Best restaurants in Shoreditch, from Lyle’s to Sông Quê Café

·14-min read
Riot of flavours: Smoking Goat  (Handout)
Riot of flavours: Smoking Goat (Handout)

Shoreditch has just about been London’s capital of cool for most of this century — not bad for somewhere that 25 years ago only had a cluster of bars around Hoxton Square to its name. While its reputation as hipster HQ dimmed a while ago as the chains moved in — shout out to Dishoom, Pizza Pilgrims and the Prêt opposite Shoreditch House — there’s still a refreshingly independent spirit to eating around the chunk of London north-east of the Square Mile and either side of the Overground.

Only Soho rivals Shoreditch for the variety of its restaurants. Not only is there somewhere for every budget but exploring E1 offers the opportunity to sniff out the next big thing in London dining and sample the cooking of the biggest names in cheffing. From Michelin-starred experimentalism to nose-to-tail Italian, modern Burmese to trad Vietnamese, kickboxing pasta chefs and kick-ass British barbecue, here are the best places to eat in Shoreditch. Just remember to leave your suit and tie at home.

Brat

 (Benjamin McMahon)
(Benjamin McMahon)

A trailblazer for open-fire cooking in the UK (quite literally the country’s hottest means of preparing food right now), Brat occupies the wood-panelled first floor of a former lap-dancing club. So far, so Shoreditch, but the reason both foodies and fashionistas climb the stairs is for the flavour-forward food of Tomos Parry, which combines the influences of the chef’s childhood in north Wales with the techniques of the Basque Country. Don’t expect Spanish cooking here, though; the menu is resolutely British, from the house speciality of whole turbot cooked in a cage over charred wood to grilled hake with clams and laverbread, as well as the primal satisfaction that comes from beef sirloin chased down with smoked potatoes and wood-roasted greens. Communal tables suit a style of eating that will have you diving across the table for the last piece of grilled anchovy bread, while the crusty cheesecake proves that it is sometimes acceptable to burn your food.

4 Redchurch Street, E1 6JL, bratrestaurant.co.uk

Popolo

 (Handout)
(Handout)

Tiny Popolo is not somewhere to walk in on the off chance of a table, not only because of its weeny dimensions, but also because of the pedigree of the chef-owner. Jon Lawson worked for five years with Theo Randall, who was the head chef of the River Café for 15 years. But while Lawson’s cooking has all the let-seasonal-ingredients-do-the-talking that might be expected, there are also some Moorish and Spanish influences in the small plates that recall Moro. Pasta made in-house is the highlight — dinky parcels of cappellacci stuffed with pork cheek are a marvel of how much flavour can be packed into something so small — though there’s also plenty of interest in the likes of grilled octopus with seaweed baba, pickled radish and za’atar. Anyone thinking of doing a runner before paying the bill would be wise to remember that Lawson was the five-times world-kickboxing champion before he became a chef.

26 Rivington Street, EC2A 3DU, popoloshoreditch.com

Smokestak

 (Handout)
(Handout)

“Shoreditch barbecue restaurant” might not set the pulse racing with expectations for some of the best meat cooking in London. And that’s before you’ve entered a gloomy interior — complete with candlelit basement bar — which has all the hallmarks of somewhere for a steampunk-themed stag night. So it pays to know the back story here: not only did Smokestak begin life as a food truck trundling around London’s food markets, chef-owner David Carter jacked in a career working for the likes of Gordon Ramsay to move to Texas, buy himself a smoker and teach himself the art of barbecuing. Still, he never quite shook his taste for the finer things. For although the brisket is as tender a piece of smoked beef as you’ll encounter in the capital, there’s also native breed pulled pork, pigtails with soy molasses and bone marrow to rival St John. Coal-roasted aubergine with red miso, feta and toasted cashew proves that veggies can ’cue too, and if you really are on a stag, pre-order a whole beef brisket for the table to share.

35 Sclater Street, E1 6LB, smokestak.co.uk

Smoking Goat

 (Press handout)
(Press handout)

Ben Chapman’s east London sibling to Kiln in Soho channels the spirit of Shoreditch perfectly. The warehouse location beneath Brat and round the corner from Shoreditch House is base camp for hungry E1 hipsters, with big windows, bare-brick walls and a bar dispensing seriously strong cocktails — handy not only if you have to wait for a table but also to prepare your tastebuds for the riot of flavours to come. The namesake mammal, which might appear as barbecue goat turmeric massaman, the crispy aged pork belly and the barbecue chicken are designed to be dipped into smoked chilli jaew, while half a dozen larb salads come festooned with everything from smoked mackerel and fermented radish to ingredient-of-the-moment, aged cull yaw (a ewe which is too old for breeding). If all the chilli gets too much, there’s lardo fried rice to coat the mouth with a calming layer of fat.

