Steve Ryan

Steve Ryan talks about community a lot. The Irish-born, London-based photographer and writer is a big believer in using food and drink to bring people together. This desire to explore and celebrate community led to the establishment of English food magazine, Root + Bone, as well as 40 Ft, a shipping container microbrewery in East London. He’s spent the last decade getting to know the people and places of the London borough of Hackney: these are his favourite.

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Welcome To Hackney

I tend to stick to Hackney when I head out. In London everything is centred about boroughs and every borough has its own unique character, so you’ve just got to find the borough that you like. For me it was Hackney. I like the community here. A lot of my friends are here and, ethnically, it’s the most diverse borough in the UK. While there’s so much division and alienation here at the moment, the way Hackney celebrates diversity and community is important. Hackney has got a lot of really cool people trying new things. I think it’s easier for people to take a chance in Hackney, but having said that, it’s starting to become expensive. 

The Full Hackney Experience

For a full Hackney experience, start with lunch at The Dusty Knuckle. It’s a bakery that also does great pastries and what I’m sure are the best sandwiches in town. Then head to The Marksman which has some ex-St John chefs there. The food is really, really good. Like classic British gastro-pub food, but done incredibly well. Go to Mangal for dinner, for sure. Mangal is fantastic. I usually go for the mixed mezze to start and then go with the mixed grill which will feed an army. They have a fantastic dish which I never remember the name of and always end up having to explain to the waiter. It’s like yoghurt, bread, tomatoes, minced lamb – I usually get this far in the explanation and then he goes “oh yeah, got you” but never tells me the name of the dish, so I have to go through the same thing every time.

For cocktails, go to Three Sheets on Kingsland Road. It’s a great cocktail bar that was started by two brothers, Max and Noel Venning. There’s a set menu, it’s got a really nice vibe to it and it’s open quite late. Because it’s so small – there’s just one tiny, little room – you wouldn’t go there with a gang, just one or two other people. It’s a great little spot for a post-work wind-down.

One City, Many Flavours

What I love about London is that it’s such a great place to eat food from all over the world. You can just decide where you want to dine in the world, and then go straight there. It’s great. I love Chinatown, but it’s hit and miss, although Joy King Lau is great for dim sum. There are great southern Indian options in East London. If I want to go Indian, I go to Gunpowder.

Tuck Inn on Bradbury Street is a great place to go for jerk chicken. House of Momo is also on Bradbery Street and does really good Nepalese food: I hit them for lunch quite a bit. There’s also Kashmir Kebabish which is a hole-in-the wall in Ridley Road Market which has been there since the 90s that does fantastic Pakistani food. It’s another great little lunch spot which is often overlooked because it’s in Ridley Road Market which is very eclectic. It’s not the most visually appealing spot and to be fair it probably is a little dodgy, but it tastes fantastic.

Turkish Food For Every Occasion

Because there are so many great Turkish restaurants around here, I’ll go to different places depending on what I want. If it’s more of a sit-down-and-have-a-conversation type of situation, I’ll go and feast at Mangal. If it’s a drunken evening and I just fancy a kebab, I go to Ali Baba. If I want to change things up, I’ll go to Umut 2000 Dalston: that’s my wife’s favourite so we alternate.

Classic British Cooking

If I want to go for some really great British food, it would have to be St John in Smithfield. I’ve always been a huge fan. When you go to Smithfield you have to get – and I mean you just have to get – the Welsh rarebit. And if they have any of their pies on, you definitely have to get in on that, too. These are the things you don’t want to embarrass yourself by not having. And the bone marrow is just next level. I have a lot of good memories at St John. We made a special beer with them at Christmas which was great. They make amazing Eccles cakes, so we did an Eccles cake stout where we took our stout recipe – called Deep – and they put their Eccles mix and like six kilos of brown sugar into the brew. It was like drinking Christmas.

A Filthy Full English Breakfast

I’m a sucker for the old-school English breakfast. For that there’s Frank’s Cafe down in Southwark: an English cafe that’s been run by a Portuguese family for three generations. I was in there a couple of weeks ago and there was a guy having a chicken curry at 9am in the morning. I love going there for a filthy full English breakfast. It’s just wonderful. My wife will be so disappointed when she finds out that I go there. I don’t trust people that don’t eat breakfast.

The Best Burgers in London

I love burgers and London has some fantastic burgers at the moment. I love Bleecker Burger and Honest Burgers: they’re two of my favourites. There’s a lovely synergy. In every bite, I want to get all the ingredients, not just a big mouthful of meat. It’s quite important. Don’t go adding on all these extra patties and everything. Then you just get too much of a meaty burger. I don’t think you should need teeth to eat a burger. You should be able to just bite with your lips. The bun is literally the carrier that’s carrying those burger ingredients to my mouth so just needs to be something you can hold in your hands. I don’t like these brioche bun situations where people are going all fancy. They’re too sweet. It’s like eating a dessert burger.

Special Occasion Spanish

There are some fantastic options at Newington Green which is just outside of Hackney. Trangallan is a fantastic Spanish place: that’s the type of place that my wife and I will go to for a special treat. It does really good wines. He’s from Galicia so there’s just really like gorgeous Galician-style octopus dishes. It’s a very small menu but everything is wonderful.

Barbecue In Shoreditch

I’m a sucker for Smokestak which is a fantastic barbecue place in Shoreditch that does smoked meat, brisket and what-not. I eat there quite regularly. I’ve known them since they were street food vendors selling their signature brisket buns which earned them quite a cult following. They then started a bricks-and-mortar about two years ago, so I’ve followed their story the whole way.

London’s Craft Beer Scene

There are so many great microbreweries but it’s changing because a lot of them are getting bought and they’re losing their character which is unfortunate, but there are still plenty of good ones. East London and South London, in particular, are great for breweries. There’s Pressure Drop that also has a place called The Experiment near Hackney Central which is a joint taproom with another brewery called Verdant. And then there’s a lot of craft beer bars that champion local beers and regularly rotate them through their taps. I like going to The Taproom.

I’m aware that I’m an Irish person that moved into this neighbourhood where people have lived for generations so we try to make the brewery [40 Ft Brewery] a very inclusive space and engage with the community. We’ve made a beer with the Jamaican community. We’ve made a beer with the Turkish community and invited people to come down for Turkish food.

Classic London Pubs

On a regular night out, I’ll get to some pubs that are just lovely for their atmosphere. The Spurstowe Arms is one of my favourites. They do a nice Guinness there. There is a pub close by here that I really like called The Scolt Head which is a nice community pub that serves really good food. The Duke of Richmond is a really nice gastropub. It does a crab and chip butty which is fantastic. Another pub I like to go to is the Red Hand in Dalston which is a really nice spot.

Guide last updated February 2020

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