In which we explore the questions: why is Red Hand so great? why does it stand out, in an area not short of good pubs? And conclude that it just is/just does.
Okay yes, there are some tangible features you can point to that make the Kingsland Road spot better than your average. But the reality is we have Good Feelings about it largely because Red Hand played a chunky role in two very good, unplanned, kind of unexpected nights there in recent months, and now we'll probably feel affectionate towards it forever.
Still, let us look at the facts. It's set up more as a craft beer bar than a pub — think Mother Kelly's on Paradise Row, and the Howling Hops tank bar in Hackney. Expect lowkey industrial vibes, a long and very good beer list on tap — regularly changing, but a mix of local breweries, special collabs, and big hitters from other countries, including low and no-alc options — and a few cocktails that are a bit more enthusiasm than finesse (not a criticism, that's our preferred balance).
They're one of only a few pubs we know of in London who've realised that the presence of fast, carb-heavy, no-cutlery hot food is how you keep us there all night/win our hearts forever — and also realised that can be achieved with nothing more than a grill and a cheese-toastie-only menu. (Shout-out to the Dundee Arms in Bethnal Green, pioneers in the art of keeping you fed while keeping it lo-fi.)
The Red Hand's food list's the work of Devil's Kitchen, a delicate balance of boujie and filthy (chevre frais, radish, rhubarb balm and chilli oil toasted baguette, we're looking at you). And a moment of respect for the cojones of a public space willing to let the eye-wateringly strong-smelling pancetta steccata, reblechon, gouda, spring onions and sauerkraut toastie on their premises.
And they take reservations, though tbh we wouldn't bother: unless you're a work event or something and really want the certainty, this is the sort of bar where it's better to be jostling for space at the counter, leaning on whatever square inch of space you can find, balancing your glass on a ledge, wandering in and out of groups — you know, getting that pre-pandemic feel.
More Red Hand vital stats:
- 1 am licence on weekends: late enough to hit your stride, and Dalston's better than most parts of London for late licence bars and clubs to move on to after. (Check out The Jago, going strong till 3.30 am at weekends, Pamela, 2.30 am, Village 512, 6 am).
- Pricing's unremarkable, unless you're newly arrived to London in which case: devastating
- Nearest station: Dalston Junction, Dalston Kingsland, and a lot of bus routes to take you to Liverpool Street
So it has good beer, but a lot of places do. You can reserve, but who really cares. Cheese toasties are important, but weren't even on offer the first time we went, and we still loved the place regardless.
But it's what the cheese toasties represent that gets to the heart of the question Why Is Red Hand So Great?: they just want you to have what you need to have a good time, stay for hours, have to be pried away from the bar counter at closing. And so far: 100% success rate.
Red Hand, Dalston
Last visited — February 2022