64 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6JJ, smokinggoatbar.com

The Clove Club

 (Anton Rodriguez)
(Anton Rodriguez)

Recently elevated to two-Michelin-star status, The Clove Club is the restaurant that turned Shoreditch into a serious dining destination. It’s the sort of place one would recommend to a sophisticated foodie friend from New York or Paris to prove London’s pre-eminence on the global dining stage. A blue-tiled open kitchen at the back of the austere dining room produces eight-course tasting menus (five in the bar) that switch from the accessible to the esoteric. Orkney-born chef-patron Isaac McHale’s first job was in a Glasgow fishmonger and seafood is a highlight, whether Scottish langoustine with green tomato and white beer or Cornish monkfish with celeriac, Swiss chard and Sichuan pepper. Poultry is handled just as deftly (duck with endive; chicken with hay cream) and there’s gâteau St Honoré to remind you of the days when pudding was the part of the meal you looked forward to most: rival fine-dining chefs, please take note.

Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old Street, EC1V 9LT, thecloveclub.com

Oklava

 (Handout)
(Handout)

This modern Turkish restaurant comes courtesy of chef Selin Kiazim and her business partner Laura Christie. Kiazim can be seen in the small open kitchen, which has a wood oven and grill and its heart; Christie is on the other side of the pass, pouring wines from her Turkish list and overseeing front of house in the spic-and-span, white-walled dining room. Oklava is the Turkish word for rolling pin, so it goes without saying that the sourdough, pide and lavash are essential orders here, but for first timers the tasting menu is probably the best way to get the most from Kiazim’s cooking, which combines her Turkish-Cypriot heritage with time spent with fusion king Peter Gordon: grilled hellim cheese with London honey, wild oregano and lemon, say, or organic fava beans with a fava miso and smoked seaweed za’atar. The à la carte offers full-sized versions of them all, as if built for the inevitable return visit.

74 Luke Street, EC2A 4PY, oklava.co.uk

Gloria

 (Jérôme Galland)
(Jérôme Galland)

It might not serve the best Italian food in London — or even Shoreditch — but who cares about terra madre or nuova cucina when there’s a giant wodge of lemon meringue pie wobbling away and tiki mugs filled with vodka and peach punch? You’ll feel like all your birthdays have come at once, not least because every couple of minutes the waiters are serenading someone with a full-throttle chorus of “buon compleanno”. Spaghetti carbonara spun tableside out of a parmesan wheel is the only thing cheesier than Gloria’s tongue-in-cheek recreation of the 1970s Amalfi Coast, which feels more Carry on Abroad than Talented Mr Ripley; elsewhere is a massive portion of ruby-hued beef tagliata, music-bread tacos filled with Sicilian red prawns, plus pun-tastic pizzas such as the “tuna-ight’s the night” — which it is every night at Gloria.

54-56 Great Eastern Street, EC2A 3QR, bigmammagroup.com

Bibo Dani García

 (Rusne Draz)
(Rusne Draz)

The import of a big-name foreign chef is not always a success in London, but the arrival of Dani García from Andalucia has been a boon to the capital, possibly because Shoreditch locals appreciate the punk spirit of anyone who walks away from three Michelin stars. First impressions of a basement throbbing with the noise of DJ beats and big groups might suggest the food will be an afterthought but what’s on the plate is as diverting as the surrounding scene. World-class croquetas come adorned with a curl of ham, huge pans of saffron-scented paella are draped with a bisected lobster, while excellent veggie plates include a broccoli and kale salad dressed with peanuts and black sesame mayo. The cocktails are good, but better to head up to the Mondrian hotel’s rooftop bar, Laurel’s. Bibo’s brunch menu, meanwhile, is just the place to nurse a hangover with Spain’s answer to a bacon and egg sarnie: a chorizo and quail-egg brioche bun, dripping runny yolk.

Mondrian Hotel, 45 Curtain Road, EC2A 3PT, sbe.com

Leroy

 (Joe Woodhouse)
(Joe Woodhouse)

Michelin-starred Leroy is what happens when wine is given equal importance to food. Leroy is as much of a wine bar as a restaurant, which makes it a whole lot more fun than the idea of a Shoreditch small plates and natural wine specialist which started out in Hackney might suggest. Bright flavours and pin-sharp presentation combine in the likes of courgette flower with ricotta and spring vegetables, vitello tonnato is there for the classicists while skate with ‘nduja-stuffed morels and mussel sauce reveals a kitchen not afraid to push the ingredient envelope. The 350-bin cellar, meanwhile, cries out for advice from on-the-ball sommeliers eager to offer recommendations, while the vinyl-based playlist will have you surreptitiously Shazaming under the table. Much like the food, the dining room is small, simple and assembled from excellent-quality components.

18 Phipp Street, EC2A 4NU, leroyshoreditch.com

Rochelle Canteen

 (Patricia Niven)
(Patricia Niven)

Sleepy Arnold Circus is what Shoreditch used to look like before every street corner became a burger slinger or experimental bar. The fact that this was London’s first social housing development makes the community-minded spirit of Rochelle Canteen all the more apt, so too gaining entrance by pressing the buzzer next to the blue door for Rochelle School, which supplies the dining room with a clientele of Shoreditch creatives. Top-notch British ingredients, simply handled is the name of the game in the kitchen, so that pea and wild garlic soup might be followed by roast chicken with turnip and tarragon, though chef Margot Henderson also has the surest of touches for less obvious combinations such as Welsh pork sitting atop anchovy toast. The effect is not unlike an English equivalent of the River Café, a feeling enhanced by an urban oasis of a garden where Henderson can often be found after service with husband Fergus (of St John fame).

