In case you missed it, I moved to Clapton/Hackney Central. Naturally, I’ve been spending the past month or so installing a pole in my house and trying out every possible restaurant, bar, café or event venue in my area. So here’s my local’s guide to Clapton, E5.
Why I Moved To Clapton
I can imagine some people won’t actually believed I moved to Clapton. While working in PR, my colleagues loved making fun of me because I loved Shoreditch. And to be fair, at the time I really did. Picture me: just a small town girl (cue: Don’t Stop Believin’ cause #strippersongsFTW), used to two rival bars and a cinema with two screens as a form of entertainment, moving to East London in 2011. It was like an adult playground for me.
I understand that probably by 2014 Shoreditch was not cool already for the coolest Londoners, but it was for me. Which is why I kept suggesting some form of dumb pop-up in Shoreditch as a PR stunt – and luckily, nobody listened to me. At the time, I had been lucky enough to find a cheapish place in Spitalfields and when I moved to Australia I really missed my favourite area.
Fast-forward to 2017, when I moved back to London, and I finally begun to understand what my co-workers were saying. Be it that I worked in Sydney’s Newtown and stayed in Melbourne’s Collingwood and Fitzroy, or maybe that the area did get worse, but Shoreditch didn’t really look that cool anymore. Maybe the amount of people on a hen or stag do quadrupled when I was away, more or less at the same pace as rents and cocktail prices, but I suddenly felt that the area had lost its identity and appeal to me.
The Clapton Vibes
So yeah, I couldn’t afford Shoreditch anymore – and quite honestly I didn’t want to. Like every Londoner, I spent a few months in the total agony of flat-hunting until I found a place that was perfect for what I was looking for. That place was in Clapton, an area I didn’t know at all.
It took less than a couple of days for me to love it. When I was in Sydney, I remember missing London’s randomness. Londoners get a bad rep for not talking to each other, but I remember being able to go out by myself and meeting cool people in bars because Shoreditch and London were open like that.
That completely stopped when I moved back in 2017, but it’s now happening in Clapton. People smile at me a lot more on the street. They allow me to leave promotional material for my novel Bad/Tender in bars, cafés and businesses without pulling a weird face or finding some reason to object. There is an actual local community there. So here’s where you have to go to experience it – before the Hackney Council’s nightlife ban ruins it all for us.
I’ve gone on and on about this place enough on this blog, so you probably know already that I love it. Needless to say, in typical Hackney fashion, it’s veggie and vegan friendly, it’s gone cashless, it allows dogs in and has a no-laptop policy.
It hosts events, sample sales and the staff are genuinely lovely, giving you free brownies while you queue. The vegan banana bread and Waterfalls smoothie are my latest obsession and you should get them too.
Not many places (in London and Italy alike) have made my mum go: “Wow, this is what you call a cappuccino.” Well, Lele’s is one of them, and their oat milk cappuccino with chocolate on top is one of those you just have to get.
Lele’s, too, is completely cashless. They have fantastic vegan cakes which taste better than the real thing, they’re super friendly and they do events catering just in case you want them at your wedding (not that I have that kind of problem). They also have a regular pasta and cocktail night every Saturday which I am literally dying to try. So put them on your list.
As I’ve already mentioned them above, Lele’s won’t get a whole paragraph in this section but make sure you get their cappuccino. Moving on.
This place made your criminology student/resident creep infinitely happy. Nestled under a railway arch in between Clapton and Homerton, I Will Kill Again is Dark Arts Coffee’s roastery. It features coffee boxes looking like voodoo tarots, some of them named after David Lynch’s films – I see you, Lost Highway! Plus, “I Will Kill Again” awfully sounds like a quote by Killer BOB from Twin Peaks, which makes me love the place even more.
Their cappuccinos and coffees are obviously flawless, but the space itself is really special, too. With pictures of obscure horror movies and Charles Manson magazine covers on the wall, stickers from local venues on the tables and an industrial look, this place is set to become one of my favourites.
Another warehouse-looking venue, this time more on the cute side, The Tram Store has its own little shop and makes a mean iced Chai. It’s the perfect venue to work on your laptop or do some reading while chilling at their huge tables under huge plants and surrounded by cute pillows. What’s not to like?
I’m always partial to a good bookshop and Pages of Hackney goes above and beyond that description. A tiny venue that unfolds into a fantastic reading and events space, the bookshop features recommendations from the owners and books from local authors as well as bestsellers.
They host feminist talks and their service is incredibly personable. They even have a small reading space surrounded by vintage books downstairs. It’s a must-visit.
