After a decade of living in London, Mr Blonde Almond and I, and our two gorgeous boys are swapping the bright city lights for the green plains of Cheshire. But Hackney will always be home, so here’s my insider’s guide to this wild and wonderful East End borough…
For generously portioned and expertly cooked Italian, you can’t beat this cheap and cheerful haunt on Broadway Market. Aperol Spritz is the drink of choice here on a sweltering day, but it’s also a winner with kids: no one bats an eyelid when the little terrors lob knives across the table, and the kids’ menu serves whopping portions of pasta, pizza and ice cream. My tip? Try the crab ravioli – it’s ace.
This hip waterside joint in Victoria Park throngs with dog walkers, yummy mummies and punters keen to tuck into its all-day breakfasts and Sri Lankan menu. It’s now veggie, which I think is a real shame as its meaty fare was top-notch; it’s lamb saddle sandwich with salsa verde was quite possibly one of the best I’ve ever eaten. But the chai lattes are real winter warmers and the almond croissants, thick with almondy filling, are superb.
This characterful and charming restaurant, hidden in a warehouse off of Mare Street, dishes up fine French classics and tasty brunches. Go for the avocado on cornbread with an extra side of bacon, and if you really want to fill your face, the French toast is a gargantuan plate of naughtiness – berries, crème fraiche and syrup.
Wringer & Mangle
I was hooked on this former laundry when it first opened. It’s a large space with soaring ceilings and quirky fittings – think industrial chic with the odd bit of taxidermy. The bar – stacked with endless spirits – conjures up some excellent cocktails, whilst the menu is classic and earthy. Think confit duck leg and beer-braised ox cheek. My dish of choice? Has to be the steak frites with a generous dollop of mustard bearnaise. And the treacle tart is a cracking little pud.
I am the biggest fan of Broadway Market’s standout tapas restaurant. Tables are squished together and the atmosphere’s buzzing. All the Spanish classics are on the menu – patatas bravas, charcuterie boards, calamari – but it also steps up a level with some very pretty plates of hake with avocado, garlicky prawns and a very oozy, very rich chocolate fondant. The staff are also great with kids. And whilst it’s a squeeze with buggies, your little ones will relish its breakfast pancakes.
Head to this park on any balmy summer’s day, and you’ll be hit by the haze of bbq smoke and thick crowds of revellers downing a few afternoonies. It’s HQ for hipsters and a clutch of Hackney weirdos with some of the best people-watching in London. There’s the newly refurbished lido and it’s dinky cafe churning out organic ice cream, tennis courts, the free kids’ paddling pool, and two playgrounds. Even in winter, it’s an all-round crowd pleaser; Charlie and I have explored its woodland area and wildflower meadows almost every day.
Whereas London Fields is all about being trendy, Vicky Park is more health-conscious; here you’ll find locals jogging, roller-blading and strolling its manicured gardens and grass. The lake has a bunch of boats for hire, overlooked by the aforementioned Pavilion, there’s a fab playground with sandpits and mini wooden playhouses, and a Sunday Market that’s worth a wander. It also hosts LoveBox and Field Day – two very hip, very loose festivals that are a must for any Eastender. And in sharp contrast to the hedonistic shenanigans at these summer highlights, there’s another playground with super high slides, a skating park and the fountains where screeching children run wild on a hot day.
Some London guides have been far too scathing of this popular road, running from London Fields to Regents Canal. It’s trendy as f*ck, but that’s all part of its appeal. I love the buzz on a Saturday when it’s transformed into a market. The food stalls are top-notch. Go for the duck confit burger from The Frenchie, and pick up a portion of its duck fat chips with a dollop of truffle mayo. Sundays here are busy too with the clink of drinks outside its restaurants, punters spilling out on to the road, pints in hand, and couples clutching plants they’ve haggled for from nearby Columbia Road flower market. I’ve walked down here hundreds of times and will never get bored of its quirky characters and lively drinking dens.
This newbie got my attention for all the right reasons. Interesting, inventive food? Check. Reasonable prices? Check. Down to earth staff? Check. For great tasting, contemporary Mediterranean tapas in fun surroundings, Tuyo gets my vote.
I was never a cake-lover… until I sunk my teeth into a Victoria Yum cake. And they really do taste as spectacular as they look. My favourites are the rose, pistachio and raspberry, and the salted caramel brownies. Deeelish!
Best of the rest
Best for… gorgeous styling and colour: Glasshouse Salon
Best for… date nights: Empress E9
Best for… afternoonies in the sunshine: Pub On The Park
Best for… coffee: E5 Bakehouse