Where to Eat in East London

Thu, 5 March 2020
Credit Jérôme Galland


Oklava is tucked away in the backstreets of Shoreditch, so you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s just another East London restaurant following the cookie-cutter blueprint of small plates, open-plan kitchen, tiled walls and tattooed chefs. It’s all those things. But there’s a reason that this one had queues around the corner for months after opening and is still packed day in, day out. That reason is Selin Kiazim, a British chef of Turkish-Cypriot heritage who was a winner of the BBC Two television series Great British Menu. So what’s she cooking up? Small plates are the order of the day: begin with snacks such as sourdough (from Oklava’s Fitzrovia bakery) with medjool-date butter or feta crostini with candied pumpkin and chilli, before moving on to the likes of marinated octopus with ricotta, honey and almonds. Not to be missed is our favourite dish, lahmacun – a circle of thin dough topped with minced meat, vegetables and spices that is best eaten with your hands. Wash down with a cardamom sour or sumac-and-pomegranate negroni. Like this? Make your way to its Fitzrovia outpost for breakfast.


A little corner of Italy in Shoreditch, Gloria is a lemon-hued, 1970s Capri-style trattoria. Its sunny disposition keeps a snaking queue of trendy diners abated while inside, an energised brood of wait staff (donning candy-cane-striped smock shirts) are ready to rattle off their dish of choice.

The menu takes old Italian classics, and goes maximalist. Chef Filippo’s 10-level lasagne revs with flavour; the classic carbonara is made tableside in a giant wheel of pecorino cheese; and the Neapolitan-style pizzas (heated in the gigantic Marana oven) make for hearty sharing options. Inventive names spring from the menu, fronted by two illustrated birds cooing “ancora”. Whether it’s more of the same, or more options courtesy of their devilish dessert menu, “ancora” you can most certainly have. The Italian gelato made with nocciola del Piemonte (hazelnuts from Piedmont) is noteworthy but nothing peaks the lofty lemon meringue pie – it’s zesty and whipped to perfection.

Cosy cubby seating, kitsch hand-painted delftware, lace-edged lampshades and a plethora of houseplants makes for a space best likening your nonna’s house. Daylight prettiness aside, don’t be deceived – the place gets pretty vivacious in the evening. Come for their late-night pizza and cocktail menu (available until 2am on Thursday, Friday and Saturday) – we’re ordering Colada Me Later followed by a round of Trophy Negronis, which are ludicrously biting and topped with truffle foam. Alternatively, head subterra to the alluring wine room and start scanning those barolos.

St Leonards

Eclectic Brunswick House is one of the few delights of Vauxhall, so it was with interest that we trotted off to see what was going down at this sibling restaurant in Shoreditch. Channelling a very different aesthetic to its counterpart, St Leonards is trussed up in elegant urban garb – hanging glass orbs, a muted colour palette, open-plan kitchen (with an impressive grill) and mandatory indoor topiary – though lacks any air of try-hard thanks to smiling staff and a simple yet imaginative menu. Of course, it’s sharing plates: flamed oysters; raw mackerel with soy butter; wild bass crudo with lardo and burnt kohlrabi; pork chops with peaches, and some particularly good sprouting broccoli. For pud, get your teeth into the salted caramel and East India sherry tart with cardamom ice cream. Cementing a lack of pretension at a restaurant which could so easily be “too good” is the “50 under 50” global wine list, while an expansive bar (and solid snack menu) makes Leonards an excellent place to drop for a bite en route elsewhere. Needless to say, we’re struggling to find fault with this one. Bravo.

Blanchette East

In Paris, it seems you’re never more than a street or two away from a charming, family-run restaurant that flickers in candlelight and serves the best moules frites you’ve ever tasted. Blanchette is just that, only in London and therefore a rarity. The Soho sweetheart has spawned a lovechild in Brick Lane and though wildly popular, it feels like a (excuse the cliché) “hidden gem” – that failsafe neighbourhood restaurant you have up your sleeve for last-minute weeknight dinner plans. But woe betide anyone who doesn’t book ahead. The perfect date spot, it’s softly lit, while exceptionally friendly staff make for a notably genial atmosphere – their motto is “gastronomy is not only about eating, it is also about pleasure, freshness and conviviality”, after all.

