Around the World in Eighty Blocks: International Cuisine in Hackney and Stoke Newington
By Sophie_RT | Sunday, July 24, 2011, 09:48
Well it looks like the recession is losing its grip over us Brits, as we splash out more on holidays again: the UK's foreign holidays are back on the rise. But for those of us in Stoke Newington who have missed the boat (so to speak) when it comes to grabbing a summer getaway, there are other ways to get a taste of sunnier shores – and they're a darn sight lighter on the pocket too. Food being one of things that characterises our foreign holidays, stokeypeople has found a list of the nation's top ten holiday destinations and, guess what? Hackney has amazing cuisine from (almost) all of them, no flights needed. Here's our run down of the best in the borough…
From Ridley Road to our many Restaurants: Hackney is home to food from around the world
Still going strong on the ex-Pat-front, Spanish food is harder to come by in Stoke Newington than most cuisine, so it was nice to see the guys behind Clicia branch out and give us tapas-bar-***-café, Olivo. Big portions, loads of choice and reasonable prices, this is a great place to go for some simple, wholesome Spanish food in a nice space. If you're after something with a bit more flare, then Mexican style cantina "Mercado" is just a couple of doors along (hard to miss, as the frontage looks like something created by the primary school opposite), and does some killer Mojitos.
Who needs springtime in Paris when you can have summertime in N16? Fifty Six is a great French-European restaurant that's been going for years on Newington Green. On a nice evening it's a real treat to sit looking onto the Green, enjoying their Grand Marnier duck breast and a glass of red wine. For something more casual, Petit Coin (meaning literally "little corner") sits just where it says on the tin: on the little corner of Albion Road and Stoke Newington Church St, and has possibly the most lovable owner in all of Hackney.
Who'da thought it, eh? The UK is number 3 in our list of top hotspots across the globe. In Stoke Newington it's all about Alistair's English food. Pork belly, apple and rhubarb crumble, double baked cheese soufflé (not recommended in that order) are all top notch. However, before you make a dash for the door, Alistair's is currently closed for the summer holidays, so you will have to keep the taste buds on ice for now. The Fox Reformed has a real British feel to it, with a little garden in the back; or head up to the other end of Hackney to the Hoxton Apprentice for some Cornish Mackerel, Dingley Dell pork or Eton Mess. The Apprentice sits in the big Victorian schoolhouse on the square, and is a charity restaurant that trains the long term unemployed in catering, service and admin, so it's good food with a conscience. If you fancy something Irish, try The Wheatsheaf pub where Tina serves up hearty grub for her customers.
With a menu long enough to wallpaper your sitting room with, Clicia is a great choice for a taste of Greece in Hackney. The restaurant itself is full of nazars, coloured glass lanterns and classical pictures, and the cuisine is Greek mixed with Turkish and a little English. It does both meat and fish well: fresh and simple. We highly recommend the Gordian Knot if you like lamb and deliciousness. There's mezze or your standard three course option, and although there's a distinct lack of plate smashing after dinner, you can liven things up with a shot of sambucca.
For a proper taste of Italian cuisine, try the Sardinian inspired Trattoria Da Luigi. One of the Il Bacio bunch, Luigi's is a little more 'foody' than the pizzerias and has a bar below it for you to dance off any calories that the tiramisu may incur. Luigi himself recommends the suckling pig on the weekends – an authentic Sardinian speciality. Zaza on Stoke Newington High Street has bagged some fans already, and does a down to earth range of take away pizzas that are firm contenders for the finest in Stoke Newington.
The cynic in me wants to recommend KFC here and be done. However… there are some cool American diners in Hackney that are well worth popping into. The Diner serves up some killer milkshake cocktails and all the standard hot dog and burger fayre, all to the sounds of a cool jukebox. There's also the Breakfast Club on Rufus Street (just off Hoxton Square): you don't get much more American than the peanut butter and banana thickshake, lovingly nicknamed 'The Elvis', and very tasty it is too.
Probably the most bountiful cuisine in Hackney, nowhere in London does Turkish food as well as here. Pretty contentious fight for the top spot though: Mangal has the official crown, for its fresh, good quality meat and fast service; but it's better for take-away stuff or a pit stop lunch as it's a little rough around the edges, setting-wise. If you want somewhere more 'restauranty' to enjoy Turkish food then Bos Cirrik on Stoke Newington High Street is pretty unbeatable. You can get a hearty meat dish with sides and a drink in either of these for less than £15, and it's money well spent.
Eighth on the rundown is Egypt, despite the current climate. Pretty sure even Ridley Road doesn't stock camel meat (although if it did, I'd be first in line), but for a sense of Egypt without the sunburn try LMNT. It is, as one review calls it, "weird and wonderful", with flamboyant Greco-Egyptian décor including a sphinxy fireplace and some pretty raunchy toilet walls. The menu itself is varied – though chiefly European – and inexpensive. So if you were deterred from visiting the pyramids this summer you can console yourself with a dark chocolate tart and raspberry ice cream amidst the hieroglyphics at LMNT.
Number nine is Croatia…. And here's where we get stuck…! Of all the restaurants in the borough, we can't recall a single Dalmatian eatery. Any tips on this one guys?
Again, there are tonnes of Thai restaurants to choose from. The obvious choice in Stoke Newington though, is Yumyums. With some of the novelty of LMNT, but with food to match the décor, Yumyum has earned itself a reputation over many years for serving good quality Thai food with attentive service and yummy cocktails. We highly recommend the chicken khao soy and the mango and passion fruit mousse. Take away is also available.
And that is our world tour of Hackney's culinary scene. So your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to point us in the direction of a Croatian restaurant in the borough.
Photograph Courtesy of Seanbjack at Flickr