While some people start planning their holiday around famous landmarks, must-see shows and art galleries, the first place my mind wandered to having booked a short trip to London was food. I wanted pillowy doughnuts and coffee, I needed hearty breakfasts, I craved quirky lunches and feast-like dinners. And so, aside from booking tickets for Book of Mormon for our first evening, my preparations for our pre-Christmas trip to the capital honed in on Trip Advisor, Instagram, blogs and Google Maps as Chris picked the sights he wanted to see. The result was a fairly well planned scheduled, crammed with culture, a smattering of coffee and red wine stops, and a lot of delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners all located near our lodgings at The Hoxton in Shoreditch. There’s plenty more recommendations, ideas and lists of things to see to come on this blog following our whirlwind trip but for now, here’s my six favourite places to eat in Shoreditch if like me, you love to plan your dinners well in advance.
Dishoom is like a low key secret, a softly-spoken name drop you wouldn’t make too much of a fuss about, but pass the loosely guarded key along anyway. I first heard its name on the Jess Lively podcast, where the titular life coach currently travelling the world said she couldn’t visit London and not eat there at least once. A few weeks before our trip, Dishoom announced it would be opening its first Scottish restaurant in Edinburgh and so I suggested we visited for breakfast, as we would more than likely visit for a full-on feast closer to home. I’m so glad we did.
Inspired by the Irani cafes of Bombay, Dishoom’s belly rumbled with the noise of breakfast meetings and fast paced chatter that Chris and I simply laid back and enjoyed as we perused the menu with smoky glass mugs of strong black coffee in our hands. Kejriwal was C’s dish of choice, perfectly oozing fried eggs sat on grilled chilli cheese on toast, which was quickly declared a favourite of our holiday. But my bacon naan roll stuffed with smoked sugar coated bacon was on another level. A puffy circle of naan smeared with cream cheese, chilli tomato jam and a little herbs, its execution was simple but oh so beautiful. If I had a bigger belly, The Big Bombay fry up would be my dish of choice but I don’t think I can go back to plain white bread and streaky bacon for my Sunday sandwich now.
The Breakfast Club (pictured top)
Think Sixteen Candles, Grease, Ferris Bueller and the weekend detention coming-of-age movie rolled into one and you have the very beautiful Breakfast Club on Rufus Street. Sat at a blush pink booth near the back, 80s tunes pumped into the cafe as a waitress set down water and took our order, a disco ball slowly spinning in the corner casting light on the walls. It’s a hodge podge of American cool, hipsters sip coffee with laptops perched on old school desks and there are more breakfast meetings here, but also people simply in for a ridiculously good feed.
The menu, as the name suggests, is made up of brunch classics from huevos rancheros to pancakes and plenty of variations on eggs bennie, with some morning exclusives, all day options and an evening menu with a pretty stellar addition of fried chicken and waffles. Chris went for The Full Monty fry up, devoured in seconds, and I went for the highly instagrammable smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on toasted bloomer with a big helping of avocado on the side. Silky eggs, cool salmon and creamy avo were smashed onto pieces of crisp toast as I ate hungrily, sips of latte just getting in edgeways. There’s plenty of branches peppered across London so even if you aren’t staying in Shoreditch, you’re sure to find one not far from your hotel.
When I said I wanted to ‘have a wander’ past the Box Park mall to ‘have a look’ at Brick Street, what I really meant was ‘let’s go buy doughnuts from Crosstown minutes after devouring our Bombay breakfasts at Dishoom’. Crosstown is an Instagram institution, much like Bread Ahead at Borough Market or Maitre Choux in Kensington, but luckily their sourdough-based doughnuts made fresh by hand each day live up to the hype.
We passed the shop bulging with customers and so visited their stall in the Old Spitalfields Market instead, which surprisingly takes card from its tiny van. Torn between a beetroot doughring of lemon and thyme and a filled classic-style doughnut, I went for a pistachio and chai creme patisserie-stuffed pillow of perfection. The custard was smooth and spicy, warming my insides as we sipped cappuccinos from The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs which is situated next door in the market – worth mentioning for the latte art alone. If I had a bigger belly, the peanut butter berry, creme brulee, and cinnamon scroll would all have made it into the paper bag alongside my chai tea doughnut.
