Old-timers will tell you that in the past 25 years, Shoreditch has become a wildly different place from the rough-and-ready corner of east London it once was. Along with all the tech companies and startups has come a host of good restaurants. Many London favourites have found their way here: Brindisa, Andina, Flat Iron, Dishoom (I would rate this Dishoom as the best), Suvlaki and Homeslice all have homes in Shoreditch. Plus there are plenty of new openings in Redchurch Street. The area around there (which includes Brick Lane) could probably give restaurant-rich Soho a run for its money these days.
FOOD AND FUN
Unlike most of the rest of London’s pizzerias, Radio Alice doesn’t do Neapolitan pizza. It says the recipe is from Bologna, although for the casual pizza eater there’s not much in it. The sourdough crusts are crispy and light and the topping choice is solidly Italian, from Nduja to smoked scamorza. It has frequently been named one of London’s best pizzerias and has not yet disappointed.
Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster is an upgrade on your average American joint. Samuelsson opened his first restaurant in Harlem and melds Southern soul with Big Apple pizzazz – with a little of his Swedish heritage thrown in: very good chicken meatballs with lingonberries for £9. It’s part of the trendy Curtain Hotel, which has just opened up a new cocktail bar called The Green Room should you need pre-dinner lubrication.
If you could conjure a restaurant that would most suit the Shoreditch reputation, this might be it. Big and old-style industrial, Smokestak is a barbecue restaurant in the best tradition of London’s dedicated smoked meat eateries. The brisket is unctuous and and there are plenty of interesting asides for the adventurous such as soy-soaked pigs tails.
The east London version of the Soho bistro Blanchette is one of the more genteel spots in Brick Lane. Like it’s Soho sister, the food is French but layered with North African spices. Dishes (small plates for sharing) range from frites and frogs legs to shakshuka-style eggs. One of the founder brothers also owns a music company and curates the funk/nu-soul style playlist. Don’t be put off if music isn’t your thing: in no way does it distract from the food.
One of five branches of the American soul food chain, the Shoreditch Dirty Bones is set in a mightily attractive old pub, once called The Knave of Clubs. As well as the meaty menu (the clue is in the name – chicken and waffles to be recommended), Dirty Bones doubles as a drinking den with DJs playing at the weekends and a bottomless brunch on Sundays. During the week they serve £10 lunches.
SEASONAL AND SMART
Set amid Rochelle School – a hub for small businesses – the Canteen runs a daily-changing menu of finely tuned British food. It runs short hours (better to book than turn up) and you have to ring a bell to enter, but both the venue and the food – fresh hake, fat asparagus, curds, mussels – are deeply satisfying and worth the effort.
The restaurant opening that has caused the most buzz in London this year. Tomos Parry is the chef who made Mayfair cool again with Kitty Fisher’s and is now bringing his Basque-meets-Welsh cooking – most of it fizzled on hot coals – east. It’s on a first floor above Smoking Goat. Small plates are £6-£9 or go full fish with a whole turbot (‘Brat’ is the old English for turbot) for £55.
The Clove Club
The Clove Club scores big for location: it opened in 2013 in Shoreditch’s old town hall with an elegant blue-tiled open kitchen/dining set up. It also scores big on food. It grew out of a supper club, won a Michelin star in 2014 and now rates on numerous best restaurant lists. Smart and seasonal British fare with a wine list to match. The tasting menu will set you back £110.
The airy yet formal Merchants Tavern does everything from brunch to bar food with green leather banquettes that gives it the semblance of a smart gastropub. The food is ‘modern European’, which translates to dishes including cod with artichokes, Gressingham duck, gazpacho and quail with hazelnut pesto to start. You can make it a more relaxed affair by sitting up at the kitchen counter but dinners are much more cosy in the dining room.
James Lowe, the co-founder of Lyle’s, came from the much-revered St John and his own restaurant isn’t far from the St John vibe. Lyle’s does a £59 set menu of fine British food with, as you’d expect from a restaurant like this, impeccable sourcing credentials. You don’t get to choose the food you eat but you can expect it to be very good.
‘Healthy’ rotisserie may be pushing it (the mac and cheese is stomach-stretchingly luxe), but Cocotte is undeniably good. Chicken is the one meat on the menu (all free range from the Loire Valley) and arrives at your table after 24 hours marinating in Cocotte’s ‘secret blend’ of herbs. It’s on Hoxton Square – on a hot evening you can just about kid yourself that you’re in Nice.
An outpost of the Borough Market favourite opened in Shoreditch last year. Both of the senior chefs are from Catalonia but this is an all over flavour of Spain. The cured meats are always an on-the-money choice (get the mixed board for £23) and make sure you swipe up some oil with the Catalan flat breads. It also has a nice terraza for when the sun is out.
This got a stonking review from the Guardian’s Marina O’Loughlin when it opened in 2017. It may not look much from the outside but Popolo (translation: ‘People’ in Italian) is a buzzy little joint serving more-and-moreish Italian small plates – around the £12-£14 mark – with the odd bit of Middle Eastern freekeh or labne thrown in.
There are actually three restaurants in the Gunpowder family, all within a stone’s throw of each other. The others are Gul & Sepoy and Madame D. They were founded by Harneet Baweja, who was born in Gujurat but had a peripatetic upbringing all round northern India. The food is takes inspiration from all sorts of regional Indian cuisine. They have just released a cookbook too, dare you attempt any of their delicious dishes at home.
The whole (and somewhat ghoulish looking) sea bass is what Som Saa is known for. Quite rightly too. It’s well-tuned fiery/fresh balance is indicative of most of the menu (that I’ve tried). Both the cocktails and the place itself are cool in an unaggressively hipster way. The tables are even made from pieces of Brighton Pier.
The Shoreditch edition of Casita Andina in Soho. Jolly Peruvian colours and hot flavours. A nice place for an alternative brunch at the weekends.
The original Smoking Goat in Soho closed this year, but fear not: as well as its sister restaurant to Kiln (which just won restaurant of the year), an outpost of the Thai barbecue restaurant opened in Redchurch Street earlier this year. It’s Bangkok-inspired street food: grilled small plates of spiced monkfish and octopus skewers or try the merrily named Drunken Noodles for something more substantial.
BEST OF THE REST
The Canvas Cafe
This vegan eatery is London’s first happy cafe, according to the Huffington Post. Non-vegans prepare to be surprised: imaginative, filling and fun takes on meaty classics (with great cakes for pud).
A Brick Lane institution that is not to be missed for the size and value of its jaw-workout bagels. The classic – smoked salmon and cream cheese – remains the best.
So numerous are London’s pizzerias that it’s hard to know which to recommend. Pizza East is a solid choice though: toppings are the right side of adventurous and they also do a slamming mac ‘n’cheese straight from the wood-fired oven.
Beneath Albion on Boundary Street, TraTra is a buzzy basement restaurant serving sharing plates, French-style. Good onglet and an award-winning caramel fondant.