Our Definitive Guide to Hanging Out in London’s Southeast
The neighborhoods in Southeast London are the hottest in the city right now. Here's where to go and what to do there.
It’s no longer newsworthy to talk about East London as a desirable destination. Packed with talented chefs, well-established clothing and accessories designers, the East of the city isn’t bubbling—it has boiled. There’s a trickle-down effect at play coming out of East London’s newfound popularity, too. Not only are Shoreditch, Hoxton, and even Haggerston among the most dynamic and innovative areas of the city, the southeast is undergoing an upgrade.
These days, Peckham is a little glossier, transformed by a group of imaginative local entrepreneurs (see the story from our October 2015 issue here). And since any borough is made infinitely more interesting, accessible, and engaging if you know what to look for and where to go when you’re there, here’s our guide to where to go and what to do in London’s newly established southeast.
Until the 16th century, Wapping was a marshland. It then became the shipping hub of the city and the center of London’s docks, which gave rise to a rich pub history in the area—by 1850 there were about 36 boisterous “inns.” (The local pub Prospect of Whitby was a favorite of the artistic set, including Turner and Dickens).
You could while away an entire afternoon at Jay Jopling’s White Cube Gallery. It’s a paean to the contemporary art scene. One of the last-surviving music halls, Wilton’s host talks, dance performances, concerts and much more. As the name suggests, the Design Museum is one of the city’s leading establishments focused on architecture and design—from fashion to products to graphics. The Blueprint Café on the Museum’s first floor definitely warrants a visit.
If it’s a quick lunch, a glass of wine, or even an afternoon coffee you’re after, Tom’s Kitchen St. Katharine Docks ticks every box. Bottega Wapping takes a three-pronged approach to sating its guests by operating a deli, a wine bar, and a more formal restaurant under one roof. We revel in the insider’s feel that Il Bordello gives off; the menu is extensive and traditional Italian.
For contemporary British fare with a dash of Mediterranean spirit, head to The Narrow, by chef Gordon Ramsay. The views are superb and the bar boasts a crackling fireplace. And keep your eye on the programming at the Tobacco Dock, which is solidifying itself as one of the most interesting and innovative event spaces in London.
As the London overground extended, so did Dalston. In the 1970s and 1980s. it played host to a number of popular, albeit slightly seedy, pub rock venues. While that scene is all but defunct, it has upped the wattage on its fashion, design, and smart-set restaurants—with a noteworthy cocktail scene. Dalston even has its very own magazine, Pix, a music mag edited from a European Union-funded endeavor call The Bootstrap Company, which also supports the fashion designer Gareth Push and visual artist Matthew Stone.
Speaking to the area’s creative nature, Christopher Kane and Marius Schwab have both recently set up shops in Dalston, so you can hunt for new threads from the sought-after designers. Independent Rio Cinema is a great way to while away an afternoon. Café Route is ideal for both a coffee and for a longer stop—the brunch is ever popular.
Dalston has maintained a less manicured edge compared to its neighbors Hoxton and Shoreditch, and for many this is a positive thing. There are still heaving Turkish restaurants and kebab shops if that’s what you fancy, and the Ridley Road Market is still thriving with its food and clothing stalls and famous 24-hour bagel store. And for a more thought out-meal, book at table at Lardo for delightful thin-crust pizza with rich toppings such as Tuscan sausage, cavolo nero, and chili.
Hoxton and Shoreditch
With affordable food, trendy basement bars, local clothing designers, and the continued migration of the city’s best artists and art galleries from London’s West End, Hoxton and Shoreditch have a lot to offer.
The group behind the private members’ club Soho House are opening up venues all across the capital—including bars and restaurants accessible to everyone, full of the plush, cozy-contemporary vibe that has made them famous. The Hoxton Grill is part of that family, and with its rich-red banquettes and brasserie menu, there’s a lot to like. On a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday it’s packed with those hip and knowing it. Pizza East (also part of the Soho House group) is situated in a former tea warehouse on a busy corner of Shoreditch High Street. It specializes in pizza reinterpreted, with toppings like Scamorza, caprino fresco, taleggio and gorgonzola.
Bar Kick will unleash your competitive side, with its popular foosball table. It’s fun and the menu is surprisingly healthy for a late-night haunt (they pride themselves on not having a deep fryer.) The best offer they have is a $4 beer during happy hour, a welcome change from the typical $10 beers at neighboring venues.
The Cheeky Parlour on Redchurch Street is a three-floor beauty destination for both men and women. The first floor is the sumptuous hair salon by Josh Wood, and above that, nail and waxing services are on offer. If you’re feeling peckish after having your nails painted and shaped, take a walk to Broadway Market (it only runs on Saturdays). Taking place between the Regent’s Canal and London Fields, it’s among the city’s most exciting markets.
More than street-side stalls, the surrounding pubs and cafes all swing open their doors and the atmosphere is jubilant and welcoming. For the fashion and design set, there’s Box Park, a concentration of cool-kid shops. Don’t miss Nordic Poetry, a vintage fashion store, or the independent London printing company Moo.
We’ve noted that Peckham has recently garnered much of the attention in East London. You can still see a film for a fiver here (at the Independent Peckhamplex), while Peckham Rye Park offers picnic grounds, football pitches, even a Japanese Garden (which is still one of the city’s lesser-known green spaces and thus maintains a feeling of peace and serenity).
No 67 is a café that beckons. Better for a coffee and a cake than a meal, it’s an ideal afternoon stopover. Frank’s Cafe is a metaphor for innovation, one of the area’s coolest bars, set on top on a multi-story car park. They don’t take reservations, so if it’s a clear night, arrive early.
For no-frills authenticity, head to the Peckham Bazaar. The food at this Balkans restaurant is cooked over open charcoal and the menu changes daily, based on the fresh fish, meats, and vegetables the chef sources from the area’s markets. The Sunday Painter is an artist-run gallery founded in 2008 by Tom McParland, Will Jarvis, and Harry Scoging Beer. The concept started with the three artists putting on exhibitions in underused spaces, the first being an old unused function room in a local pub, until graduating to its own standalone space.
Neighborhood restaurant the Peckham Refreshment Rooms is a consistent favorite, located on a 1930s block with an Art Deco Heritage. The menu focuses on local and artisanal produce (they reference three different cheese suppliers on their website). Slightly more upscale, Artusi is a newer Italian spot. They make fresh pasta every day and specialize in large, sociable sharing platters. We’re partial to the octopus with new potatoes and parsley, as well as the grilled romano beans with pancetta and parmesan.
All are accessible via the orange line of London’s Overground—making them easily accessible, and worth a visit when you’re in town.
For more on things to do in London, check out T+L's Guide to London.
Bridget Arsenault is the associate editor, print and digital at Vanity Fair UK. and the co-director of the Bright Young Things Film Club. She covers the U.K. beat for Travel + Leisure; follow her on Twitter at @bridget_ruth.