A contemporary French menu lends itself to sharing; linger over a charcuterie or cheese board, while snacks such as duck rilletes with grilled sourdough and onion confit are also winners. For the main event, plates such as braised lamb shoulder with pomme puree and blood-orange salmon join imaginative vegetarian plates like roasted beetroots with marinated feta, hazelnuts and honey-filo pastry. It goes without saying that they’ve got a top-notch wine list to boot, further augmenting the French daydream. We thought it couldn’t get better, but then we found out the owners named the restaurant after their mother. Trés bien.


This Clerkenwell fixture is run by a couple whose travels across Northern Africa and Spain inspired a menu that has enthralled diners for over 15 years. The food is well worth the wait for tables (make a reservation in advance). The menu changes but last time we were there we loved the charcoal-grilled lamb with caramelised marrow, chilli butter, seasoned yoghurt and farika and the pan-fried pigeon breast with fried aubergine, miel de caña and feta purée. It’s a great place for a date or a catch up with friends, but don’t bring anyone with hearing problems because it’s a tremendously noisy space.


If you’re a fan of the legendary restaurant St. John, Lyle’s should make you very happy. The space is white and airy, filled only with simple tables and chairs. From the open kitchen you can watch chef-of-the-moment James Lowe conjuring up modern British dishes for an á la carte lunch and set dinner. And what would a stylish East London restaurant be without a menu that changes every day? Think snails, spinach and sorrel, blood cake with chicory and burnt apple, smoked eel with beetroot and partridge with quince and celeriac.

Merchant's Tavern

Tucked down a side alley off busy Great Eastern Street in a former Victorian apothecary, this modern European brasserie from Angela Hartnett feels like a rare secret in well-trodden Shoreditch. But pass the unassuming grey exterior and you’ll enter a seductively lit, lively dining den that’s all exposed brick walls and green-leather banquettes, finished with brass light fittings and splashes of crimson. The atmosphere is buzzing thanks to acclaimed head chef Neil Borthwick serving plate after plate of seasonal fare. You’ll want to start at the bar, where a punchy drinks list serves twists on the classics (rum and raisin old fashioned anyone?), though staff are happy to assemble a bespoke prescription – this was an apothecary, after all. When it comes to food, top-quality ingredients are trussed up in new garbs and innovatively combined – but we don’t mean in pitiful portions bathed in foam. Starters may be heritage beetroot with dandelion, taglioni with sardines or perfectly deep-fried oysters. For the main event, whole lemon sole and partridge with crushed pumpkin sit alongside heftier mains such as lamb shank with creamed potato. To finish? Steamed sponge pudding with ginger custard. As the name implies, a total lack of pretension augmented by good-humoured staff means Merchants Tavern almost feels like you’re eating at a really (really) good pub. Just don’t expect them to put the football on.

Temper City

Temper can’t be defined by ticking one box – the popular restaurant is much more than just ‘Indian’ or ‘steak’, instead combining a variety of influences to create a dining spot you’d happily take anyone from your co-workers to a hot date. Even the dining room comes with a twist here: instead of being tucked out of sight, the kitchen is in the centre of the restaurant, so you can watch the chefs cook everything in front of you, using open fire wood and charcoal pits. On the menu, it’s all about hands on food – think fluffy flatbreads, kimchi lamb skewers and salt & pepper crab – and before (or after) your feast, you can sip on creative gin and tonics from the 40-strong gin list. Tried it and love it? Be sure to check out the original Soho restaurant temper, where you’ll find the same central BBQ style kitchen, only this one serves up moreish tacos, melt-in-the-mouth meats and their famous Sunday roasts.

