There’s an almost painfully hipster element to Berber & Q. It’s housed in a railway arch in Haggerston. It doesn’t take reservations. It has a whole section of the menu dedicated to pickles. But we’ll forgive all that, because the place is just awesome. Who’d have thunk that crossing Middle Eastern flavours with American barbecuing techniques could work so well? Think of it as a bit like Ottolenghi (where the two founders worked for a time), injected with a hefty dose of testosterone and transformed from a white-washed hang out for yummy mummies into a smoky dive bar filled with bearded men and androgynous women. Start by ordering one of the cocktails, probably during the hour-plus wait you’re going to face for a table. Your patience will be rewarded though. The food is served unfussily on metal trays heaving with hefty hunks of meat, from melt-in-the mouth flakes of slow-cooked lamb to perfectly charred–if a little dry–short ribs. There’s plenty here for vegetarians too. Make sure to order the cauliflower shawarma. And don’t forget the pickles.
This darling place in the style of a charming French bistro could not be more out of place thrust between fried chicken shops on Mare Street. Round the corner in chichi Broadway Market, sure, makes total sense. But Mare Street, Mare Street lacks a certain,how shall I say, charm. Not to worry, Bouchon Fourchette makes up for it with oodles of the stuff at a very affordable price. The menu’s simple stuff, exactly as it should be. Bone marrow on toast to start is a meal itself, and the raclette platter for sharing could feed an army. Perfect for cosying up a la francais when the weather’s being all English.
OK, OK, there’s a lot of competition out there for best burger in London, but we think these guys are strong contenders. Operating variously from a pub residence in Hackney and the back of a food van in Netil Market, Lucky Chip is a no frills affair, but boy do they know how to make meat in a bun taste great! Of course, when it comes to burgers for the real deal, you have to schlep. By the real deal we mean real, hench, juicy gob-filling burgers. If that doesn’t tempt you, they have kind of a limited edition thing going on for that extra frisson. Mainstays like the bacon burger are always on the menu (because, like, what kind of self-respecting burger joint are you if you don’t do a bacon burger?), but specials rotate weekly and catching them can be like chasing gold dust and requires keeping a wary eye on their twitter feed. We always make a point of heading over when the Bill Murray’s on the menu. It’s a monster of a burger; a cheese-covered beef patty topped by deep-fried soft shell crab. It’s so wrong, but so, so right.
Up-and-coming though Hackney has been for pretty much ever now, there are bits of it that are still fairly godforsaken in culinary terms. The upper end of Hoxton Street, as the market stalls fade out, feels a bit that way. Thank the lord then for Embassy East. It’s not fancy and it’s not complicated, but it is bloody good. What more could you ask for? The place is fairly cosy – you wouldn’t want to be swinging cats in there – but they seem manage to squeeze everyone round the simple wooden tables, up at the bar or in the hidden room round the back. The food like the décor, is simple – big, hunky sandwiches at lunch and a mix-and-match approach to the breakfast selection. Oh, and did we mention the coffee? Their serious about that stuff, in fact it’s almost worth a trip just for a cup of joe.
The simple space occupied by Lardo is so very Hackney; giant, warehouse-style windows, plain wood tables, unadorned white walls and a big kitchen with a disco-ball style wood-fired oven that dominates one corner of the room. In fact, it has more of a laid-back coffee shop feel than serious Italian vibe. Admittedly the coffee is good, but best enjoyed after one of their big, crunchy, thin-crusted pizzas. The menu changes regularly and the chefs get creative with the flavours, so if you’re a margerita-and-nothing-else kinda guy, it’s probably not a place for you. Otherwise, fun twists on Italian classics (like mussels with chilli or black anise pepperoni and mozzarella) will have you drooling.
My-oh-my, what a lot of meat! Broadway market may be increasingly chichi, but this endearingly-scruffy little Argentine steakhouse is still keeping it real. The sizzling parilladas heave under the weight of all the different bits of animal shoved on top and grilled to perfection. You can order individual steaks, but the shared mixed grills are much more fun. Go for the house special for a delectable selection of steaks, sausages, morcilla and sweet meats (perfect with a squeeze of lemon). Slather on lashings of the homemade chimchurri sauce and eat yourself silly. Don’t worry, the super-friendly staff are more than happy to pack up any leftovers when you really can’t take any more. Make sure to book ahead and watch out for the odd celeb, since even the beautiful people can’t say no to a good hunk of meat.