Bethnal Green / general East End recoomendations?
We are visiting London from Boston for three days at the end of August. Neither of us has been in a few years, and much to our excitement we are staying in Bethnal Green, a part of town we have zero familiarity with even though we are vaguely aware of its supposed "it" status, for what it's worth.
We are curious eaters and would like to get a good sample of things in this part of town--pubs, Indian, nose-to-tail British, market eats etc.--any thoughtfully made food basically, and not necessarily the trendy restaurants of the day. Budget-wise, we are unfortunately not investment bankers--60 GBP per person is our limit for a "splurgy" meal, ideally less (doable?). We are also not averse to travelling, although the emphasis is on this side of town, ideally within a 30-min walk from the Bethnal Green tube.
Our potential field of candidates so far
-Brawn in Shoreditch
-The Approach (very close to the hotel, in case we don't feel like going far)
-Gram Bangla (we don't have anything like Bengali food here in Boston, and we love fish!)
-St. John Bread and Wine (we've heard mixed reviews on St John proper)
-Viajante (next to our hotel and out of our price range, but we might go for lunch if you guys think it's worth it)
-Moro (we've been big fans of their cookbooks and would like to see the restaurant in person)
-Bistrotheque (someone recommended this to us)
-Eat Street near St. Pancras
We'll definitely visit Broadway market, and quite possibly Borough Market if we visit the Tate. Any particular vendors/shops to check out?
Suggestions are welcome! Also, any interesting sites in the surounding area?
Thanks in advance!
Trip report and assorted observations:
Thursday night at the Corner Room, after checking into the hotel around 9:00PM. Got cod with clam porridge (sublime) and plaice with some kind of caramel sauce and wilted greens (weird, but in a good way); dessert was sorbet with rhubarb puree--good if a little over-composed. Two entrees and a dessert, plus two glasses of rose, came to 55 GBP. Portions modest to small, perfect for an after-flight meal but may be insufficient for bigger appetites. The dining room was snug but comfortable; the crowd, on a weeknight, appeared to be an low-key assortment of the London bobo beau monde; and the service, though "casual", is not off-puttingly so.
Gram Bangla was a bit of a rude surprise. Upon getting there on Friday night, all we saw was a bunch of trays in a glassed-in counter, filled with indistinguishable food that, frankly, didn't look too appetizing. Not sure what happened--is there a secret menu to order off of, or did we simply show up at the wrong time or place? Unfortunately we didn't do enough homework on this place to know what to do, so shamefacedly we made our exit and went instead to Tayyab--meat palace with an almost bacchanalian air of carnivorous enjoyment. The lamb chops were fantastic (this coming from someone who doesn't even enjoy lamb). Note to future self: order the big portion. Dinner bill a very modest 25 GBP for two, but with no alcohol.
Broadway Market on Saturday was again fantastic--both for the great food (even saw a whole hog being roasted) and for amusing people watching (it's a peacock parade of bleary-eyed, artfully dishevelled male hipsters). Advice to future self: go early, go often and go hungry. I especially liked how the temporary stalls played off against the permanent establishments on both sides of the street. Great coffee at Burnt Enz, and we went for the Bah Mi (4 GBP) at the Vietnamese stand, which was just really sublime. Also picked up some great peaches, later eaten standing by Regent's canal.
Saturday dinner at St John Bread & Wine. Didn't know what to expect but was really pleasantly surprised. The spartan dining room, although off a busy main street, was subdued and comfortable, getting more so as the evening progressed and people filed in. Service was knowledgable, friendly but not eager, and free of pretentiousness. Had duck hearts, pig's head stew, lamb with anchovy, hake--all excellent. Portions were big, and conducive to sharing. Dessert of eccles cake was good but forbiddingly rich. Dinner bills for two, with a bottle of wine, came to 80 GBP, surprisingly reasonable given the quality and quantity.
Post-dinner walk around Brick Lane, Shoreditch etc., through some vaguely seedy but unthreatening parts of town, and came upon Royal Oak on Columbia Road by chance. A lovely genial space, although the crowd was more Portlandia than Coronation Street. Each had a pint of some kind of local brew, made in London Fields according to the bartender, but it was well...insipid. (unfortunately this was often the case when we tried the various other East London local brews--something about our palate maybe?)
Our last dinner in London, at Gourmet San, was a disappointment. Having read what we did we stuck to the Sichuan classics--small chunks of chicken with chillis, and spicy-sour napa cabbage. The former came out lukewarm and unusually greasy, and the latter was both overwhelmingly vinegary and had an "old oil" taste. We also ordered the (rather incongruous) Uigur lamb kebabs after seeing them on every table, but since they failed to show even after we finished everything else, we cancelled them. I don't know--maybe they just had an off night--but as I passed on my way to the bathroom a couple happily chowing on Cantonese seafood noodles I secretly wished I had ordered the same! The bill came to 35 GBP for two, the only time on this trip I truly felt ripped off.