I spent a lovely afternoon at this café trying to get a break from studying… and taking a longer break than I should have! Part café, part shop, it’s your go-to local venue for vinyl shopping featuring pastries from local bakeries, lovely coffee and a great soundtrack. While I was there, it was Leonard Cohen and that was more than fine with me.
Lion also have a variety of events lined up, with independent musicians taking over the space for weekly gigs that are not to be missed.
One of the most dangerous things that has ever happened to me is living next to this bakery. I am a ridiculous bread addict and their bread, especially the Kamut Loaf, is out of this world.
A Swedish bakery with cinnamon and cardamom buns galore, Charles is also cashless and seems to provide pastries for the majority of cafés in the area. They also organise baking workshops and have a lovely and knowledgeable team behind them who will give you the best recommendations on what to get. And they do take-away coffee, so if you’re looking for a yummy breakfast on the go, this is your spot.
Starting the weekend with @hackneybrewery’s latest release, a 3.5% New England style table beer. We’ve been loving the lower ABV small/table beers with the heat lately and this is a lovely example 👍 . . . . #craftbeer #londonbeer #hackneybeer #craftcans #instabeer #beerstagram #beerpics #hazybeer #neipa #smallbeer #tablebeer #fridayfeeling #friyay
Another adult playground, Clapton Craft has now expanded to cover four more London locations, but the one on Lower Clapton Road is where it all started. Featuring beers from all over London and the world, the shop is another example of the area’s friendly vibes. I left not feeling judged for my laddy passion for lager, and with a lot of book recommendations to add to my list. Next up: getting my hands on their cute bear logo merchandise.
Natural Fragrance Co.
One of my favourite indicators of the randomness of a place is finding spiritual/witchy shops around there. Psychic shops where one of my favourite things about Park Slope in New York, and the same can be said about Clapton. Covering everything from voodoo to black magic, from Christianity to Buddhism, the Natural Fragrance Co. adds to the area’s flavour and also sells some mean incense.
I’m so excited to finally have a pub to call my ‘local’! When I was a snooty EC1 resident back at uni, I never got the fuss about pubs. I hated beer and wanted fancy cocktails in some edgy basement.
Now I have obviously grown up. I stopped drinking cocktails, I love beer and I’d take a pub over a fancy ass cocktail bar everyday -especially if that pub is The Clapton Hart. Built on the site of the 1772 White Hart Hotel, The Clapton Hart faces the Lea Bridge roundabout in a spot that, in the 2000s, used to be known as Hackney’s “murder mile”.
Murders are (hopefully) no more and The Hart now looks welcoming and serves top notch Sunday roasts and £4 pints. Think shabby-chic decor, crowds going from kids and families to hipsters and metal-heads, and a beer garden with fairy lights which is what London in the summer should be about. I try to grab a pint there every weekend.
P. Franco is the ultimate chill neighbourhood wine bar. Working with a no-reservation policy, it’s always packed full of twenty-somethings sipping the finest wine around its big table or outside on the main road. P. Franco also doubles up as a fantastic tapas bar, where I’ve had some of the best spaghetti an Italian could wish for. Their menu is ever-changing, but if you ever stop by and see the sardine, fennel and pine nuts spaghetti, that is what you should get.
Just by the Hackney Central Overground station, Oslo Hackney is another unmissable cheap drinks / good vibes venue that gets super packed before its events, concerts, club nights or just for a chill pint on a Sunday. Their Sunday roasts are one of the best and most filling I’ve ever had in London, too. Read my review of them here.
By night, Clapton gets lit. With dinner options, that is.
One of my recent discoveries, my neighbours the dumplings is one of those places that almost forces you in. Looking always packed with pretty crowds, it’s a sake and dumplings bar with food that’s as inviting as its appearance.
While I am generally all for solo dining, going here with a friend will allow you to try a variety of dishes, tapas style. And there is quite a lot to try. Even their prawn crackers are better than normal, but the miso aubergine and steamed veggie dumplings are when they come into their own. And don’t get me started on their chocolate dumplings with vanilla ice cream – to die for!
With a taco Tuesday option and a variety of veggie, fish and meaty tacos, Del74 could be a Californian taco joint. Its neon bar lights and a psychedelic bathroom make sure it fits with the area’s vibes – and it’s a guarantee for a yummy dinner.
I was initially a bit worried about moving away from a double Pizza Pilgrims locations (#italianfirstworldproblems), but Yard Sale now satisfies all of my pizza cravings. Their take on pepperoni pizza is even spicier than usual, but their dough is as thick and soft as I like it. On top of that, they have a fab rock n’ roll decor and ice cream sandwiches for dessert. I’m sold.
Another international outpost on Lower Clapton Road, Le Merlin shows you how real crepes are made. No sloppy, wet pancakes here – only crispy galettes and unique crepes together with old classics.
