This post is part of my London Neighbourhood Guides series. Fancy visiting another area of London? Check out my other guides here, which all include information regarding the sights, history, charm, food and drinks of the area you’re curious about.
As I’ve mentioned previously, Hackney is vibrant. And while the Borough of Hackney has a distinct identity compared to the rest of London, it is huge and therefore each neighbourhood has its very own character. Clapton is on the eastern edge of the Borough and this is rather symbolic of what Clapton is like. It’s at the very edge of the gentrification that has swept Hackney. I read this Guardian article on moving to Clapton and there was quite an appropriate quote from a local:
Not as grimy as some of Hackney, nor as yummy mummy as Stoke Newington, it has the best of both worlds: a sense of community along with a slightly radical spirit.
It’s that radical spirit that perhaps distinguishes this part of Hackney from the rest. Homerton is similar to Clapton in that sense, but it’s also slightly quirky in its own right as well. Artsy, eclectic, cool, hip… Hackney’s east part has a lot going for it, so let me walk you through these cool kids on the block. The border of the Borough of Hackney is marked with a bold purple outline below, and the specific neighbourhoods of Clapton and Homerton are highlighted in purple.
Upper Clapton Road
I live on the boundary “dividing” (quotes because it’s not like there’s a wall) Stoke Newington and Clapton and absolutely love that I get the benefits of both neighbourhoods. Stoke Newington is like a quaint, mature village whereas Clapton is its rascally younger brother. Though it’s not too far from Dalston and Shoreditch, Clapton still maintains that off-the-beaten-path feel. Clapton has two main streets: Upper/Lower Clapton Road and Chatsworth Road. Upper Clapton Road is perhaps known as the less “nice” and “wrong” side of Clapton but that’s incredibly subjective. I live very close by and there are plenty of gems here that escape the lower end of Clapton.
Starting from the northern end, we have Sodo Pizza. Largely considered one of the pizza places in London, Sodo focuses on ingredients that are both good for you and good for the planet. They use what they call “heritage grains” from Buckinghamshire in their flour. They also use fior di latte mozzarella made fresh from local milk, meat reared in Yorkshire and veggies from growing communities and local gardens. Sodo loves to focus on seasonal produce so you’ll see a lot of fun specials!
Perhaps after a delicious pizza, you need a good drink too? The Crooked Billet is a wonder of a place. It has a huge garden that is normally not crowded but during sports events is absolutely insane. If you’re into that, then this pub is the right place. They offer a great selection of beers and also some British food favourites. There’s usually a food truck-like shack around offering some tasty grub too.
Further down the street is TRAM Store, a cafe that serves coffee and brunch. It joins the ever-growing list of converted East London warehouses. If you go through a small alleyway you’ll see a bunch of studios and more warehouses but tucked away in one of them is the Clapton Country Club. It hosts the most lovely Sunday Roast and I cannot recommend them enough.
Lower Clapton Road
Once you pass the Lea Bridge roundabout going south, Upper Clapton Road turns into Lower Clapton Road. Just before you continue down the road, you can veer off to Millfields Park. This is on your way to the River Lea, but the park itself is a lovely one to hang out in. Back onto Lower Clapton Road, you’ll run into Clapton Pond. Back in the days of yore, Clapton Pond was supplied by a natural spring. The water irrigated the land and supplied water to farmers for themselves and their animals. Today it is a lovely oasis in the middle of all the hubbub of the high street.
For some scrumptious pastries and bread, head to Casey’s, a deli that local produce, like chocolate from Land in Bethnal Green, bread from the Dusty Knuckle in Dalston, and honey from Walthamstow. As for the best coffee in town, that would have to be Lodestar.
There are some unique bars along Upper Clapton Road that are simply institutions in their own right. There’s the Clapton Hart and Biddle Bros. There is also the legendary rock dive bar called Blondies.
There are plenty of other stops along Lower Clapton Road, like Pages of Hackney, an adorable, independent bookshop.
Clapton’s Asia Food Scene
As far as restaurants go, Clapton is hard to beat! We are so lucky to have so many wonderful restaurants and in particular, there is a wonderful Asian restaurant scene going on here.
First, we have My Neighbours the Dumplings. This family-run Chinese dumpling house and Sake bar started as a pop-up and then opened its permanent spot in 2016. Their food is delicious, but my favourite aspect of the restaurant is actually the vibe. It’s a lot of fun to hang out in!
