Shoreditch, what are you? Are you a workplace or a playground? Are you the vortex of creativity, commerce and cool that came to symbolise the future direction of an entire city, or are you a sell out? Has the party moved on? Has the excitement left for Hackney and Tower Hamlets? Are you all washed up? Are you done?
These are just some of the questions we ask ourselves every time we go out to eat in Shoreditch. And having eaten there a lot, our overwhelming conclusion is that as far as food goes, it remains the only neighbourhood in London that can really rival Soho’s theme park atmosphere. Love it or hate it, the Shoreditch restaurant scene is still happening. These are some of the reasons why.
You ever get those days where you smell a bit whiffy, and all you want to do is sit in a dimly lit room and eat meat off a metal plate? No. Okay. Well, that day will come, and when it does, go to Smokestak. This is probably the best barbecue restaurant in London. The brisket bun is perfect. It’s ergonomically designed to sit in your hand like a really cute small pet that you will eventually eat. Everything else is good too. The salt baked beetroot and charred greens means that it’s great for vegetarians. Plus, you come out smelling all lovely and smokey.
There’s nothing quite like that feeling of finding a tenner in the back pocket of your favourite pair of jeans. The east London outpost of Rok comes close though. Down at the dead quiet end of the neighbourhood that everyone loves to hate, Shoreditch, this small but mighty restaurant has been doing Nordic nouveau cuisine before pretty much anyone else in London. Lots of super fresh veg, fish, and fired up meat is served in a simple but very tasty way. After a little while, you’ll soon come to realise that every ‘hot new spot’ in Shoreditch is basically the slightly louder, obnoxious cousin of Rok. Lunch has a short menu of small plates that will satisfy both the biggest and most vegetarian of appetites. The evening menu expands out to demonstrate what they can do with a bit of meat and a flame grill, and it turns out what they can do tastes very, very good.
Brat is a bit like that new cool person. The one who your friends are friends with and say you must meet, but who you’re convinced you won’t like because they’re really cool. Then you speak to them properly and realise that they’re actually both really nice and really cool, and then you get on like a house on fire. That’s Brat. Only Brat chucks bread, potatoes, turbot and anything else onto that friendship fire and it tastes absolutely brilliant. A restaurant that everyone should go to.
Rochelle Canteen is a brilliant British restaurant in a quiet square off the high street, with some of the most solid cooking in town. You’ll find it by wandering into Arnold Circus and looking for a small blue door marked ‘Rochelle School’. Ring the buzzer for the canteen and you’ll enter a hidden garden with a path leading to the restaurant itself. The menu is excellent (everything from a simple soup to a roast is fantastic) but the feeling of discovery is a huge part of Rochelle Canteen’s appeal. While the restaurant is known mostly for lunch service, it also opens in the evenings closer to the weekend, so you don’t have to take a day off to experience it.
An Indian restaurant, but not of the “two garlics, two peshwaris and another Cobra” variety, Gunpowder has taken London by storm since opening. It’s a sharing plates type thing, only you’ll be sharing okra fries and venison donuts instead of Bombay Aloo. The cooking here is uniformly delicious and even better than some of the posh spots around town. It is, we regret to say, one of those no reservation places, but there are a couple of pubs within walking distance so fear not, you’ll be able to prep for your meal in the best possible way.
Lyle’s is a creative British restaurant that has been called literally one of the best restaurants in the world. It isn’t, but once you get past the hype, it’s actually a very nice place to sit and have lunch in Shoreditch. It works as a place to grab a glass of wine with a friend, or to dive into a full tasting menu. Speaking of which, we much prefer lunch here, when the full a la carte is available and you can try more of what’s good that day - evenings are tasting menu-only.
There are restaurants that have a distinctive vibe and great food that make them worth the effort. Then there are restaurants that are useful for a variety of situations, and are good at getting the job done. Peruvian spot Andina, thankfully, is both - part utility restaurant that can cover everything from casual business breakfasts to last-minute group dinners easily, and part destination restaurant to go and eat things like ceviche and grilled meat skewers. As an unexpected bonus, turns out that Peruvian cuisine is great for people trying to be healthy-ish, as well as people swearing off gluten and other delicious things. You’ll have some of those in your party - it’s Shoreditch, after all.
Every good neighbourhood needs an all-occasion kind of place where you can grab a casual breakfast, oysters and fizz before a big night out, or a low-key dinner. Located inside the Ace Hotel, Hoi Polloi is that kind of place, and looks like a very cool brasserie designed by Japanese architects. The food’s good, and the dining room is perfect for people watching and discussing things like gentrification and cereal cafes. It’s true that you can access it via the flower shop outside the hotel, but you can also access it via the hotel’s lobby like a normal person.
For some of the absolute best Vietnamese food anywhere in London, Sông Quê should be high on your list. It’s usually slammed with Vietnamese families and locals, most of whom have been coming here for years, and the dining room has the feel of a loud family canteen. We love the banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake) and the grilled quail is also very good, but everything on the menu is fantastic and the prices are super reasonable. It’s perfect for a fun (if not particularly polite) dinner with a big group of friends, or for a quick bowl of their brilliant pho.