Monday was a bank holiday which ruined our plan to have a splurgy breakfast at Hawkmoor or the Wolesley. In the end, we as a lark decided to go to the Savoy for a full English breakfast before leaving town--most unbecoming of a Chowhound, but what great fun to play-act in a stiff, upper-crusty hotel dining room! The bill was obscene, and we are unlikely to go there again, but still...
All in all, despite minor disappointments, we really enjoyed our time eating in London, and really appreciated seeing and tasting all the interesting, creative things people are coming up with. Thanks a bunch for all the help! Until next time in London...
Did you go to Gram before sunset on Ramadan?
To be fair that place has a huge learning curve regardless.
Also, Gourmet San is a Dongbei restaurant and I tend to stick to a few dishes I like. Some Dongbei some Sichuan. My favorite thing there is the preserved pork with mustard greens.
Wow, lots of lovely, thoughtful recommendations--thanks all! Definitely getting more excited to explore this part of town. Particularly intrigued by the market pop-up suggestions (Ben Spalding etc.), and Thattukada looks much more enticing now that it came so highly recommended. Also thanks for the coffee/bakery/breakfast suggestions--something we haven't thought too much about until now.
Hawksmoor -- somehow this flew under the radar for me, but the Sunday roast lunch looks amazing and would dovetail nicely with our plan to visit the markets. Looks like we'll have to do some food triage.
Will definitely report back our experience. Stay tuned!
Live in the neighbourhood... posted this late last year...
Places I love to eat at regularly are:
Frizzante at Hackney City Farm, now about four nights a week, really nice home-made Italian food
Story Deli on Redchurch St for pizza
Franz & Evans on Redchurch St great cafe for lunch and really nice Italian dinners Thurs-Sat
Either Leila's or Rochelle Canteen around Arnold Circus are both nice
Pavilion Cafe in Victoria Park is also great for breakfast
Bread from e5 bakehouse
Get your morning coffee and lunch if you're vegetarian from G&T a tiny cafe 2 minutes from your hotel
As a couple of the other posts have suggested, there are heaps of new places around London Fields e.g. Burnt Enz, Brewery, Lardo that are worth checking out.
I can't keep up with everything that is happening but these places are also pretty inexpensive, food is fresh and you will be happy - plus they give you a sense of what is happening locally.
Clapton is definitely worth a visit on a Sunday, really nice to walk from your hotel, through vic park, along the canal and come back towards claptop eating at the market or a couple of the places around clapton pond. Other markets I travel to are Borough and Brockley in the south.
Lots of good recommendations already, such as Brawn, Pavilion, E5 Bakehouse. Not sure Moro or Eat St are within a 30 minute walk.
My additions are:
Beigal Bake (the white front, not the other one) for a salt beef beigal with gherkin and mustard.
Mason and Taylor for good beers.
St John Bread and Wine for the eccles cake and lancashire cheese.
The Bridge Coffee House for their cake and decor.
Lots of vietnamese nearby, but better is to try and see if you can get to Leluu's supper club.
Redchurch for their Old Fashioned special - i think it's orange and cinnamon or somthing.
Needoo for the mixed grill and dhaigi dry meat.
Also, if you can make it up to Railroad in Hackney, that's really good, and both the front of house and chef are really friendly. Similarly, Ombra and This Bright Field up the road from Viajante are good.
Finally, you're close enough to the city for a Hawksmoor breakfast.
Hope this helps!
Also be aware that Ramadan is currently going on (and only just started on Friday) so Gram Bangla will be dead until the evening. I passed recently and they were setting up iftar platters around 6pm, but I don't know if they'll actually serve food until after sunset. If you go on a Friday for sunset they will have an amazing menu/selection during Ramadan. I've gone there for iftars, Eid and Bangladeshi New Year and they really go all out if it's a holiday or a Friday during Ramadan.
Ramadan will also effect Lahori Karahi, Pakhtoonkhwa, and possibly Hyderabadi Spice.
I'll probably add more to this a bit later, but I'll get some stuff down now so I remember to get back to it.
I would definitely emphasize the "for what it's worth" bit of Bethnal Green's "it" status. If you're on or right by Brick Lane then it's like a whole different neighborhood, but it otherwise just feels like Whitechapel's northernmost borderlands.
One place I like and which is very close to you is Little Georgia. It's an adorable little restaurant serving homestyle Georgian food and it is a bit expensive, but it's very good. Expensive according to my idea of expensive so not all that bad. A lot of dishes shift there on a regular basis and I'd avoid the chicken ones (I remember a really dry piece of meat), but their khinkali were really good. I'd try to order towards the specials and Georgian staples. BYOB wine.