One of my favourite crepes is the above one with roasted tomatoes and cheese, while my first time there I went for a raclette galette with potatotes and ham as a main, accompanied by a glass of the house red. The galette is giant, the cheese runny, the potatoes perfectly roasted. Then I went for a chestnut cream crepe for dessert, sweet, tender, with the foamy cream providing a way better alternative than the old boring Nutella crepe.
The great thing about Le Merlin is that the staff are actually French-speaking and that just by coming in you feel like you’re in a French neighbourhood creperie. Oh, and it has a beer garden.
But what if you need a haircut while in the area? Aside from plenty of nail salons, wig shops and braid experts, Clapton has a bunch of cool-looking barbers (although I can’t tell you if they’re good) and hairdressers.
On Lower Clapton Road, Blue Tit cuts your hair in a huge, shabby-chic looking salon. Down the road on Chatsworth Road, Belli Fuori (“Pretty on the outside” in Italian) is a quality but affordable hair dresser and waxing parlour.
Feels great to donate. Client cut off over 7 inches to donate to the little princess trust, something I did myself a few years back, and still had fantastic long hair. Highly recommend if you’re thinking of getting a big chop. . . . #bluetit #littleprincesstrust #behindthechair
When I initially walked past the Round Chapel I didn’t think much of it – I just assumed it was a church. Turns out it’s much more than that.
The Chapel is an all-rounded events venue, hosting comics festivals, wine tastings, yoga classes and more. Now that the good season is upon us, passing the Chapel on a weekend means seeing parties and weddings, with drag queens and food trucks hanging out outside with the guests.
Last time I went past it a bunch of men in Victorian costumes told me it was the set of the third instalment of a well-known action movie. In short, keep an eye on their website because you never know what they’ll be hosting.
I thought the void that Sydney’s Frankie’s Pizza By The Slice and Mary’s Newtown have created in my rock n’roll/metal heart would never be filled. Then I moved to Clapton and found out that Blondies exists.
Blondies is a tiny exposed brick, dark, Rock, Metal, Blues dive bar owned by the two Australian sisters Sharmaine and Verity Cox. Their third sister, Rochelle, helps with merchandise and beer line – so essentially they’re the Halliwell sisters from Charmed, but more rock n’roll.
Randomly, while speaking to the bar team, I found out that the Cox sisters are from Coogee, the area of Sydney where I lived, and worked with famous Sydney graffiti artist Sindy Sinn for the bar’s logo. So the place feels like home a little more.
I try to head to Blondies as often as I can for a pint and a headbang and the place is so welcoming you can head there on your own and still feel welcome. Definitely unmissable, especially now that the majority of Soho rock bars have closed down!
A vintage boutique that doubles up as a bar/events space, Paper Dress is at the beginning of the Narrow Way towards Clapton.
It hosts a variety of gigs by independent musicians as well as rock n’roll and jive classes, yoga classes and more. Head over for your vintage fix or for one-of-a-kind events.
Nestled in between Clapton and Homerton, Chatsword Road is a gem of a street with a Sunday market featuring local traders and yummy street food. Born in the 1930s and brought back to life by the locals in 2011, it’s now run by the Hackney Council.
Dear Hackney resident – if you received a Chatsworth Road Market survey through your letterbox this week PLEASE do take the time to fill it out and return freepost. Your response and feedback is vital for the survival and growth of the market. Please see link in bio for further information. Thank you for the support so far. – Gemma
The street itself is awesome even when the market isn’t running. It features a blend of local off-licences and cute coffee shops like café and wine bar Bernsteins, while Venerdì runs lovely Italian dinners and aperitivos in a pub-looking venue. Closer to Brooksby’s Walk, the crowdfunded Castle Cinema is a go-to indie movie spot right underneath local indoor organic grocery store Eat17.
An ostheopathy clinic and yoga studio, KUU means “sky” in Japanese and it promises to look after your wellness in every aspect.
Located in a refurbished Victorian tram depot, BLOK has three studios with bare brick walls, vaulted concrete ceilings and cast iron pillars. With luxury showers, changing rooms and a café, BLOK is the ultimate modern lifestyle gym.
YOGA at BLOK Clapton – have you booked this weekend? . @lululemonuk ambassador @flowfitness1983 shot by @maxoppenheim . . . . #bloklondon #BLOKShoreditch #London #Shoreditch #gym #fitness #yoga #movement #strength #conditioning #lululemon
With over 160 classes a week and over 50 of London’s top instructors, BLOK is slowly becoming a cult gym.
I have moved to Clapton and IT’S GREAT. K Bye.