When West Ham United Football Club left Upton Park and moved to Stratford, many assumed the neighbourhood would become a ghost town of empty luxury flats, closed pubs and general tumbleweed. In fact, the area between East Ham and Upton Park is still extraordinarily vibrant, with a wide selection of authentic South Asian and Eastern European restaurants where you can eat a full meal for a fiver or less. You can also find a decent pint, or if you prefer, a bubble tea.
NOTE: We've used Glenparke Road to the north and East Ham Nature Reserve to the south as our parameters here, taking in the catchments of Upton Park, East Ham and (only just) clipping Forest Gate and Plaistow.
Where to get breakfast in Upton Park and East Ham
A good number of the restaurants here open their doors bright and early, providing a wide choice of breakfasts to the diverse community. Vasanta Bhavan, on High Street North, specialises in South Indian traditional fare such as idli and sambar, dosa and uttappam, serving veritable feasts from 7am.
Bubble Tea Bar, further along High Street North, also offers the usual breakfast items like eggs, toast and pastries, although the focus here is the eponymous Taiwanese drink. An array of different flavoured teas mixed with 'bubbles' (cooked pearls of tapioca) are available in flavours including jasmine, matcha and papaya.
Alongside South Asian twists on the full English, masala omelettes and sweet options like puri (a type of fried Asian flatbread) with pulped mango and chai, the breakfast highlight at Masala Chai Nashta is the chole bhature — a Punjabi dish consisting of delicately spiced chickpeas and piping hot fried flatbread.
Head to Ken's Café for a taste of the proper East End. This little caff on Green Street has been an institution for almost 50 years. Its proprietors, Ken and Carol Lucas, are a fountain of local knowledge and anecdotes about the ever-changing area, meaning you're sure to learn something new over tea and a chat. From historic Green Street, to a relative newcomer, the Erstwhile Parrot Coffee House opened its doors in 2018. The café’s little garden, live music and evolving menu of daily specials, like quiche, shakshuka and of course, (it wouldn’t be brunch without it) avocado on toast, attracts clientele from all over east London.
The best places for lunch in Upton Park and East Ham
Lunch options in Upton Park and East Ham are incredible value for money. An unassuming shop front on Plashet Road yields one of the best places in London for Gujarati street food — R D Dabeli. A selection of six pani puri (a mini, crispy version of the Indian fried bread), filled to the brim with potatoes, chickpeas and onion, topped with homemade tamarind chutney and a spicy mint-flavoured water (the 'pani') is only £1, while dabeli — a type of spicy vegetarian burger made with potatoes, spices and pomegranate — is just £1.50.
The crispy potato bhajias at Vijay’s Chawalla, a pure vegetarian restaurant on Green Street, are lip-smackingly addictive, served alongside a brimming thali. And a branch of mini-chain, Rooster's Piri Piri, offers wraps, Middle Eastern salads and piri piri chicken that blows another high street chicken heavyweight out of the water, for a fraction of the price.
Shami kebabs, small round patties made of finely minced lamb and lentils at Lahore Lahore Eh, on High Street North, are flavourful and moreish. Further down the road, sits Carpathia, a charming café, all exposed brickwork and cushions, serving traditional Romanian dishes. Try something from the well stocked deli, the grilled meat and polenta specials or a rich, hearty soup with a side of pickled green tomatoes. Even further still, Gully is a slick, minimalistic canteen which serves Indo-Chinese cuisine and South Indian staples.
The best restaurants in Upton Park and East Ham
The aforementioned lunchtime venues offer extensive menus for larger meals but there are also many other restaurants that work especially well for dinners and bigger parties.
Thattukada in East Ham is arguably the best Keralan restaurant in London. Here, it is customary to mop up your curries with breads like buttery parotta and spongey appam or snack on fried kaka (mussels) and chicken with a cold Kingfisher beer. There is special pleasure in devouring the para pollichathu, a large fish, generously rubbed in spiced tomato paste and steamed whole in banana leaves and — not to be missed — is the 30-course vegetarian meal served in August for the Keralan festival of Onam.
Nearby, Hyderabadi Spice's towering biryanis are a cut above the myriad other venues serving the traditional rice dish and Saravanaa Bhavan, a branch of the popular Tamil chain, is especially good for South Indian mains.
