Once the hype surrounding Shoreditch began to fade at the end of the naughties, East London’s cool kids ventured up Kingsland Road and Dalston quickly became the nightlight hotspot in the city. Since then, however, London’s music scene has dwindled and many of the locations people would flock to come Friday night have closed their doors for good: legendary spots such as Efes and Bardens are prime examples, and Brewdog has even replaced the infamous Birthdays. But that’s not to say the neighbourhood itself is dead. Quite far from it.
The stretch from Dalston Junction right down to Church Street in Stoke Newington is still bursting with vibrancy and eclecticism. From chippies to charity shops, cafes to cinemas – there really is something for everyone in this little pocket of the city.
Here are the spots we recommend.
Film aficionados have a soft spot for Dalston’s Rio Cinema, housed in a Grade II-listed art deco building. There has been a cinema on this corner since the Kingsland Palace started showing silent films in 1909. More than 100 years later, it’s still independent, and its two screens show a variety of new indie releases as well as regular double bills and classic matinees.
Ridley Road Market
This bustling market has been around since the 1880s, making it a little piece of Hackney history. It’s open everyday – except Sunday – and features plenty of fruit and veg, along with many, many bargains to hunt for.
Coffee, cake and cool vibes, that’s what you can expect from this Stoke Newington Road-located cafe. If you’re looking for strong beans and an East London setting, this is the place to go. The space even hosts cultural events come evening from time to time, so make sure to ask the welcoming staff what’s on.
Dalston Superstore is a safe space for the queer community of East London. Not only do people come here to dance to disco, soul, funk or house music – which the venue pumps out in abundance – but it also functions in equal parts as a thriving cabaret spot, cafe, gallery and community space.
House of Momo
This restaurant is one of the neighbourhood’s best kept secrets. Yes, the Nepalese dumplings they serve are amazing, but this tiny, tucked away destination offers up a bowl of dumplings and beer for less than a tenner. It can get busy, so be prepared to wait for a seat – the delectable thalis are worth it.
For those looking to pamper themselves in an ethically minded salon, head to Still London. This spot is completely non-toxic and environmentally friendly. Mani and pedi treatments are conducted using Kure Bazaar 10-Free polish or Orly 12-Free gel polish, both of which are free from the toxic chemicals usually found in nail varnish. The salon also offers facials too.
Set beneath the iconic cinema sign in Dalston, Ruby’s has been dedicated to creating great drinks and good vibes since 2012. It’s the ideal spot for sipping cool cocktails and dancing into the night. Expect live music in the week and late night DJs come weekend. Tucked away next to the main bar at Ruby’s, with its own separate entrance, you’ll find Corrochio’s, a new bar and restaurant concept by the brand’s long-term colleague, chef and cocktail expert Daniel Corrochio.
Founded by Megan Adams, Re:Store in Hackney Downs Studios uses no single-use packaging on site. This zero-waste destination not only allows you to bring your own containers and stock up, but Megan also wanted to work with local producers too. Discover Mission, the brand roasting coffee beans in Clapton, along with Ombra pasta from Bethnal Green.
You can’t talk about Dalston’s food scene without mentioning Turkish food – the neighbourhood is known to serve the best in London. Mangal II may just be the best. Last year, the spot was refurbished by the original owner Ali Dirik’s sons, Ferhat and Sertac, who are now at the helm of this family restaurant, and have introduced a more concise menu with more variety – they even serve natural wine now, too.
So small you might miss it completely when walking down Kingsland Road, Three Sheets is a low-key cafe in the day, and award-winning cocktail bar after dark. Founded by Max and Noel Venning, they focus on giving classic cocktails a contemporary twist – take the Shiso Miso for example, it’s a modern iteration of an Old Fashioned. If you go during the day for your caffeine fix, you’ll drink beans from Dead Good Coffee, Kentish Town's smallest coffee roastery.