Uchi has been featured in articles with the headlines, “12 of London’s most Instagrammable restaurants”, “Where To Eat Out In Hackney”, and “London’s best sushi restaurants”. Indeed, Uchi is a prized feature of Clapton, serving delectable sushi, nigiri, and sashimi. While raw fish is of course the staple of sushi, my favourite pieces from Uchi are actually their veggie versions! They do veggie sushi combos like tempura broccoli + sesame carrot, miso aubergine + sweet potato, and shiso + daikon. They also do simple, veggie nigiri like sesame carrot and eryngii mushroom.
My favourite best-kept secret about Clapton is the Vietnamese restaurant, Hai Cafe. Victor and I discovered this during the holiday season of December 2019. We were looking for a place for dinner and had been turned away from several restaurants as we didn’t have a booking. We ran into this tiny place and it became one of our favourite places in all of Hackney. Hai Cafe holds a special place in my heart.
After pop-ups and residencies across town, Lucky & Joy finally settled down in Clapton in late 2019. It was started by two friends, one a chef and one a drinks expert, after they travelled around China. The menu is inspired by their travels, although the restaurant is very much a modern homage to Chinese restaurants (not literally one). It’s a fun, exciting restaurant to experience and savour.
There’s actually now a new Chinese restaurant called Three Bowls. I have yet to try it, but it has amazing reviews and the menu looks amazing!
More than a decade ago, the main artery through Clapton, Chatsworth Road, was one of the roughest areas in London. And while the effects of gentrification are complicated and often negative, the new Sunday Market helped make the area safer and more focused on community. The road hosts its Sunday Market from 11am to 4pm every Sunday.
Chatsworth Road is one of London’s longest high streets, so there’s so much to discover. All along the road are tons of cute cafes, independent shops and everything else. There’s 46b Espresso Hut, a tiny cafe offering coffee (of course), home-baked goods, pastries and, of all things, Greek pies! There’s also the Castle Cinema, an independent, crowdfunded, community cinema.
South of Clapton is Homerton, which has been a neighbourhood for a long, long time. In medieval times the area was mostly rural with lots of crops being grown there. Sheep and cattle roamed today’s parks, and fruits and vegetables were grown for London markets. It turns out Homerton had actually become quite the desirable suburb during the Tudor period. Many estates and grand houses were formed from former lands of the Order of the Knights Templar. King Henry II had originally granted the Templars land across England. Once the Pope disbanded the Order in 1312 for heresy, the lands were given to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, otherwise known as the Knights Hospitaller.
One such grand house is Sutton House, located on Homerton High Street. The house was built in 1535 and is the oldest surviving building in Hackney.
Of course, most of Homerton looks quite a bit different today. It has plenty of cafes, pubs, and food places.
Nearby is Dark Arts, my favourite coffee roaster in London. They’re actually tucked away in a little alley off of the High Street, but I promise you that drifting off the main course to visit them is totally worth it.
There are a couple of great pubs in Homerton, including The Adam and Eve and The Spread Eagle. The former serves classic British fare and has a beer garden and pool table, while the latter is London’s first 100% vegan pub.
The first-ever branch of Yard Sale Pizza is located in Clapton, which is takeaway only, but you can order delivery to the Chesham Arms in Homerton. Yard Sale have taken northeast London by storm, and are now spreading elsewhere in London. They follow typical Neapolitan-style techniques however they have definitely spiced things up a bit. They also love to do collaborations, so check out their menu often!
As for the pub, it’s a lovely community pub and is always a good time on Friday and Saturday nights. There was a lengthy battle to save the pub after it closed on 4 October 2012 and was sold to Mukund Patel who wanted to turn the building into flats. In 2014, Hackney Council granted the pub “Asset of Community Value” status, after the owner continued with plans to turn part of the building into a flat without planning permission. Following a two-year legal battle by the Save The Chesham group, a lease to refurbish the pub was secured and it reopened in June 2015.
Six months after reopening, 1,600 members of the Campaign for Real Ale voted it the best pub in the City and East London Area. I mean, doesn’t it make you love this pub even more?
And that’s a wrap! Clapton and Homerton are wonderful neighbourhoods, and lots of wonderful, hip places are popping up in the area all the time. I can’t wait to see how it will grow and flourish, and become even more exciting over the years to come.
More Hackney neighbourhood guides are on the way, stay tuned!