Less raucous than neighbouring Dalston and less family-oriented than Stoke Newington, if this corner of Hackney has a defining characteristic it’s the streetlife. Maybe it's the influence of the area’s large and ever-growing Italian community — with tables and chairs lining the Broadway Market thoroughfare, cocktails and cabaret seating outside railway arches and picnickers in the park in all weathers.
For this piece we’ve defined London Fields as the area bounded by the canal to the south, nudging up to Mare Street to the east, Queensbridge Road to the west and Wilton Way to the north. Not a large surface area, and much of that’s taken up by the park, but London Fields packs a lot into that small footprint. So much so that we’ve left untouched for this piece all of Mare Street’s myriad food and drink sites, as ultimately belonging to Hackney Central. London Fields has enough going on already without treading on another zone's toes...
From underneath one of the railways arches on Mentmore Terrace, E5 Bakehouse serves up toast, pastries and granola — seven days a week, from 7am — and at weekends they add a few savoury bakes to their offering. Or for a far more sugary take on breakfast head to Wilton Way, to the north of London Fields, where Violet Bakery offers assorted Americana — cupcakes, whoopie pies and brownies — plus coffee from 8am.
In all but the bitterest weather you’ll see people intrepidly picnicking on London Fields itself. In the summer it turns into an actual pleasure, instead of an act of defiance, with street food of every genre on offer in the area.
Of the three weekend markets, visitors are most likely to stumble across Broadway Market’s collection of food stalls, several of the regulars with restaurants or shopfronts elsewhere in Hackney, including vegetarian Indian Gujurati Rasoi.
Hang a right at the north end of Broadway Market and you’ll find Netil Market and Schoolyard Market. Both repay a visit: successful stalls at Netil have a tendency to turn up as permanent sites elsewhere in London with queues round the block — Bao and Lucky Chip being recent examples — so try them out while they’re still accessible.
Technically an offshoot of Broadway Market proper, Schoolyard Market’s housed in the playground of London Fields Primary School just off Westgate Street. Like its bigger brother, the Schoolyard site has a changing line-up, but regulars we recommend include fried Neapolitan-style pizza from Na Pizza Fritt and the flamboyant fillings of Crosstown Donuts: peanut butter, whisky shortbread and chilli chocolate being recent specialities.
All three markets are in full force on a Saturday, although Netil has some permanent street food traders. The other two close down over the week, but London Fielders aren’t left stranded. Weekday lunch options include the perennially full-to-bursting Patty and Bun — serving up their cheese-laden burgers and smoked confit chicken wings, to the east of the park on Mentmore Terrace.
Or head to the southern end of Broadway Market for the scuffed-up pub stylings of Market Café, where the well-priced lunch deals — potato-bun hot dogs, salt beef reubens and prosecco on draught — turn even a pre-payday Monday lunchtime into a less sombre affair than usual.
Gastropubs, pubs and bars
London Fields is incredibly well-served for pubs, ranging from the loud and DJ-sporting to more traditional boozers. Among the best for craft beer are The Dove (for Belgian geuze and Trappist triples), the Taproom at London Fields Brewery and Off Broadway (for American ales), all with impressive ranges on draught and by bottle — though this being London Fields, if an Italian aperitivo’s your poison of choice then most places can knock you up a sbagliato or a spritz without batting an eyelid.
For al fresco drinking it’s hard to beat Pub on the Park, on the Martello Street side of London Fields. They do good food and even better beers, but the enormous terrace is the main draw — opening onto the park and overlooking a field of wildflowers in the summer.
If you prefer to get al fresco at a greater height then the cocktails at rooftop bar Netil360 come served with a side of cityscape, and Playground and Proof, a relative newcomer to Martello Street, has a treetop-lined bar in the works for summer.
And other places proving that Broadway Market doesn’t have a monopoly on good drinking-spots in the area include the quieter, local pub feel of The Prince Arthur, on Forest Road, and the just as local but decidedly less quiet Spurstowe Arms on Greenwood Road. On the bar front Kansas Smitty’s a perennial favourite, with the crammed-in crowds to prove it, and with live jazz, swing or big band music most evenings.
As you’d expect, the Italian community’s making its presence felt on the restaurant scene, with a high concentration of great pizza in the area. Lardo and Bella Vita are both key players — the latter also does excellent pasta and antipasti — but for great value and an unpretentiously good pizza experience it's hard to beat the Broadway Market branch of Franco Manca. The queues outside most nights are testament to that.
Il Cudega does some of the best Italian food in the area in their Westgate Street railway arch, but it’s hard to know where to place this one. There’s a solid contingent of people turning up at their deli-restaurant-bar for the Giamaica coffee alone, and others who think it’s first and foremost a brunch spot. For us the fresh focaccia, pasta dishes and four-course supper clubs tip it into restaurant territory, but it’s true the Lombardian cold meats and chinotti work just as well as takeaway for a picnic in the park.
And despite the high density of Italian restaurants, there are plenty of places like Turkish café Ephesus (41, Broadway Market, E8 4PH), and tapas restaurant El Ganso keeping London Fields from feeling one-note, while the rotating food residencies at Climpson’s Arch have recently included Thai (via Som Saa) and Portuguese (L.C via chef Leandro Carreira). For a meat-heavy dinner head for Argentine steakhouse Buen Ayre or the Hill and Szrok Cookshop, or for unclassifiable brilliance there’s Rawduck — bringing together ingredients like shaved daikon, chicken livers, gnudi and fried chicken on one menu, and offering regular pickling and fermenting workshops at their restaurant on Richmond Road.
Climpson and Sons is probably the best-known coffee shop in London Fields, flying the artisan roastery flag since 2005. And with good reason: they make a great espresso. But these days it’s far from the only option, with L’eau à la Bouche a few doors down selling French patisserie goods along with their café noir.
A bit further away, the Wilton Way Café has pastries and scotch eggs stacked in one corner, and London Fields Radio recording in another, with a lot of customers clutching flat whites (made with Climpson and Sons beans) filling every available space in between. And on Saturdays Cà Phê VN’s Saigon Street Café sells their own-brand coffee in the form of Vietnamese Cà Phê Sua Da (iced coffee with condensed milk) or Viet Mac (espresso with condensed milk).
Less Something Special and more Everything Special, Pidgin’s an unassuming restaurant on an unassuming back road. They run a fixed menu that changes weekly, paying allegiance to no single nation — recent menus have served up Kentucky fried rabbit, pork belly confit, and fermented honey and anise ice cream — though Asian flavours crop up slightly more often than others. The tiny number of covers and the snug, candlelit space makes it ideal for anything from an exuberant university reunion to a romantic heart-to-heart.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on Wringer and Mangle’s supper club events, where the best and brightest of British cookery sprout up as guest chefs. And though the styling’s a bit spartan, the five-course tasting menus at Ellory are far less austere, taking in smoked butters, Suffolk cheeses and matched Old World wines.
And Tuyo's serving up great small plates filled with a mash-up of Mediterranean and Levantine flavours, in a greenery-decked, light-filled spot on the edge of the canal.
Though it’s not solely a late-night venue, The Cat & Mutton comes into its own in the evenings, as people finish their dinner and move on for digestifs and DJs. Covering two constantly-packed levels of an 18th century boozer, where Broadway Market meets Westgate Street, there’s funk and soul on the decks till 1am at the weekend.