Pakhtoonkhwa serves solid Afghan food in a traditional setting. Diners can sit cross-legged on cushions and eat from low tables. Delicacies here include the chapli kebab, a large minced lamb patty garnished with grilled sliced tomato and the kabuli pilao, a fragrant rice dish studded with lamb, carrots and raisins.
Romanian restaurant, Zaraza, on Katherine Road is so authentic that it doesn't yet have an English menu on its website! But never fear, translations are available on its Just Eat listing. Grilled items like pork ribs and trout, meaty stews and cold cut platters are what the restaurant does best.
Nearby, Pakistani restaurant, Lahori Nihaari, is no-frills establishment, famous for its lamb nihari. This version of Pakistan's national dish is a rich, unctuous stew made by slow cooking the meat in a medley of spices until it falls apart. A small portion, which is more than enough for two, with some of the restaurant's famous kulcha naan, simultaneously crispy and fluffy is a wonderful winter warmer.
Squires is the go-to for West African food; jollof rice and pounded yam are accompanied by deliciously complex stews and soups. For Thai cuisine, Tippy's Café, on Barking Road, has been a firm favourite with locals for years. The pad thai and rotating specials are exceptionally popular.
Coffee shops in Upton Park and East Ham
The number of places to grab a good coffee and while away the hours people-watching in the neighbourhood has increased in recent times. While Costa still represents the major chains, with a branch on High Street North, other independents have cropped up, most notably D&D Patisserie which serves amazing cakes.
It has also never been easier to fit in a slice of culture with your caffeine. The Applecart Café, in the Harold Road Community Centre, is an arts hub that routinely holds exhibitions and events focusing on local artists.
Under new management, Central Park Café, has been pulling out the wow factor with a new focus on artisanal bread and locally ground coffee, while Coffee Hut, on Plashet Grove, will see you right with tasty sandwiches and snacks.
A couple of dessert places have been churning out crowd-pleasers from the new mini-mall on Green Street; as well as hot and cold coffees, both Waffle Paradise and The Urban Chocolatier also serve a range of desserts, milkshakes and ice cream, in the same vein as Afters Original, which is close by.
And, for something to look forward to, artistic space, Red Door Studios hosts a pop-up café on the last Saturday of the month. Finally, offering something a little bit different, Chaiiwala on Plashet Road, as its name suggests, specialises in another hot beverage — tea.
Pubs, gastropubs and bars in in Upton Park and East Ham
Increasing costs, transient clientele and the migration of West Ham Football Club to Stratford have all seen East End boozers take a bit of a hit. Nevertheless, of the bastions of a bygone era, some still stand. The Boleyn Tavern, a grand, grade II-listed watering hole, which has operated since the Victorian times had its future reconfirmed after Remarkable Pubs, a small London-based chain, bought the freehold from Greene King this summer and pledged to remain faithful to its heritage.
Fans of heavy metal will want to pay a visit to The Ruskin Arms, which reopened in 2013 after a huge revamp. The original pub was once a favourite haunt of Iron Maiden and was home to more than three decades of rock and roll history. While the new pub is less metal-focused, with two pool tables, food and a hotel, there is still plenty to keep thirsty punters happy.
And any write up would be incomplete without a mention of The Black Lion. Technically in Plaistow (but near enough to Upton Park and an icon to West Ham fans), this is the oldest operating — and the only CAMRA — pub in the area, reputed to date back to 1742. Its rotating guest ales, friendly bar staff, incredible pies and distinctive architecture make it a destination in its own right.
A nod to a forthcoming generation of pubs is also worthwhile. New establishment, The Red Lion, in East Ham, is already making a splash, with a lively programme of events, sourdough pizzas and craft beer — proving the more pubs in east London, the merrier. The Denmark Arms, another example of grade II listed glory, will be reopening in November 2018 after its lease was reassigned to a new owner.
Something a bit special
You won’t find much in the way of fine dining in this neighbourhood, but one thing East Ham and Upton Park purveyors excel in are Asian sweets and snacks. Mushtaq specialises in traditional mithai that goes beyond the standard jalebi and gulab jamun. Barfi, a fudge-like sweet made of condensed milk and clarified butter (ghee) is made here using traditional buffalo milk. Since the closure of Eastern Foods on Green Street, this is the only shop in London you will find buffalo milk used as the key ingredient, imbuing the sweets with a rich creaminess — perfect on their own, or to round off a large meal.
By Shekha Vyas
Made you hungry? Visit our guide to the best food and drink in London for other restaurants, bars and pubs across the capital that are worth visiting.