London’s Independent Food Neighbourhoods Part II

16 January, 2015

Further enticing evidence of London’s maturing food scene, independent food neighbourhoods, such as Bethnal Green and Clapton, have come of age with the rise of casual dining and hyper-localisation.

As introduced in London’s Independent Food Neighbourhoods Part I, with inner-city rents going interstellar, alongside a scarcity of affordable sites, independent restaurateurs and entrepreneurial chefs are heading out to residential areas, where a ready supply of seasoned food lovers are eager to eat well on their own patch.

London’s a notoriously large city that’s costly and time-consuming to traverse, so why traipse across town when destination-dining is on your doorstep?

Bethnal Green: a veritable London food neighbourhood combining old and new

Bethnal Green is one area that’s blossomed in just the past year. One of the East End’s early subjects of gentrification, it combines cockney warmth and charm with an international palate for fine drinking and dining.

Bethnal Green’s concentration of cocktail bars, alone, have given the area a shake-up. Newcomers include The Craft Cocktail Company, Satan’s Whiskers and Peg+Patriot. Local pubs have undergone a face-lift too: including former dive-bar the Dundee Arms (now under new ownership), The Sun Tavern, that now serves “tankard cocktails” and potent Irish moonshine, Poitin, and late-night boozer The Dolphin, host to an Italy-meets-Deep-South-style pop-up.

Fresh pheasants from traditional English butcher The Butchers Shop on Bethnal Green Road

Nestled behind a scruffy ’60s cement block, Paradise Row is finally living up to its name, as host to a parade of food and drink destinations. Mission is the latest venture from the husband-and-wife team behind Hackney Road wine bar Sager + Wilde. Inspired by a sojourn in the Golden State, its name is taken from San Francisco’s culinary melting pot, the Mission District.

A new-wave wine kitchen from the Sager + Wilde team, a landmark London food-neighbourhood offering in Bethnal Green

Mission’s wine menu is exceptional. By-the-glass options are predominantly New-Wave Californian, meaning a wider selection of Old-World grapes that thrive in colder climates.

Finely shredded squid poached in brown butter with Italian monksbeard (bought at a Milan market and smuggled home by one of the Mission’s chefs)

Meanwhile, the kitchen has an Italian accent, with small dishes to accompany a casual glass and larger sharing platters for something more substantial. When we visited, lunch included celeriac and cider soup, clam tagliatelle, and grilled rabbit and salsa verde each paired with an obliging wine suggestion. With sleek styling and friendly service, it’s a super inviting and compelling stop.

Ox-cheek ragu panzorotti from Bethnal Green’s Mission, a newcomer to this London food neighbourhood

Just a stone’s throw away, Bethnal Green’s upscale Edwardian Town Hall Hotel houses Jason Atherton’s East End project, Typing Room. Headed by executive chef Lee Westcott, it’s refined British dining with the occasional oriental inflection (revealing Westcott’s time in the East). Its front-of-house open kitchen is almost as elegant as the dining area, with a long peek revealing chefs working with artful precision.

Bethnal Green’s former Town Hall, home to Jason Atherton’s East End enterprise Typing Room

Dinner is strictly a taster-menu affair, of five or seven intricate and exquisite dishes. Excellent rare cuts like pig’s trotter, bacon and brown-sauce jam make an appetising snack, while upscale options such as yeasted cauliflower with raisins, capers and mint, and lobster, cucumber, dashi and lardo, are effortlessly on-trend.

A London independent food neighbourhood institution, E Pellici of Bethnal Green

A world away from these upstarts is Bethnal Green old-timer E Pellici, a family-run caff where a bit of banter and a sly wink and smile are part of the service. Having opened in 1900, it’s a neighbourhood institution.

A proper East End-Italo café latte from E Pellici in Bethnal Green, Hackney’s rising independent food neighbourhood

The Grade II-listed building has more charm than any Nordic-styled newcomer competition: all dark-wood panelling, Formica tables and art-deco touches. The menu takes in first-rate fry-ups, Italian specials and a very good cup of coffee.

The team at E Pellici, in true independent food-neighbourhood style, have a bit of banter for every punter

The Ginger Pig’s butchery empire expands to Lauriston Road, serving the folk of Victoria Park Village with top-rate cuts from British farms. A philosophy that well-looked after livestock tastes better on the plate is at the heart of everything they do. In addition to fresh meats, the butchery counter serves a small selection of cured and cooked produce, preserves and pickles, a growing selection of dry goods, and kitchen-made snacks such as sausage rolls (and not just any sausage rolls – the definitive sausage rolls), pies and scotch eggs.

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London independent food neighbourhood destination Chatsworth Road Market features street-food from around the world

While the Bethnal-Green revitalisation was slow and incremental, Clapton’s transformation seemed to happen overnight. Younger and hipper, the choice of cafés, restaurants, grocers and bars reflect the age and inclinations of the surging wave of twenty-somethings.

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Hackney Marshes-sourced herbs give Clapton restaurant Shane’s on Chatworth an especially local flavour

Shane’s on Chatsworth is about as local as you can get. Run by Kiwi Shane Harrison, its menu is proudly seasonal and local: British cheese, game and fish, East Sussex wines, and foraged herbs (nettles, dandelions, wild garlic, comfrey and elderflower) from Hackney marshes. It’s honest, satisfying British fare: expect mains like slow-cooked lamb belly with lamb kidneys, and starters such as smoked pig cheek with pickled pear and samphire.

Outdoor dining at Shane’s on Chatsworth: a London independent food neighbourhood favourite in Clapton

Its British cheese menu is standout, with generous 25g portions of Cote Hill Blue from Lincolnshire, Mature Farmhouse from Cheshire, and Colston Basset Stilton, served with a selection of crackers and preserves.

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Fresh loaves from Chatsworth Road Market in London independent food neighbourhood, Clapton

The mark of a truly food-loving neighbourhood is surely its market, and Chatsworth Road’s bustling Sunday-stop of up to 30 store-holders harks back to the 1930s. A former “murder mile”, it’s as if the area’s been teleported from one era to another. Venezuelan street-food sits beside organic chocolates from Niko B, gumbo and cornbread from Colonel Toms, Don Arancini’s risotto balls, and wacky pies from The Pie Cart.

Local is as local does. Clapton Craft not only stocks London beers but delivers: an independent food neighbourhood service

As you might expect of Clapton, there’s an excellent craft beer and growler refill shop that beer-geeks will delight in (especially on discovering that they home-deliver). Clapton Craft sell the gamut of local, UK and imported bottled beers, as well as growlers (rotund glass bottles) and PETs (plastic beer bottles) that you can refill from eight taps of changing beers.

Growlers being refilled at Clapton Craft, the beer destination of Hackney’s independent food neighbourhood, Clapton

London’s food neighbourhoods are evolving rapidly, so retaining the character of an area as new premises open (and old ones close) is a delicate challenge. Each one of the businesses we visited was committed to reinvesting in their community and – in a spirit of local solidarity – supporting their neighbouring traders.

It’s heartening to witness. Shane Harrison of Shane’s endeavours to hire locally within Clapton, and the team at Mission are ready with after-dinner recommendations for customers looking to continue their evenings in buzzing Bethnal Green.

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