Friday, 1 January 2016

Hackney's best new restaurants 2015

Hackney's dining scene just keeps growing and developing, showing only the slightest signs of slowing down. While in 2013 and 2014 the pace of change felt astonishing and exhausting, by now it feels that this is how Hackney's going to be for a while.

That quiet acceptance was disrupted briefly by the Fuck Parade protesters who sought to highlight the effects of gentrification by bottling the lamely iconic Cereal Killer Cafe on Brick Lane. It was an easy, high profile target but the reality is that most places opening in Hackney will be unaffordable for people without much spare income. Intimidating small business owners and their customers won't change that reality (only radical political action can), but I hope businesses and individuals reflect on how they impact on their less fortunate neighbours.

2015 felt like a year of maturing, with a significant number of high quality new openings from established and inventive chefs. We've seen the rise of modern, crisp, playful bistros – my favourite being Brooksby's Walk, and I'm confident that the much praised Pidgin on Wilton Way and newer Ellory in London Fields will knock my socks off when I have some spare cash/time to check them out. The Mare Street/London Fields axis seems to be where most of the fancier places are opening.

Parmesan Pannacotta at Brooksby's Walk.

As I blogged yesterday, Middle Eastern food is on the up, as are venues doing a bit more than just serving you food – I loved the clubby atmosphere at Berber & Q, the camp metal at Black Axe Mangal and the live jazz at Jackdaw in Clapton. We've also seen specialist restaurants opening all over Hackney – sushi at Uchi, ramen at Tonkotsu, Japanese yakitori skewers at Jidori, jerk meat at Rudie's in Dalston, lobster (obvs) at the Lobster Bar on Richmond Road.

Softshell crab sushi at Uchi.

I predicted last year that the neighbourhoods adjacent to Hackney would see their restaurant options broaden as more priced out young professionals moved in. That's certainly been the case, with just a bit of Hackney export about some of the openings. Clapton businesses Sodo and Clapton Craft are due to open in Walthamstow in the new year, haggis pushers Deeney's have opened a cafe in Leyton after running toastie stalls in Broadway Market and Chatsworth Road for severeal years, and Tottenham has now got Chicken Town – healthy, fancy fried chicken with a social conscious, with Giorgio Ravelli, Head Chef at Clapton/Homerton's Brooksby's Walk, as Executive Chef.

Tired, established streets like Stoke Newington Church Street and Islington's Upper Street have seen a renaissance after years of derivative, generic restaurants opening. Church Street has had the highly regarded the Good Egg open, along with Escosesa – an intriguing Scottish-Spanish seafood restaurant, and some fancy pie shops and wine bars ae on their way. Meanwhile, Islington has had high profile new openings like Oldroyd, Alsatian brasserie Bellanger and the ridiculously fun Black Axe Mangal.

Less established streets have also seen big booms. Well Street in Homerton stands out as seeing some of the most striking change – a sourdough pizzeria and cocktail bar in a former laundrette have opened, while most of the change in Clapton has been on Lower Clapton Road where Rootdown, Blondies, Jackdaw, Ten Ten, Klub Trop have opened, soon to be joined by dim sum restaurant My Neighbours the Dumplings. Notably many businesses on this stretch appear pretty quiet mid-week, suggesting there's not quite the level of demand in Clapton for so many restaurants and bars, especially when there are already many strong local favourites, like Verden and Shane's.

Lamb belly at Jackdaw.

In 2014 we saw a number of independent but derivative restaurants opportunistically open in Hackney, and in 2015 the trend has been towards the new generation of 'trendy' mid-range chains on a roll out. Honest Burger has opened in Old Street and soon Dalston, Franco Manca opened in Broadway Market and soon Stoke Newington, Foxlow from the Hawksmoor group opened in Stoke Newington before rollin' rollin' out to other yummy 'burbs like Balham and Chiswick.

I expect things to slow down a bit more in 2016. I think we're closing in on saturation point in Hackney, and only restaurants who understand and offer value to the local market will survive. Big name new openings from the Moro crew on Hackney Road and Lucky Chip on Ridley Road are likely to do well, but wacky or pretentious 'concepts' chasing a Dalstonist headline are unlikely be sustainable businesses if they don't deliver the goods.

Lamb at Moro.

We'll see more of the neighbourhood bistro format, more trumpeting of the provenance of ingredients and drinks, more pushing at the boundaries of 'traditional' cuisines. I'd expect to see Walthamstow to get a few more 'grown up' restaurants, and see a few more independent options open up in Leyton, Leytonstone, Forest Gate and Tottenham. I wouldn't be surprised if we see a few more specialist food shops open in North East London – we have some great beer and wine shops, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a fancy cheesemonger or fishmonger open up this year.