There have been murders. There have been gangs. And there have been riots. But thankfully the dark past of Clapton, just down from Hackney Central, is no longer what it is most famous for.
Ok, so this does mean that there are now more hipsters in this neighbourhood than you can shake a stick at, all bearded and bike riding and latte wielding. Say all you like about gentrification, but the hipsters have given people a reason to visit Clapton rather than avoid it, and that’s the food. Within a matter of two years they have transformed Clapton into an area whose culinary choices were limited to chicken shops and greasy spoons into somewhere that’s now spoilt for choice. My weekends are basically sorted for as long as I live here – and I barely have to move a muscle.
Here’s my whislestop tour of E5 – get the train to Lower Clapton or Hackney Central and make your way down Lower Clapton Road. Warning: you might end up so stuffed that you might not be able to get back….
An ongoing theme is some of London’s grimiest, most dangerous pubs hitting rock bottom, self destructing and lying derelict before rescued and revamped by a young entrepeneur and reopened as Clapton’s hottest new venue. The Clapton Hart was one of the first, and after having been condemned for so long it was hard to take it all in when all of a sudden there you were queueing behind nine other people just to get a drink at the bar. The food is pretty standard gastro pub fare but its shabby chic living room feel, complete with worn out sofas, tattered books, faded lampshades and vintage sewing machines makes it thoroughly East London, and thoroughly comfortable. The beer garden isn’t bad either!
The Windsor Castle and The Bonneville are where you go for what I like to call date quality food. I once read a blog post describing The Windsor Castle as one of London’s scariest pubs, all sorts of toothless creatures lolling against a backdrop of beer drenched carpets and battered darts boards. It now couldn’t be further from its former self, with its glossy, candle lit dark wood furnishings, impressive wine and beer selection, and perfectly cooked, simple seasonal cuisine that makes this our go to date night choice.
Well that is until The Bonneville opened, on the site of a former Irish pub that was home to squatters for a little while, now bringing classy French food to the punters of Clapton in a suitably dimly lit environment. While the food, from moules to cassoulet, is something to write home about, it’s, can you believe it, the toilets that you’ll rave about the most. Going to the loo is a dark, cavernous adventure, with pumped in mist making it hard to see but all the more amusing when you go from inching your way slowly along to finally finding the cubicle.
Verden was once the notorious Cricketers Arms, closed in 2010 after its less than genteel patrons broke one too many laws. Now, it’s a gloriously minimalist bar and restaurant, both in decor and in menu style. Its mix and match charcuterie and cheese boards are addictive, with the endless combinations making you come back for more. The menu might only span three main course options, but what they do is beautifully inventive. Stuffed squid or gourmet scotch egg anyone? There are different themed nights happening all the time eg seafood feast night, fizz and cheese night, so check the website for what’s happening. Steak night on a Tuesday is a definite winner!
If the revamped pub theme is getting a bit old, how about the revamped convenience store? There’s plenty of those on Lower Clapton Road too.
Little Ivy’s is tapas reinvented – think beyond your usual tortilla and patatas bravas and gorge yourself on overflowing platters laden with figs, rocket and ham, decadent bruschettas and succulent pulled pork sliders. But be sure to book in advance as there aren’t many tables. It took us weeks to get one!
Even a cosy night in has been transformed by the heightened quality of the local takeaways. Many a perfect night in has been made by a wood-fire baked Yard Sale Pizza, washed down with a bottle of red from the P Franco wine shop and bar next door (there’s cheese and meat on tap and regular tastings if you fancy sitting in here, communal style).
Speaking of convenience stores and pizza, another supplier to the great night in is Latto’s pizza, served at the cleverly multi-functional Palm 2 convenience store on Fridays. If you’re not up for pizza, there’s a hot food counter and a wide wine selection, but best of all is the not so secret pop up upstairs. Like the changing worlds at the top of Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree, the pop up is a revolving door of exciting, exotic cuisines – Japanese, Mexican, Colombian, you name it. Just recently we treated ourselves to some American goodness with burgers and ribs at Yo Mamma’s diner, in residency at Palm 2.
Not bad for a place that in 2003’s Time Out London Bar and Pubs guide was described as “not much to shout about” with “the friendliness and charm of Wild West saloons”. There’s a food revolution going on in Clapton, so hipsters, I thank you.