Dalston sits shoulder-to-shoulder with Haggerston and Stoke Newington, but the boundaries are always hotly contested. For this piece we’re defining it as most of the E8 postcode — with the western edge running roughly up Kingsland Road, bounded by Farleigh Road to the north, Albion Drive to the south, and the east border nudging up against London Fields.
There are no shortage of coffee and pastry options in E8, and deli-bakery Café Route on Dalston Square’s a safe bet for either of those. But it’s worth hitting one of Dalston’s Turkish restaurants at breakfast-time for gözleme: thin sheets of pastry, somewhere between a flatbread and a pancake and stuffed with spinach and cheese or potatoes. Somine on Kingsland High Street does a great value version; hot, portable and hard to match as a winter’s takeaway brunch.
And if you have time to pull up a chair then the breakfast menu at Evin Café, a few doors along, features five kinds of menemen — a Turkish omelette with tomatoes, onions, peppers and, for the mornings with serious cobwebs to blow away, an optional and fierce dose of chilli.
Dalston has you covered for the eat-and-run lunch, from the risotto balls and lamb wraps at Arancini Brothers, to pizza by the enormous, New York-style slice at Voodoo Ray’s (open at lunchtime on weekends). But if you want seats and people-watching, you can find those risotto balls on the menu at the Arcola Bar as well.
For a more lingering lunch, Merci Marie on Abbot Street does a roaring trade in French-ish soups, quiches, salads and cakes on weekday lunchtimes. And Escudo de Cuba — on the corner of Stoke Newington High Street and Miller’s Terrace — runs a condensed menu of pulled beef or sweet potato, plantain and avocado wraps that keeps it constantly packed-out at lunchtime.
Proper & Sons and Betty’s Coffee could easily have slipped into the breakfast or lunch sections instead, since they both do hot food and homemade cakes, but ultimately we decided the coffee’s too good for them to belong anywhere but here. Ditto Briggs & Williams on Dalston Lane or Tin Café, tucked into a curve of Glebe Road and ready to make your early morning commute slightly less brutal with coffee, pastries and sandwiches from 7 o’clock.
Gastropubs, pubs and bars
Dalston has these in spades, a lot of them doing burgers and British pub standards — Farr’s School of Dancing, The Shacklewell Arms and Dalston Superstore being prime examples. On the border of Haggerston, The Fox has a ridiculously good, constantly rotating line-up of craft beers, with bar snacks or burgers to soak them up, and the Three Compasses on Dalston Lane runs a series of food residencies from its pub kitchen.
E8 locals are doing incredibly well out of the trend for hosting residencies, with a parade of pop-ups testing themselves out on Dalston punters from borrowed kitchens, before embedding somewhere permanent of their own. Other places riding the wave include Pamela at 428 Kingsland Road — with a kitchen takeover by Louisiana gumbo-merchants Decatur — and the strokes of mad cocktail genius being turned out by the Manhattans Project residency at POND Dalston. And, because the people of Dalston can’t get enough meat-in-a-bun, The Victoria has handed the reins of its kitchen over to Psychic Burger.
On the cocktail front, the twisted classics and speakeasy-ish feel at Ruby’s have kept the underground bar packed out since it opened in 2012; with the opening of Ruby’s Lounge in the attached building they’ve got space now to add food into the mix — currently Vietnamese streetfood from Hanoi Kitchen. Equally intricate cocktails are on the cards at recently-opened Silk Stockings (80 Dalston Lane) — low on actual silk, high on leather, taxidermy and tequila — and Servant Jazz Quarters does a very serious Old Fashioned and a host of other Mad Men-ish staples from the art deco bar above their basement music venue.
E8 has more Turkish restaurants than you can shake a mangal skewer at, but two are head and shoulders above the rest: Mangal 1, on Arcola Street, and Mangal 2 on Stoke Newington Road. Rivals more than relations, locals can argue for hours about which is the best before deciding it’s too close to call. For Mediterranean of a different stripe Rotorino serves up reliably brilliant Southern Italian at 434 Kingsland Road, a few doors down from the Asian-meets-Americana of Chick n’ Sours’s fried chicken. And for a more traditional take on Asian, mini-chain Mama Lan does Beijing dumplings and noodle soups, while bar-restaurant Brilliant Corners does Japanese for people who like their sushi with a side of heavy beats.
With a less pounding soundtrack and a blast of jerk heat, Rudie’s, on the corner of Arcola Street, serves up Jamaican everything and maybe the best rum cocktails in town. Or for a slice of a different sun-drenched island, POND Dalston’s representing Hawaii at its Gillett Square ex-warehouse, with seafood-heavy sharing plates and Sunday luaus. And after a long-term residency at Birthdays, Lucky Chip’s new, permanent site at Burgers and Wine on Ridley Road is being met with a tidal wave of excitement.
Practically next door to Lucky Chip’s new home is Ridley Road Market Bar, where the Slice Girls pop-up outside sells woodfired pizza in the evenings, Tuesday to Sunday. And in the same al fresco vein, from spring to late autumn hundreds of people descend on the Street Feast site in Dalston Yard, behind the Arcola Theatre, for over 50 vans, stalls, trucks and sheds selling street food from 5pm til midnight.
Dalston’s better at on-trend than high-end, but there are a few places that dabble with formality. The Richmond on Queensbridge Road overturns the standard gastropub offerings with a raw bar and oyster happy hour, plus a wine list to rival the most regal of brasseries. And although it’s not the starchiest of places, something about the high-design and minimalist lines at yakitori restaurant Jidori feels so demure that it easily earns a place on the take-your-visiting-parents list.
The small hours is where Dalston really has the edge over neighbouring parts of Hackney, with late-night drinking and post-midnight mangal grills — plus plenty of gig venues hosting live music from dusk til, and often beyond, dawn.
On the music front, hit The Nest for electrohouse nights with 4am finishes, or Passing Clouds on Richmond Road for everything from live Berber blues to dubstep DJs. Vortex Jazz Club on Gillett Square does cocktails, cabaret seating and some of the most experimental jazz programming in town, and The Alibi (91 Kingsland High Street) runs a packed programme of film screenings, quizzes, karaoke and DJ sets til at least 2am every night.
And when you stumble out of any of those places in the depths of night, Somine’s waiting to welcome you in with lamb stews and grainy Turkish coffee (open 24 hours at weekends). Or you can always chance your arm on the mysterious opening hours of Ararat Bread (132 Ridley Road) and if you strike it lucky, be eating one of their incredible cheese naans by the time the sky starts lightening above you.