Also, you're only about 15 minutes from Thattukada by tube and I would honestly recommend it to anyone even vaguely in East London as a "must go to" restaurant. There are extensive posts about it but it's pretty much excellent Keralan food at extremely low prices. The emphasis is on seafood, Keralan drunk food, chicken biriyani, and thali/meal sets. Excellent breads, curries and other basics. It's very difficult to find a bad dish on the menu, but stick to South Indian stuff. Huge posted and hidden specials menu daily. BYOB including liquor.
You should probably hit up Green St and its surroundings as part of a day that could culminate in a meal at Thattukada. Few people make it east and the food is really exceptional. I live in the area (Forest Gate/East Ham) and I have over a dozen South Asian eateries around me that blow away anything I can get in New York.
D.S. Dabeli in Venus Mall; tiny dabeli and pao vada stall.
Khana Khazana; reopened recently, serves freshly fried alloo tikki chaat right on the side of the road.
Pakhtoonkhwa Restaurant; Pashtun/Pathan/"Afghan" (the crew/owners are largely from Peshawar and its surroundings though) place which is basically the London's lamb embassy. Excellent pulao, chapli kebabs and bread.
Lahori Karahi; the best Pakistani/North Indian bread I've ever had with excellent grilled items and even better stews/curries.
Hyderabadi Spice; Excellent lamb biriyani, bhagary baigun and mirch ka salan, but avoid the chicken biriyani and other seemingly logical dishes. It's a Hyderabadi restaurant which does a few Hyderabadi dishes really well, but can be hit and miss otherwise.
Vasanta Bhavan; not perfect but the best dosa, iddly, -insert Tamil veg items-, etc here for the area.
Closer to you there's Needoo which is a decent Pakistani place and a lovely little woman makes really good papri chaat near the corner of Vallance Rd and Whitechapel Rd.
I'll think of more stuff soon and I'll try to diversify it out of South Asia.
You have made a good start with those ones!
For Bistrotheque I would recommend it for brunch one day rather than lunch/dinner - also make sure you know where you are going as it is tough to find (absolutely no sign outside).
Good suggestions for Broadway Market and Burnt Enz. I would also recommend a pop up at Broadway Market (actually just around the corner) where a young chef called Ben Spalding (who used to be at Roganic and is now part time at the ledbury) is doing 'Stripped-Back' four course lunches with raw/cured ingredients to 6/8 customers around a tiny kitchen in the open air. It's very light and will take maybe 30mins to eat but is great to incorporate into your market visit and showcases a lot of current cooking trends/ingredients i.e. Noma style foraging/leaves etc (if that appeals).
If Viajante is a bit out of your budget range, why not try the Corner Room - where you can get Nuno Mendez' cooking at a lot more affordable prices.
If good Northern Chinese (Dongbei, i believe) cuisine is your thing, be sure to try Gourmet San on Bethnal Green road. Very reasonable. Haven't been recently but the lamb kebabs are great, as are the crabs with Szechuan pepper..
Lots of places to try at Broadway Market, but 2 places to try are "Yum Bun" pork bun stall (in the schoolyard) , as is the Bahn Mi (on the main strip). Saturdays only.
Just to note that Brawn isn't a pub, it's a restaurant although casual and you can sit at the bar and have a drink and a plate of charcuterie or cheese. But definitely go as it's one of the best spots in the area. If you want more of a pub atmosphere there is the Royal Oak just down the road, or up on Broadway Market the Dove or the Cat and Mutton are pretty good. The Seabright Arms off Hackney Road offer Lucky Chip burgers, the best burgers in town if you ask me, so if that's your thing you could give that a go.
Don't miss the flower market on Columbia Road on Sunday, loads of atmosphere and a real East End gem.
I would also recommend the Corner Room over Viajante - I had an outstanding meal at Corner Room whereas Viajante was totally hit and miss (and one of the dishes horrible enough to be inedible).
Gourmet San is also a good rec, also try their chilli crab. There's a new place further towards the City on Bethnal Green Road called Local Friends which is supposed to be great although I haven't personally tried it.
I do hope you enjoy - it's my local neighbourhood, and I love it, it gives a real flavour of London.
other places not mentioned -
mangal/mangal 2/many other places - up in dalston for turkish
rita's dining (https://www.facebook.com/ritasbaranddining) - also up in dalston
burnt enz (https://www.facebook.com/BurntEnz) - outside wood-fired oven near london fields station only open on weekends afaik
lardo (https://www.facebook.com/lardolondon) - italian with house made charcuterie, chef is ex-st john b&w, also close to london fields station.