. Not only Scandi in design, but Lyle’s menu is undoubtedly New Nordic-inspired too. Rather than offering guests an option of what they can feast on, diners sit down to find a postcard-sized set menu with four to six dishes on offer – and as expected, the food is complex, highly technical, and foraged and sourced from all over Britain. Make sure you try the seared mackerel is paired with three wafer-thin slices of blood orange and turnip tops, as well as the pumpkin ice cream mixed with whey caramel and meringue sprinkled with sage.
Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High St, London E1 6JJ, 020 3011 5911. lyleslondon.com
French cuisine remains a force amid the high-altars of fine dining, but the idea of going to a 'normal' French restaurant or bistro is less of a thing than it was 20, and certainly 30, years ago. Where once the competition was an ancient Italian or a bog-standard curry, now French food in the suburbs faces the combined onslaught of Thai, Spanish, Peruvian, Mezze, Korean, BBQ, Nordic… you get the idea. That’s why Provender, a French-run, French-staffed bistro in Wanstead, east London, is so good. After sampling the casse-croûtes (the goats cheese-flavour popcorn is satisfyingly stinky), GQ can vouch for the soupe de poissons Provençale to start – a rich and complex creamy affair – followed by the stuffed leg on Vendée rabbit in a creamy mustard velouté.
17 High Street, Wanstead E11. 020 8530 3050. provenderlondon.co.uk
The winner of the Belvedere Best Bar award at the GQ Food and Drink awards 2019, Satan’s Whiskers manages to be many great things at once: it does a delicious range of cocktails from peaty and deep to light and fruity. It also does perhaps London’s most reasonably priced glass of wine. Plus, it manages to be dark, sultry and sexy for dates, with enough camp in its decor to mean it also works as a spot to bring friends for a tête-á-tête. Best to book in advance if you’re jonesing for Satan’s but make no mistake: this is truly one of the best spots in the area, if not the City.
343 Cambridge Heath Rd, London E2 9RA. 020 7739 8362.
A stripped-back and cosy little spot just by Bethnal Green tube, The Sun Tavern feels like the sort of place fantasy villains meet mercenary assassins and swap bags of gold. Except here you can get an exceptional white port cocktail or a mezcal punch bowl, made with Quiquiriqui: one of the area’s growing community of British mezcal producers.
441 Bethnal Green Rd, London E2 0AN. thesuntavern.co.uk
A beautiful old pub on the edge of Broadway Market – which is worth visiting in and of itself – The Cat and Mutton manages to feel sprawling and accommodating while also feeling shadowy and delicious. It’s a great place to book a table for a party, and the roasts are just as delicious as the drinks. There’s no time of day that The Cat and Mutton doesn’t serve you well.
76 Broadway Market, London E8 4QJ. catandmutton.com
Blondies probably manages to be more fun per square foot than anywhere else in London, which is in part because it is absolutely tiny.
205A Lower Clapton Rd, Hackney Downs, London E5 8EG. blondiesbar.co.uk
Finally, a bar which sells itself as an alcoholic oasis that will minimise your hangover, swapping syrups and mixers for seasonal botanical or herbaceous enhancements – explaining the bar's tagline of "medicinal mixology". "Half the sugar, half the hangover," says Harris, who believes bars should be affordable, untheatrical and should serve proper drinks that keep your buzz going all evening.
With highballs at £6 (Bloody Maria), cocktails at £8 (Corpse Reviver) and an oyster happy hour (6-7pm) where oysters sell for £1, the new east London haunt certainly doesn't empty pockets. "The salt from the oysters helps rebalance the alcohol's effects," explains Harris, who also serves the salty Hawaiian dish Poke: raw tuna steak or beets on a bed of rice (£6).
Those are the only two food options complementing the short and snappy cocktail menu, and the stripped-down nature of the décor (a couple of tables and benches, a tiny bar and some decks) was inspired by Japanese minimalism. Behind This Wall, whose name is stolen from a piece of graffiti, opts for straight up functional – the seats are hard, the walls are bare and the space is small. Yet this little basement bar, which grew from a humble pop-up on Broadway Market, must be one of the friendliest bars in Hackney – they even let you bring your own records and have your turn on the decks.
411 Mare Street, London E8. 020 3602 7869. behindthiswall.com
Waste not want not is the motto that drives east London's Scout, cocktail ingredients are strictly seasonal, and provided by British foragers and farmers. What Scout lacks in ingredients, it makes up for in creativity – though its ten daily-changing cocktails, created by founder Matt Whiley (The Peg + Patriot, Whistling Shop), will leave Mojito devotees disappointed.