  • 0203 004 6984
  • Go to Website
  • 2 Angel Court
    30 Throgmorton Street
    EC2R 7HJ

Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings

There’s no shortage of interesting restaurant options in bustling Clerkenwell, though Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings has got to be up there as one of our favourites. Situated a just stone’s throw from the fairy light-strung Exmouth market, this bright and airy all-day brasserie feels a bit like walking into someone’s home (albeit a very lovely one). There are various different spaces including a lively café, slick bar, spacious dining room and a subterranean speakeasy which gets pretty raucous towards the end of the week. The best bit, however, has got to be the beautiful ‘garden room’, strung with hanging vines, succulents, cacti and other greenery – it’s Instagram gold and the perfect place for a celebratory dinner. Food-wise, a solid seasonal British menu has something to suit all: steaks, salads, seafood, burgers or risotto; it’s the failsafe classics done well. The bartenders are known for being particularly friendly and happy to mix up your tipple of choice, making this a good all-rounder whether you’re meeting friends, seeing your parents or on a date.

  • 020 3174 1156
  • Go to Website
  • 42 Northampton Road
    EC1R 0HU

Som Saa

Previously a Thai food pop-up in Peckham, Som Saa can now be found in a former fabric warehouse just south of Spitalfields market. Unashamedly addictive, dishes here exceed expectations. A true representation of the food found in Thailand’s north-eastern provinces, the menu revolves around meat and fish, but the vegetarian dishes do not disappoint either. Spices are not used sparingly, but cocktails are carefully curated to provide the perfect antidote, using ingredients such as lychee, basil seeds and coconut.

  • 020 7324 7790
  • Go to Website
  • 43A Commercial Street
    E1 6BD

Berber & Q

Blending flavours inspired by the Middle East and North Africa with Western cooking techniques, Berber & Q offers an array of colourful dishes packed with enthusiasm. Despite specialising in beautifully smoked meats, non-meat eaters in your party will also be in their element. Vegetarian dishes include whole-cauliflower shawarma baked in tahini and rose, smoked aubergine salad and “hummus to end all hummuses”. Located in a reconditioned railway arch in Hackney, the music is loud – and gets louder when the lights go down at 9:30 – the atmosphere is laid-back and food is presented in a refreshingly uncomplicated manner.

The Marksman

Leather sofas, panelled walls and a warm colour scheme combine to create an intimate and inviting space at the this Hackney mainstay. The beers on tap are the produce of local breweries, the jukebox serenades with a 50s jazz soundtrack and the menu is packed with intricacies and idiosyncrasies that will leave you satisfied yet still slightly salivating; be sure to try the fried potatoes with burnt onion mayonnaise.

St John

St John in Clerkenwell serves up plate after plate of deservingly Michelin-starred food. With its luxe industrial aesthetic and nigh on unimprovable location, St John has become somewhat of a cult among the gastronomically obsessed – foodies from all over the world make the pilgrimage to indulge in their delectable Welsh rarebit and devilled kidneys.


Gunpowder is Spitalfields homage to the best of Indian home-cooking. Created by head chef Nirmal Save, previously of Mayfair’s Tamarind, dishes are thoughtful interpretations of household favourites, such as pani puri and masala dosa. All are bursting with fun and clever flavour combinations. While Gunpowder may not be the place to go to spend hours mulling over the minutiae of everyday life, it offers an excellent insight into India’s culinary exuberance, in a buzzing and refreshingly unassuming space.

You May Also Like

City Guides

You know how you have that one incredible friend who knows their city inside out? That’s us. We take the world’s most dynamic destinations, hand-pick the best bits and give them to you in one place. This is the kind of guide that you don’t need to run by a local – it was written by one. Eat your heart out, shop until you drop, drink like a fish, dance your socks off, sleep – then repeat.


Need some inspiration while working from home? Shop 20% off magazines when bundled together.

Download Suitcase App
Learn More