Historically, Stratford was a buzzing cultural hub, with institutions like The Two Puddings pub drawing prominent actors, musicians, writers, World Cup-winning footballers, boxers and notorious gangsters from all over London to its renowned music nights. Like other parts of the East End, from the swinging sixties to the start of the new millennium, it was a centre for fashion, art and socialising. But the closure of the London Docks and significant deindustrialisation saw a decline for the surrounding area.
Over the past decade or so, much has happened to change this — from hosting the London 2012 Games and West Ham Football Club's move from Upton Park — to Westfield Stratford City bringing in a host of restaurants and shops. Now, there is plenty to do, see and eat, from all the major chains to small independents that make Stratford a thriving foodie destination.
Speaking of Westfield, let's get it out of the way. There are more than 90 traders — restaurants, fast food and cafés are all represented — with most major chains having at least one outpost. Cuisines from around the world are available at the food courts, The Street and the Great Eastern Market; it'd take weeks to try everything. Yet Stratford boasts plenty of smaller operators too, which is what this article will focus on.
Where to eat breakfast in Stratford
Three-time Time Out Loves award-winner, The Sawmill is a Ukrainian-owned café, whimsically decorated with fairy lights. People flock here for their rotation of home-cooked specials and delectable cakes. The fresh juices, like strawberry and lime, and dishes including varenyky (dumplings), eggs with wild mushrooms and avocado, and veggie lasagne are particularly tasty.
In the Stratford Centre — the smaller shopping arcade opposite the train station and Westfield — Central Café is a typical greasy-spoon with full English breakfasts and retro favourites like chicken kyiv on the menu, while other stalls in the indoor market are often worth visiting for sweet treats, scones and cheese straws.
In East Village, sits Hand Café which serves wonderful Greek-influenced brunches and Square Mile coffee. Nearby, Ginger and Mint has a wide selection of smoothies, salads and wraps, while Signorelli serves a tempting array of artisan baked goods and breads. Gluten, sugar and dairy-free options are available. Kitchen E20, in The Stratford hotel, also offers a stellar weekend brunch; load up on eggs benedict or shakshuka, plus 90 minutes of free-flowing fizz, for £32.
The newly-opened fourth branch of Eggslut brings its popular signature 'Slut', a coddled free-range egg on top of house-made potato purée and served with baguette as well as its iconic truffle hash browns and burgers to the area.
Where to eat lunch in Stratford
Market Village has a host of options for a quick, yet fulfilling lunch. Generous helpings of Colombian staples are on the ever-changing menu at Paisabor. Find huge plates of grilled mixed meat, crispy and tender pork belly, fried tilapia, churrasco and chicken escalopes. Enjoy them alongside plantain, rice and beans and soups. That'll definitely keep you going till dinner.
Mr Ribs Kitchen is a butcher and restaurant which is also worth a visit; it serves traditional Brazilian fare such as feijoada, a black bean and meat stew.
Inside the Stratford Centre itself, Lituanica, the Lithuanian grocery shop has a plentifully stocked deli with lots of cold cuts and ready-made hot dishes to take away.
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Along Stratford Broadway, a number of market stalls serve quick grab and go meals. Tradition by Alex and Daily Fresh are two of the best. The former is a small Romanian marquee that draws in hungry crowds with the aroma of grilling mici and classic regional dishes. It has no discernible online presence or location finder but it is there, every day from roughly 10am-6pm. Daily Fresh serves falafel wraps, lovingly stuffed with the full works for under £5.
Rodina 2 is a little café offering fresh, Bulgarian cuisine such as salads, soups and mixed grills. At sushi spot, You Me Sushi there's a Japanese menu of maki, nigiri and hot food; think katsu curries and donburi bowls. Meanwhile, the East Village branch of ethical seafood restaurant Fish House has a dedicated lunch menu with dishes like moules mariniéres and fish and chips — including cod, haddock and skate.
The best coffee shops in Stratford
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As well as the usual big-boy coffee chains, there are many places to curl up with a mug and watch the East End go by. East Village's Tina We Salute You — just like its Dalston sibling — puts coffee at the forefront of an exciting menu which also features bagels, pancakes and sourdough. (They'll also mix you a cocktail.) The rotating artwork on the walls is always interesting too. For Jersey milk gelato, crepes, waffles and coffee from Alchemy Coffee, La Gelatiera has it covered. The Last Drop, next to the ArcelorMittal Orbit in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, is a serene riverside option for a light snack.
