It’s not an exaggeration to say that Hackney and Columbia roads are home to some of London’s best newish restaurants, some of its most unheralded old-timers, and some of its greatest wine bars. Running at first teasingly alongside each other, rather than directly parallel, and eventually converging, the pair represent a concentrated version of London’s restaurant excellence: the perfect destination for a DIY food crawl.
Here Eater suggests seven restaurants, which are great for a meal in their own right, but for the purposes of this epicurean exercise have been selected for their suitability for sampling just one (or two dishes) — part of a bigger, altogether more broad one-night dining programme.
Some key details to know ahead of undertaking this food crawl:
- Total stops: 7
- Streets covered: 2
- Recommended footwear: A stout boot, limited edition trainer, or comfortable sandal (such as Birkenstock)
- When to do it: Dinner time, Thursday onwards, preferably
- What to eat for lunch on the day of completion: Pret granola pot
- Other information: Arrive with phone charge at 100% — this is an absolute Instagram Story gimme
- If I want to do it across two days, how would you recommend segmenting it? Easy! Separate Hackney and Columbia Roads.
- If I were to miss any out, which would you skip? ... Ask Eater?
Listed in the most logical geographical order.
Stop 1: Morito Hackney
River Cafe alumni, Sam and Samantha Clarke know just how to create a restaurant that stands the test of time. Moro, a Middle-Eastern, Mediterranean, and North African-leaning essential London restaurant, turned 20 last year. The brand has spawned two sister sites: Morito, on Exmouth Market, and Morito, here, on Hackney Road. The Clarkes instated Marianna Leivaditaki as head chef. Her menu travels around the Med, but is rooted in Crete, where she is from, and includes the unmissable charcoal grilled lamb chops, paprika, and anchovy butter, at £4.50 per piece. A very solid place to start.
Stop 2: Sager and Wilde
Fear not, this is not the beginning of the end. More a pit stop. And while it might be tempting to order a cheese and jalapeno toastie, try to resist; there is plenty of food to be had along the rest of this crawl. What’s more, Sager and Wilde is principally a wine bar. Depending on the mood, select from either a massive Cabernet Sauvignon, a hip skin-contact Malvasia from Emilia Romagna, or a Trocken (dry) Riesling. It will be very difficult to order a dud.
Stop 3: Marksman
It has been said, by this website, that the Marksman represented the perfect template for the gastropub 2.0. Imitators, up the road, and across the city, now exist. While the Marksman’s owners transformed an old Hackney boozer into a trendy restaurant, they did so without excluding the locals who for many years sustained it. It remains a model. And the beef and barley bun was almost designed for a food crawl. One will suffice. Best enjoyed with a half pint of IPA or other cask ale.
An Optional Interlude: A Portuguese Love Affair
This café and deli closes at 7pm, so it’s not the place to round off a night — save that for The Laughing Heart. Instead, consider an interstitial stroll in search of a shatteringly crispy pastel de nata to break up these savouries. The custardy, cinnamon-scented sugar rush will revive even the weariest crawler.
Stop 4: Laxeiro
It seems fitting for this crawl to include a Spanish restaurant, especially when it’s one that offers no-nonsense tapas-style dishes, embellished only just. In Spain, the food crawl is embedded into the cultural dining habits of city-dwellers in San Sebastian and Madrid, since small plates can be ordered quickly and eaten even quicker. There is also never not a good time to eat a fortifying round of tortilla. This one arrives with a slick of garlicky alioli.
Stop 5: Brawn
Brawn is perhaps the most classically elegant restaurant on either road, a manifestation of chef-owner Ed Wilson’s love of “cultural cooking.” llustrated wine posters, art and curios on whitewashed brick walls make its twin dining rooms two of London’s most coolest: much like the twin streets on this crawl. The order of choice here depends on energy and appetite: a round of oysters, cured meats and anchovies would be an excellent restorative if struggling; exemplary pastas could fill hungrier stomachs.
To Finish: The Laughing Heart
The Laughing Heart belongs in the category of cave bistronomy-inspired (read cool Parisian) new-wave wine bars. But unlike the small P. Franco and Legs, this two-floor restaurant is more conventional, and includes a downstairs private dining room. There’s real emphasis on new-style, natural wines, of course. Dishes by chef Tom Anglesea entangle Asian, Modern British and Mediterranean styles and ingredients: olives stuffed with makrut lime and charcuterie offcuts; Jersey Royals with smoked lamb heart and wild garlic; wild boar terrine; and a signature Sichuan crème brulée. A model of unrestricted and informal nu-fine-dining. It’s also open unusually late, making it the obvious place to finish.