East London wasn’t always the cool, urban kid it is today.
Growing up in the far East End was far from exciting: it simply was an affordable place for immigrant families like mine. Though my parents opened a restaurant in central London, most of our peers stuck to business within the vicinity – turning East London into a multicultural destination. The sauces here today represent every corner of the world, though the prices certainly aren’t what they used to be. Why? Because secrets in London get out fast, especially among foodies.
In recent decades, Shoreditch, Hackney, Stratford and so forth have taken East to the next level. People venture past Tower Bridge in their droves to eat and drink like Easties. Those who do BYOB at authentic Vietnamese joints on Kingsland Rd, line up at a bakery that still charges 50p a beigel and book repeat visits to Michelin-starred eats because they didn’t just go for bragging rights.
Londoners have clamored for tables at Dishoom (Tube: Shoreditch High St) since 2010, and demand remains strong. (It’s walk-in, but at weekend brunch you absolutely need a reservation.) The Iranian cafe serves a delicious morning spread called The Big Bombay, a colorful plate of their famous akuri (spicy scrambled egg), streaky bacon and sausages, masala beans, mushrooms and homemade buns. Even if you have it at 8am on a weekday, you’ll still be full way after lunch.
For a bun on the run, I recommend The Beigel Shop (Tube: Shoreditch High St). Every Eastie and their mom has been here. Since 1855, they’ve been using the same recipes and boiling techniques to make their chewy Jewish beigels ever since. It’s open 24/7, and the plain option is just 50p. I like mine stuffed with hot salt beef, and drizzled with English mustard.
The Royal Victoria Docks is my hideaway from city noise. I can park for hours in The Living Room of the floating Good Hotel (Tube: Custom House) with a coffee, lemon tart and book, while intermittently enjoying views of the O2 Arena and cable cars. In the summer, you can take your cup to the roof terrace.
Because I have no space at home for a pet, going to CuppaPug (Tube: Haggerston) is a real treat. You have to pay a £15 entrance fee, so it’s more something I’d do to perk somebody up rather than come on the regular. Snuggle up to the owners’ resident pugs, who absolutely lap up the attention; you can also bring your own pugs to play in the pink ball pit. The bar serves smoothies, coffees and cupcakes, all iced with pug faces. Cuteness overload.
Seventy-four restaurants in London have Michelin stars; my favorite is La Dame De Pic London (Tube: Tower Hill). The work of Chef Anne-Sophie Pic inspires me; she’s battled the odds to secure 10 stars to her name, two of which are right here in Trinity Square. (This is major, since only 6% of the top awarded chefs worldwide are female.) The cost of a double helping of girl-power stars? Not as much as you’d think. Come at lunchtime (Fridays and Saturdays) and you can partake in a four-course tasting menu for £100. Her innovative French swirls come in the form of lavender-scented Onion Plurielle Tartelette and Limousin Veal Sweetbread with Chamomile (which seriously works). I always choose the White Millefeuille to finish because it’s like drifting on a sweet cloud.
If you’re thinking of a casual Sunday roast out East, get to Mama Shelter (Tube: Bethnal Green) before 4:30pm. I often wander in after shopping at Columbia Road Flower Market. Their Beef Wellington with port wine and thyme garlic jus (£23.95) comes with tons of gravy and a separate pan of seasonal vegetables. Have it in the garden atrium for a covered alfresco time.
East London is a fun place to let your hair down, and my friends and I love a game with our liquor. Electric Shuffle (Tube: Canary Wharf), a shuffleboard bar, and sister property Flight Club (Tube: Old Street), a darts club, are the best places to down prosecco and play the afternoon away. On weekdays between 3pm and 7pm, it’s only £25 a bottle. Both establishments keep track of your scores electronically and even run hilarious playbacks of your game on the big screen. It’s a great ice-breaker in the company of new friends. And if you like 2000s Usher or Kylie as I do; dancing’s hard to resist.
There’s no going wrong with any Vietnamese restaurant on Kingsland Rd (Tube: Hoxton); all are authentic and family-run for generations. If I had to choose a number one, it’d be Tay Do, which is more about the food than the ambiance. You’ll dine among Vietnamese families on cheap beef pho (£11) and summer rolls (£6.50). If you're feeling adventurous, try the braised Mekong catfish in caramel, served in a clay pot (£11). Reservations are not required, and in line with its neighbors, it’s a BYOB spot.
If you're looking for something unique, I love Supper Club (Tube: Blackhorse Rd) in a quiet residential part of Walthamstow. A fixed price of £67 nets a seasonal six-course Latin American–inspired menu, on which Colombian native chef Beatriz Maldonado Carreño takes you on a ride (ho ho!) from Mexico to Patagonia aboard a vintage 1967 Victoria Line tube carriage. Drinks are charged separately; you can choose from private tables or communal seating (great for making friends). Advance booking is essential.
Dalston Superstore (Tube: Dalston Kingsland) is a party every night of the week. The all-inclusive queer bar always has top local DJs on hand to spin the groovy pop, disco and electro beats, with the odd drag queen sprinkled in for good measure. There’s no dress code, but be sure to wear your dancing shoes.
If you’re in search of toasting with both bubbles and views, how about The Rooftop at One Hundred Shoreditch (Tube: Shoreditch High St)? This sleek space takes inspiration from Palm Springs and feels like a holiday, no matter how dreary the English weather is. I like that drinks are reasonably priced (£8 for a glass of prosecco, £14 for a cocktail), and there’s no need to reserve to enjoy all of East’s panoramic sights.