This is the second in a series of Eater maps dedicated to a glorious sub-class of mini bites: snacks. Here, east London is the focus: the concentration of small plate / natural wine benchmarks and arrivistes that has, in no small part, given rise to the popularity of the one or two-bite dish in this part of town. Respectfully receptive to global influences — some old, some new, some borrowed — this collection of snacks represents some of the most thrilling approaches to cooking in the capital.Read More
Where to Snack in East London
The best mini-bites in Shoreditch and beyond: crispy fried chicken, smart stuffed olives, melting gougères, and more
1. Anchovy Flatbread at Brat
London E1 6JL, UK
Tomos Parry’s latest project is hardly short on good snacks. There’s the cod’s roe on toast, superior grilled oysters, and the egg salad with bottarga that no less of an authority than Giles Coren hailed as “the greatest single new dish to be invented in this country in decades.” But the truest testament to Parry’s genius is perhaps the simplest: a bouncy, pliable flatbread topped with a handful of perfect anchovies and some minced chives. Like all the best snacks, the only logical action upon finishing one is to immediately order another.
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2. Gougères at Brawn
Along with a couple of the other names on this list, Brawn essentially invented a certain kind of restaurant that is now ubiquitous in east London and beyond: the small plates / natural wine formula that is equal parts beloved and mocked, depending on who you ask. But unlike some of its arriviste copycats, Brawn has always possessed a sturdy spine of old-world class: those wooden floorboards and rickety candlelit rooms could just as easily belong to somewhere in Paris, thirty years ago. As could these delightfully timeless bites of cheesy choux pastry, an especially fine accompaniment to a glass of wine. Or, for the truly old school, a bottle of champagne?
3. Beef and Barley Bun with Horseradish at Marksman Public House
A shoo-in for the Best Snacks In All Of London map (if it existed) — as with the Quo Vadis smoked eel sandwich, ordering one immediately upon sitting down is practically a no-brainer. In a fast-moving world, there is something immensely steadying in routines and dishes like this. And, it must be said, in the flavours themselves, which are basically the Marksman project in miniature: deeply traditional British ingredients made to feel as thrilling and vivid as anything this great multicultural city can offer.
4. Fried Chicken with Pine Salt at The Clove Club
The Clove Club was an influential early adopter in the new wave of dual bar-and-restaurants, and it’s a strategy that was arguably central to its success, allowing curious punters to sample some of the kitchen’s most iconic moments without splashing the cash on a full set / tasting menu. It also helped that, in this dish, Isaac McHale had created one of the defining statements of truly modern Modern British food — part homage to the capital’s myriad chicken shops; part Simon Rogan exploration of native ingredients; entirely stunning cooking.
5. Northern Thai Style Brisket Sausage at Smoking Goat Shoreditch
London E1 6JJ, UK
Drinking food doesn’t get better than this spicy, aromatic cousin of the smoked turmeric version at Soho’s Kiln and the hugely popular sai oua served throughout Northern Thailand (though it’s more commonly made with pork there). The simple presentation — sliced into shareable tranches, a sheaf of hot mint alongside — and slightly opaque naming convention belie just how complex preparing this dish is, and conceal an origin story of obsessive provenance and a close relationship to the smoked brisket drunken noodles that appear elsewhere on the menu. As with most dishes coming out of the Shoreditch kitchen, it is the eating that ties together all of that hard work, thought, and complexity.
6. Bao at Arch Rivals
London E7 0AQ, UK
The steamed bun has had a strong few years in London, its next destination after a David Changified version electrified the USA a decade ago. Arch Rivals knocks out versions that feel like a synthesis of bao-making both traditional and modern, featuring maximalist (and, in a 2018 twist, frequently vegetarian) fillings like Coney Island-style mapo mushroom and a homage to Yardbird Hong Kong’s Korean fried cauliflower. There’s no agonising over authenticity here – but nor is the food a careless compendium of various contemporary buzzword-y influences. Instead, it feels like an accretion of some of the best stuff to have happened in the 2010s – that intoxicating cocktail of influences old, new, and borrowed.
7. Brisket Bun at Smokestak
Tolerance for large quantities of barbecued meats will likely vary by individual, but (vegans and vegetarians aside) it’s hard to imagine anyone not delighting in something that packs such flavour into a relatively tiny package. In some ways, it comes on as a homage to the very specific pleasures of the salt beef at Brick Lane’s Beigel Bake just up the road, offering the same interplay of richness, acidity, and chew. But there’s more depth here, more fat, more juice — really, it’s enough to leave even the most committed carnivore a little short of breath. Whether taken as the first step on a Commercial Street or the last step on a drunken stagger home, it’s not like that’s a bad thing.
8. Venison Doughnut at Gunpowder
Dominique Ansel take note: this is how you do it. With just one witty twist — not layering golden-toasted gram-flour noodles (sev) over venison mince, but going full Inception and putting the mince inside them — Gunpowder owners Devina and Harneet Baweja did more to disrupt the doughnut than any number of cronuts, crodoughs and rainbow unicorn sprinkles. It helps that the end result is absolutely delicious, locating itself somewhere between a scotch egg, a samosa, Gymkhana’s keema pao, and Ravinder Bhogal’s dazzling spiced shepherd’s pie. Gunpowder is one of the shining lights among the wave of neo-Indian restaurants that have graced the capital in recent years — along with its instant-classic lamb chops, this may be its signal achievement.
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9. Crispy Quail at Singburi
London E11 4PA, UK
Singburi’s legendary blackboard menu makes no formal division between snacks, small plates or mains. It changes regularly, too, making it even harder to define a single must-have bite-sized dish. If the moo krob (crispy pork belly with chilli and basil) is on, it’s nine pounds very well spent, but for £2.50 less, the crispy quail is arguably the leading bargain on what is already an astonishingly good-value menu. There’s definitely an affinity with the legendary chargrilled version at the Vietnamese Sông Quê Café on Haggerston’s Kingsland Road — there’s a generous hand with the white pepper, a similar violent thrill in tearing something so tiny apart by hand and tooth. But Singburi’s version has two clear advantages: one, it’s fried, in a crunchy, aromatic batter. And two, it comes with a much more robust, Northern-Thai-style dipping sauce of ground toasted chilli and lime juice. If visiting with friends, one bird each should do nicely.
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