Café Mondo in Stratford Library, from the same team as 1966 fish and chip institution I Fratelli nearby, has offered a wide selection of Italian sandwiches to sink into alongside a caffeine kick, since 1997. Unit Six, in the Stratford Centre, from the team behind Sawmill, is the latest in a growing list of trendy little spots in the area.
The best restaurants in Stratford
En route to the London Stadium, East Village has its fair share of sleek, fashionable restaurants like Darkhorse which offers modern European food. A stone's throw away, Santi embraces Italian cuisine with Neapolitan pizzas and fresh pasta dishes.
Italian food can also be found at Grappelli Food Hall, on the ground floor of The Gantry, Stratford's Hilton Hotel. Head upstairs to STK Steakhouse for grilled meats, seafood platters and burgers along with some of the best rooftop views in the city. Across the road, on the 7th floor of the The Stratford Hotel, Allegra offers modern European tasting menus from Weds-Sat (seven+ courses starting from £58, with several optional supplements in the mix), along with their standard à la carte offering. And for Nikkei cuisine, Bamboo Mat features a range of sushi, ceviches and robata dishes such as lamb chops and chicken anticucho.
On the other side of Stratford, HS & Co, offers grilled halal Irish beef steaks, seasonal small plates and afternoon tea. Next door, Dar Marrakech serves up Morrocan and Lebanese-inspired dishes from its heated terrace or sumptuously decorated dining room. Roti Joupa has just opened its new location on Vicarage Lane and is already the go-to for Trinidadian specialties. The plain dhal puri is excellent but for even more spicy goodness, pair it with one of the meat curries. Nestled in Gerry Raffles Square, you can find one of the best Sichuan restaurants in London; the sprawling Sichuan Grand, complete with water features, wall paintings and hotpot tables is the ideal place for banqueting in style. Highlights from its extensive menu include Chongqing fried chicken, spicy boiled beef and mapo tofu. Inside the Theatre Royal, just opposite, is Island Vibez Kitchen, serving up Caribbean staples; don't miss the oxtail stew and curry chicken.
Further down the road, amidst towering skyscrapers sits an East End café which has been churning out Thai dishes since 1984; The Pie Crust is a local favourite, tiny and cosy with a generous £2.50 corkage deal, its unique character makes it one of Stratford's most memorable restaurants. Another place which serves a mixture of café food, pies and Thai cuisine, is Thai Pie, by Maryland station. The curries are the standout item here, with good depth of flavour and thrumming with spice.
The best bars and pubs in Stratford
There is no shortage of watering holes in Stratford, from craft beer specialists to old East End pubs. Some places, however, offer something a little bit extra. For games and activities, Escape Bar is the place to go. More than 100 board and card games, computers, PlayStation, Nintendo and Xbox consoles mean plenty of fun to be had discovering new ways of beating your friends, while sipping on neon-coloured cocktails.
Neighbourhood in East Village is noteworthy for its rotating range of cask ales, lagers and extensive collection of craft beers. Craft beer by the tap and the bottle can also be found at the Stratford branch of Mother Kelly’s nearby. And if we veer back into Westfield for a second, Tap East is one of the most exciting beers pubs in the area, pouring its own brews.
From the spring months through to the end of the summer Roof East — sprawled atop the Stratford Centre car park — is kept lively with open air cinema nights, barbecues and games.
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King Edward VII, affectionately known as 'King Eddie's' is one of the oldest pubs in the area, dating back to the 18th century. The pub, with its original pedimented doors, was once called The King of Prussia, but this was changed to a more patriotic name after King Edward VII's death in 1910. It hosts quiz nights, live music and Sunday roasts as well as Prosecco Thursdays, making it a popular venue with the after-work crowd. Further along the road, The Olde Black Bull offers large screens, plus a quaint beer garden — making it a good place to watch the footie.
Close by is The Queen's Head, which, with its regular live Irish music and late-night license makes it a regular haunt for many locals. Now, a change in management has signalled an end to the bands but it is still well-liked for bargain booze and games of pool. Another late-night establishment, the O12 Bar and Grill is worth a mention, if not only for the Nepalese and Lithuanian bar snacks on the menu. As well as a selection of south Asian staples, a daily Nepalese special, momos and dry meat fries sit alongside kepta duona (a type of fried bread) and other Lithuanian nibbles in an uplifting affirmation of the diverse food the area has to offer.
Note: The catchment of Stratford is huge, taking in parts of Hackney Wick and Leyton. These areas also provide rich pickings, deserving of their own guides. So, for the purposes of this article, we have drawn the parameters as Maryland Station towards the east, the River Lea in the Olympic Park in the west, Pudding Mill Lane Station in the south and Abercrombie Road in the north.