If you asked a trendy Shoreditch local to design a pub, the Princess of Shoreditch is what you’d get - it looks like good boozer, but with a polished East End cool about it. No one’s ever going to mistake it for an old school pub but really, we doubt anyone will care when the food’s this good. The roasts are a local fixture on Sundays, with good-looking plates of rare beef, lamb, and pork landing on tables at a fair clip. The beer selection’s short but good, the crowd is young and fun, and they have a thing called ‘umami salad’ on the menu, which is probably just a plate of mushrooms in soy sauce. Probably not, actually, but you get the idea.
Viet Grill is all about great Vietnamese food and fun cocktails in a cool environment. While we love Cay Tre’s location for sheer convenience (and because we’re lazy), eating here just feels like more of an occasion - sort of like a couples’ cheese and wine evening, or a colonoscopy. The basement dining room is moody and just a little bit noisy, so it’s a great option for groups looking for a boozy dinner before hitting the bar on the high street, and the upstairs is a little more civilised but still fun. The food covers the bases nicely - solid pho and cha la lot (minced pork wrapped in a leaf and fried) - but the specials are really where it’s at, so keep a look out for whatever’s good on the menu that day.
This little Italian restaurant on a quiet street in Shoreditch is one of our new favourite places to sit at the bar and eat plates of pasta and seafood, and drink a few glasses of wine. The owner’s mum is Spanish, apparently, so you’ll also find things like vegetables with romesco or hake on the menu, as well as a risotto that’s the best we’ve tried in ages. The vibe and look is completely fitting to the area - bare brick, designer scaffolding, those long hanging light bulbs that are a potential deathtrap - and the service and food are first rate.
Of all the Dishooms in town, this one’s probably our favourite, and not just because it’s the closest one to our flat. The service and Indian food is as good as we’ve come to expect, and while the queue is never as bad as some of the others, the verandah is what we love the most - it’s the perfect place to sit for the three days a year when the British summer kicks into full effect. The brunch is still one of the best in the area, but be prepared to get here early to beat the rush.
You’ve got plans to meet friends later in the week for dinner, and you want to go somewhere fun and exciting, and perhaps something involving a kebab. But you’re tired of anything involving railway arches and Knightsbridge, and you don’t want to come back home smelling of an open fire. In that case, you want to be eating at Oklava, where they’re cooking fantastic, creative Turkish food. Mix it up with some flatbreads and grills, and definitely get some of the vegetable dishes as they’re as good as any of the meat plates. Over-ordering can be a problem as much of the menu is absurdly good, but that’s what we call “a good problem.”
We Brits have always been good at this beef thing, but somehow, our steakhouses have always been rubbish. Hawksmoor changed that, and this, their original Spitalfields restaurant, is where it all started. You can get every cut of cow that exists, properly aged and cooked correctly, with one of the greatest sticky toffee puddings of all time for afters. It’s a polished experience that’s also pricey, but everything from the atmosphere to the service is spot on and worth the hefty price tag. The bar is also excellent in its own right, and makes some of the best cocktails in this part of town.
St John Bread and Wine takes the food at the legendary St John restaurant in Farringdon, and transfers it into an informal canteen-style dining room close to Spitalfields Market. The British food here is, as ever, excellent. The menu changes all the time, but literally everything is good, whether you’re a fan of nose-to-tail cooking or not. Don’t miss the freshly baked madeleines for afters, and you can grab their fantastic donuts to take away as well. It’s a good place for a casual small group dinner, or for long overdue catch ups.
The Clove Club is fine dining done East London style, which basically means a fancy feast without the typical stiff service and white tablecloths at more traditional restaurants. The food’s not only creative but also very good, and you’ll be seated with the sounds and smells of the open kitchen steps away. Be warned though - the full tasting menu is not only pricey, but a four-hour time commitment. If you’re serious about fine dining, The Clove Club’s worth it for the experience, as it’s some of the most interesting food in London at the moment. If you don’t want to commit, the adjacent bar is also excellent. It does a killer negroni, and is one of the more civilised places for a drink on Friday night in Shoreditch.
This France-by-way-of-North Africa bistro is a great option for both picky and adventurous eaters. From roasted poussin to cheese beignets, there’s a range of fish, meat and flavours to appeal to everyone. They also have a separate vegan menu that’s useful for any friends and family that are ‘going through a phase’. It’s located on Brick Lane which is good for options afterwards but bad if you get annoyed at people who walk slowly on pavements. Everything’s served sharing style, so we’d recommend ordering more rather than less, and the brilliant merguez sausage roll with harissa mayo is one to get multiples of.
Your difficult friend Becks is visiting from Earlsfield, but you want to be sure to get a good meal while avoiding an evening of bitching and moaning about some poncey spot with small portions. Take them to Homeslice, a Valhalla for anyone who loves pizza, and let the sweet taste of red sauce and mozzarella wash over you like that one time you went to The Berkeley and got a neck massage. The pizzas are pricey but they’re huge, and you can get them by the slice if you’re indecisive or not super hungry. The drinks list is short, but they have prosecco on tap, which makes up for it.