That said, once you try £11 concoctions such as the Parsnip (a sweet improvement on the Old Fashioned, with parsnip, brown butter and whisky) and the Shiso (minty Shiso leaves, honey wine and vermouth), you'll be more than happy to drown your sorrows the Scout way. These cocktails are brewed and bottled in the bar's basement cocktail lab, but are served at ground level.
Championing what is known as "close loop" cocktailing, Scout's short snack menu is created from the drinks' leftover ingredients. While this may sound like a pretty way of describing the dustbin, the fennel salami and lacto-fermented kohlrabi with sourdough was delicious, as was the Androuet cheese with smoked apple purée.
Undoubtedly the best thing about Scout, however, is the Nineties R&B playlist, which lures in all the right people.
224 Graham Rd, London E8 1BP. scout.bar
© Andy Stagg Photography,Andy Stagg
Ever hungered for a bite of Stradivarius? No, us neither. And yet, upon tasting one of the most intriguing cocktails, Violin, at Tony Conigliaro's Dalston bar, Untitled, we yearned to sink our teeth into the instrument's resinous gut strings. Conigliaro, the genius behind Islington's 69 Colebrooke Row and Bar Termini often referred to as the 'Heston Blumenthal of drinks', has developed a menu that celebrates the senses over spirit.
Untitled is Conigliaro's third and largest bar yet. The minimalist design pays homage to Andy Warhol's Silver Factory studio in New York – a creative hub of artists and actors – with tinfoil-papered walls and a communal concrete table. It's also by far his most innovative. Considering the man prepares his cocktails in a laboratory using scientific molecular mixology and once made a gelatinous "yolk" of tomato and vodka served like an oyster, this is saying something.
Each of Untitled's 12 cocktails is designed to look, taste and smell just like their names. In Violin, served in a small, bulbous glass vessel presiding over a long and delicate stem, mirroring the neck and body of a violin, you discover oak, pine, beeswax and black pepper, with a hint of whisky. In Snow, served in a tiny, stout and frosty cup that resembles a plump snowdrop, the cold, tasteless liquid (chalk, clay, enoki and vodka) reminds you of catching snow on your tongue as a child. The Waif (rhubarb, rose, silver tip and champagne) is beautiful, slight and presented in a glass so fragile even the most nimble-fingered will feel like their wrists are wielding giant rakes. While the flavours are daring, these cocktails require no bravery – they slip down your throat like water. And the fact these liquid oeuvres start as low as £6.50 makes them taste twice as good.
538 Kingsland Rd, Dalston, London E8 4AH. untitled-bar.com
Finally, a new club that's all about the music – and it's good too. Launched by its sister venue, Oval Space, The Pickle Factory – once a pickle factory, housing a company called Swedish Delicatessen that manufactured a range of pickles and chutneys – brings together world-famous and underground DJs every Friday and Saturday for all-night sets of house and techno. Prices vary from show to show. Book online in advance or risk it on the door.
13-14 The Oval, London E2. 020 7183 4422. ovalspace.co.uk
Hackney’s best theatre also doubles up as one of its best dance floors. The Yard not only feeds you art and food, but also clears the tables and turns into a raging party when the time is right. The nights out here are a blast, but their rota of visiting chefs also know what’s up and their roster of plays never fails to amaze. Isn’t it nice to know you can turn up somewhere at 7pm and be there until 3am?
Unit 2A, Queen's Yard, London E9 5EN. theyardtheatre.co.uk
The Shacklewell Arms is a lovely pub in and of itself with a very charming garden out back. That, frankly, should be enough for you. But if you’re really desperate to not go out for a drink without something more to entertain you, then you’re in luck: this is also one of London’s most delightful live music venues. Their gig space looks like Liberace tried to design Club Tropicana, and plays host to everything from metal to synth pop.
71 Shacklewell Ln, Hackney Downs, London E8 2EB. shacklewellarms.com
If you can’t make it to the Shacklewell Arms, then may we recommend the Sebright Arms? Same deal: it’s an excellent pub as well as a cracking spot for a gig. As it's so well-placed just off Hackney Road, you can also work it into a proper Bethnal Green rager.
Coate St, London E2 9AG. sebrightarms.com
One of London’s foremost house and techno venues, Bloc plays host to some of the most interesting DJs to pass through the city. It's a barebones spot – as most venues of its type tend to be – but if you want to be up to 5am throwing yourself round a large chamber to some amazing music, this is the place for you.