As the rain thundered down on our first day, we found Honest Burger when I was actually trying to track down Dirty Bones, but none the less this burger joint offered good food, cocktails and shelter from the thunderstorm that started as soon as we left our hotel. Aberdeen has a few ‘dirty burger’ joints, so cocktails in tin cups, craft beers and burgers served in dishes didn’t phase us. But Honest really blew the competition away for me with the sheer quality of its burger patties and sexy as hell homemade chips with rosemary salt.
Since Scottish food laws require all burgers to be served well done, I stuck to what I knew and ordered my cheeseburger fully cooked with a good helping of red onion relish and plenty of cheddar and happily, it was still incredibly flavourful and not dry in the slightest. Slightly braver, Chris went for the pink option and ate his way through the honest burger happily, both of us mopping up our fries with hungry abandon. Surprisingly, you don’t need to order fries separately like most bars, so the mound on our trays was unexpected yet greedily pounced upon. I must add the cocktails at Honest are great and cheap for London, a refreshing mint julep filled with Buffalo Trace bourbon just £6 and Chris found his favourite Icelandic beer for around £4. Surprisingly our meal wasn’t much more expensive than something similar at home, so if you’re after a fast feed with good food and great drinks, just be Honest with yourself.
After walking around 12 miles, crisscrossing London to see Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and a good trek around Winter Wonderland, the last thing we wanted was a fussy dinner and Pizza East offered us exactly that. Without a reservation, we were still led straight into the heart of the restaurant on long communal tables with a direct view of the pizza oven. We went simple, two cokes and a big pitcher of water then garlic bread, slathered with herbs, garlic and oil that dribbled down our fingers as we ate. Our pizzas arrived quickly, puffy yet soft and blemished from the flames but pooling with melted mozzarella and a thick swirl of cream. We both chose the spicy sausage and broccoli pizza but naturally Chris switched the greenery for prosciutto at the suggestion of our lovely waitress, who happened to be from Westhill.
Pure pizza heaven, soft with tender, chilli coated broccoli stems and pure fire from the crumbled sausage, the quirk of cream really made each slice sing. Waddling back to our hotel, our simple feed had us utterly stuffed but very happy. If you pop along with a crowd, make sure you head to the toilets before you eat – there’s a Berlin-style photobooth hidden in the basement so pull your best faces before you get too full and need a pizza coma lie down.
You know you’ve made an excellent dinner choice when not only does your boyfriend steal most of your bone marrow gravy, but every few minutes you exclaim to each other ‘this place is just so nice’. Bottle green booths and dark wooden tables filled a fairly quiet Hawksmoor when we arrived for our pre-theatre feed at the Air Street branch, but it quickly filled with businessmen, couples, girlfriends and plenty of diners who brought their own wine for BYOB Mondays. While we didn’t eat at the Spitalfields branch (Air Street was closer to the Prince of Wales Theatre where we saw Book of Mormon later that evening), the Shoreditch site still comes highly recommended online so it was definitely worth including.
We feasted upon the very reasonable pre-theatre menu for £25 for two courses, twisting Chris’ arm for dessert as my eyes fixated on the sticky toffee pudding. We both chose a sexy piece of rump steak, medium of course, with that perfect blushing hue of pink and a smoky char on the outside. Triple cooked chips were dunked in Hawksmoor’s homemade ketchup but our separate sauce orders really had us drooling. Chris’ peppercorn was beautifully creamy but my bone marrow gravy was drained by both of us, unctuous and rich and perfect for dipping chips into alongside a juicy glass of red wine. If it were possible to marry a pudding, I’d take thee Hawksmoor sticky toffee as my life partner, the tender sponge soaked with thick, syrupy sauce, a perfect chantilly cream quenelle perched on top. Chris’ peanut butter shortbread looked pretty tasty but I was far too involved with my pudding (or least, not invited to try the biscuit) to sample it. We sat back and agreed it was a sumptuous feast with the best steak we’d ever eaten. I just wish we could have squirrelled away more gravy to stow in our liquid allowances on the flight home.
What is your go-to restaurant in Shoreditch? Let me know in the comments and keep your eyes peeled for more London recommendations soon on Victoria Sponge Pease Pudding.