16 Playground Gardens, E2 7FA, arnoldandhenderson.com

Manteca

 (Handout)
(Handout)

Manteca comes from a couple of Shoreditch old hands: Smokestak’s David Carter and his pal Chris Leach, who has the equally meaty Pitt Cue Co on his CV, which should offer a clue as to the nose-to-tail Italian cooking on offer here. Sliced pork chop arrives stickily encrusted around the edges and blushing pink within, the fattiness cut through by crunchy kalibos cabbage; other good calls include the little squash-stuffed parcels of cappellacci di zucca, homemade salumi (including mortadella that will convert those who normally hate the stuff) and a parmesan-covered pig-skin ragu that comes with a twist of crackling to use as an edible spoon. If an already rich dish can be enriched further, then it probably will be — witness brown crab cacio e pepe — which means by the time pudding is due, a scoop of lemon sorbet might feel more appealing than a slice of honey cake. Which is a shame.

49-51 Curtain Road, EC2A 3PT, mantecarestaurant.co.uk

Sông Quê Café

The stretch of Kingsland Road known as “Pho Mile” is packed with Vietnamese restaurants — Tây Đô, Hanoi Café and Viet Grill are good names to know — but for sheer dependability, family-run Sông Quê takes some beating. Large windows and a corner site make the large, no-frills room — paper tablecloths, canteen-style seating and mint-green walls the colour of mouthwash — just as nice for lunch or dinner, though you’ll get the most out of the friendly staff in the daytime when they’re not rushed off their feet. The long menu brings fresh flavours to the fore in the likes of summer rolls, offers one-bowl noodle dishes for the budget-conscious (the trio of grilled pork, shredded pork and spring rolls on vermicelli is a classic) and, of course, slow-simmered pho, deeply flavoured with steak, flank and tendon for preference. To drink, there’s Vietnamese beer, though a cooling homemade lemonade is the best match.

134 Kingsland Road, E2 8DY, songque.co.uk

Burro e Salvia

Few foodies outside the Redchurch Street scenesters seem aware of Burro e Salvia, possibly because the sight of flour-dusted chefs doing their pasta-shaping thing in the window makes the place look more like a pastificio than a proper restaurant. In truth, it’s both. Five pastas appear on the monthly changing menu but always include the signature beef, pork and spinach agnolotti sitting in a pool of butter and sage; other top shouts include the expected courgette tagliolini and the less commonly seen passatelli, caterpillar-like noodles made with breadcrumbs and parmesan and here served with new-season asparagus (all the ingredients are rigorously seasonal). Simple, cheese-and-meat starters and pastry-based puddings bookend the pasta: buffalo mozzarella and culaccia ham, cannolino siciliano or a tart of the day. You can buy the pasta to take home, too.

52 Redchurch Street, E2 7DP, burroesalvia.co.uk

Lahpet

 (Handout)
(Handout)

Lahpet should be a template for any wannabe London restaurateur in the 2020s. Take a hitherto under-represented cuisine — Burmese, in this instance — then introduce the foodie cognoscenti to the cooking at street-food heaven Maltby Street Market, before opening a first bricks-and-mortar site in Shoreditch as a springboard to conquering the West End. The recently opened Covent Garden Laphet is impressive but this east London original remains the favourite, with its Scandi-chic decor that looks more Malmö than Mandalay, a bar knocking out jaggery-sweetened margaritas and cooking which comes across like a hybrid of Thai and Indian but is, of course, entirely Burmese. Zingy salads are what the places is most famous for — pickled ginger with double-fried beans, cabbage and shallots is the house special — but there’s carby satisfaction, too, in the half-moon shape of a yellow pea paratha. And in case you were thinking this was a vegetarian restaurant, the pork curry is a corker.

58 Bethnal Green Road, E1 6JW, lahpet.co.uk/shoreditch

Lyle’s

 (Handout)
(Handout)

One of the first Michelin stars in Shoreditch and a regular on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Lyle’s is somewhere to tempt diners who would never normally travel further east than Tottenham Court Road. The minimalist room suggests Scandinavian influences (Lowe did a stage at Noma in Copenhagen) but the menu is British all the way — though not British food as you’ve ever had it before. Lowe is big on foraging, noise-to-tail and forgotten ingredients — anything edible, in fact, sourced from the fields and seas of the British Isles, served up on a six-course tasting menu for a not-unreasonable £89. Smoked eel might be paired with spring vegetable crudités, white asparagus is partnered with walnuts and Spenwood sheep’s cheese while Dexter forerib of beef comes with chicory, anchovy and wild garlic. An à la carte menu is served at lunch, and look out for guest residencies from Lowe’s chef mates from the 50 Best list.

Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6JJ, lyleslondon.com

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