Unit 3, Autumn Yard Autumn St, Bow, London E3 2TT. blocorganisation.com/
A former lap dancing club and East End boozer (my friend’s granddad once had his stag do here), Queen Adelaide’s is the last survivor of a long dynasty of London gay bars. Set up by the team behind the George & Dragon, upstairs looks like a Soviet am-dram production of Rocky Horror (in a good way) and the downstairs is a series of labyrinthine rooms playing host to kitsch, fabulous queer DJs of great renown. The bar staff are delightful, the vibe accepting, plus there’s a decent amount of seating and chill out space for somewhere so tiny. It’s my favourite gay bar in the City. Also worth a visit: The Glory, Dalston Superstore, Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club.
483 Hackney Rd, London E2 9ED. thequeenadelaide.com
The Moth Club is part of an excellent genre of east London venues that makes no attempt to hide it was once something much more humble than what it's now become. Moth stands for Memorable Order of Tin Hats: a South African ex-servicemen support network that spawned social clubs across the UK. When the Hackney brach was going to close in 2015, The Shacklewell Arms' owners refurbished it as a new cultural hub, but the old vibe is still well and truly there: the front bar is still a good old fashioned local community boozer, but through the back doors you arrive in a room that feels like it should host tea dances turned into one of London's most interesting live venues. It's all about the slash curtain here: this is a venue that has no pretensions and isn't interested in anyone who does. There's gigs, cabaret, bingo nights: there's never a bad reason to come down to the Moth.
Old Trades Hall, Valette St, London E9 6NU. mothclub.co.uk
One of London’s most intriguing theatres, even the bad stuff at the Arcola will make you think about what the form of a play can achieve. Even better: the bar here is a very low-key spot for a couple of drinks in Dalston, and also plays host to some fun dance-centric nights if you time your journey right.
24 Ashwin St, Dalston, London E8 3DL. arcolatheatre.com
© FRANCIS AMIAND
Originating in Paris, the Phillip Starck designed Mama Shelter in the 19th arrondissement aimed to make a neighbourhood known for its cemetery into a nightlife destination. The hotel, now all over France, Europe and soon returning for a second spot in Paris itself, has now become known for a great atmosphere and an intimate knowledge of what guests really want: a place you can crash at night in a city full of distractions. Mama Shelter London's opening is brand new and keeps much of the same energy from its other outlets with a distinctly British twist: London food classics sit alongside French culinary staples and shawarma on the menu, and the East London Liquor Company helped devise their cocktail menu.
As with all its other outposts, Mama Shelter London prides itself on being a very sex positive hotel. It may not give you a kettle and the iron might be out in the hall, but each room comes replete with a selection of free porn. A selection of sex aids can be purchased at quite reasonable prices in the shop downstairs, or left in your room for your arrival.
The bar has the low-lit opulence you’d expect from a private members' club (without the membership) and the food in the restaurant is delicious: the breakfast buffet deserves some kind of award for its quantity and quality. There are also conference rooms if you're in need, and karaoke booths filled with Lucky Voice's vast music catalogue where you can soak up a few dozen margaritas while working through the hits of ABBA (hypothetically, of course.) Mama Shelter London is the perfect place to stay if you want a comfy hideaway but plan on getting your hands dirty in London: its Bethnal Green location means you’re right on the Overground and Central Line, and its still a pleasure to come back to every night. If you’re traveling solo, in a large group or even with someone who’s differently abled, never fear: Mama Shelter London will have a room for whoever wants to take in a slice of the City.
437 Hackney Rd, London E2 8PP. mamashelter.com
This five-star, 128-room hotel complete with spa, indoor swimming pool, subterranean bowling alley and cinema (once a former Old Street Magistrates’ Court and police station) also sports one of the best suites in Shoreditch.
Top of the range are the Shoreditch Sky Terrace suites, on the fifth floor, overlooking Shoreditch spires and the hotel's large roof terrace. A door even leads from the enormous sitting room (decked out with a plush purple velvet sofa circling a glass table), straight onto the terrace, which serves small plates and cocktails late into the night. Just make sure you close your curtains for privacy…
The bedroom features a King-sized bed, flat-screen TV with Sky, and leads into a large ensuite with shower, bath (with TV) and two wash basins kitted with GUILTY products.
335-337 Old St, Shoreditch, London EC1V 9LL. shoreditch.courthouse-hotel.com