Whether outside the stadium or in surrounding Hackney and Stratford, London’s Olympic Park area offers some fantastic affordable restaurants, cafes and delis
The Counter, Hackney
Around Hackney Wick station, there is a warren of run-down warehouses and light industrial units, many of which have been colonised by London‘s creatives. Like the nearby Hackney Pearl – listed in a previous budget eating guide to east London, – the Counter ensures that these talented young folk are fed and watered in some style. Located in the Stour Space art gallery, on the Lee Navigation canal, literally in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium, the Counter is a cool, rough ‘n’ ready space, the soundtrack, on this visit, minimal techno and Berlin electro. The Stone Roses’ Ian Brown, the subject of a large portrait photograph on one wall, looks down on proceedings, impassively.
If that makes the Counter sound painfully trendy, it isn’t. It is comfortable in its own skin. Staff and regular customers exude a friendly, breezy conviviality. The daytime menu focuses on homemade pies (pork, apple and fennel or Moroccan lamb and aubergine) and eggy brunch dishes for late-rising local musicians and artists. A plate of Mumbai scrambled eggs was a great heap of spicy curds and onions, over zingy fresh watercress and real artisan bread, served with a pointed tomato relish.
If you want to take in the view of the Olympic Stadium in rather swankier surroundings, you could go next door to Forman’s, pictured, (Stour Road, Fish Island E3, 020-8525 2365, formans.co.uk) a new-ish bar and restaurant from H Forman & Son, who have been smoking salmon locally since 1905. However, I was disappointed when I tested its weekend brunch menu. A lame cappuccino and a plate of eggs, so-so Hollandaise and hot-smoked salmon that, while it had good flavour, also had an oddly dry texture, and felt expensive at £10.25. If you still want to give it a try, while watching the pennies (the evening menu is too expensive), the sharing platters of cured meat, fish and cheese (£15 for two people), served in the bar, are probably your best bet. The view is unquestionably impressive.
• 7 Roach Road E3, 07834 275920, thecountercafe.co.uk
King Edward VII, Stratford
King Edward Vll, Stratford, London
With its etched glass panes, dark wooden panelling and brown Anaglypta ceiling, this Grade II-listed pub cleaves to its 19th-century roots. The King Eddie offers a little whiff of Victorian London in the heart of Stratford. Of course, the food is more up to date. The menu offers modern gastropub staples across a mixture of small, large and sharing plates. There are a couple of mains and specials (eg, sausage and mash, chicken pie, mash and vegetables) at under £10, but a group of budget travellers could mix and match the cured meat platter, chicken liver pate with gherkins and toast, the scotch egg or the fig and goat’s cheese salad, and still try one of pub’s four real ales (half pint from £1.65) if they want to bring the food in at under a tenner each. A sample mini fish pie was perhaps a shade toppy at £9, but it had good flavour, the sauce carrying a nice wholegrain mustard tang. With the accompanying bread rolls, it made for a filling lunch. Talking of which, the King Eddie does a £6.50 soup-and-sandwich deal, at lunchtime.
• 47 Broadway E15, 020-8534 2313, kingeddie.co.uk
Londek Cafe, Stratford
Photograph: Courtesy ofKake Pugh/flickr
This neat, modern Polish cafe prides itself on its honest, home-cooked food. Prices are low, portions huge, tables busy. A sample plate ofplacek po zbójnicku (an enormous fried potato cake slathered in pork and gravy) needed a side-order of creamed red cabbage to cut through all that rib-sticking stodge, but it was certainly tasty. The menu includes staple Polish dishes such as stuffed pierogi (dumplings), beef goulash and bigos (sauerkraut stew), as well as more challenging options such as flaki (tripe soup). It is highly unlikely, but should you still be hungry after all that, Londek also has a cake-counter crammed with thick, colourful slabs of creamy patisserie (£2).
• Mains from £5.50. 198 The Grove E15, 020-8270 0063. Open until 10pm daily, takeaway available
Photograph: Rod Lewis
D’Gaf is a curious concept: a bar, all-day restaurant and performance space that doesn’t serve alcohol. Instead, it aims to foster community, friendship and conversation over mocktails, shisha and its competitively-priced global menu. The entrance is dominated by a rather grand, dark wood bar. Beyond that, you’ll find the dining section, the tables smartly dressed with white linens. Muted lighting and obliging service adding to its cosy, clubbable feel. On this visit, by way of background noise, several large flat-screen TVs were showing some old YouTube footage of Grover Washington Jnr in full-flight.
The diverse menu, which takes in everything from tagines to lasagne, may sound alarm bells among clued-up diners, but in reality, at these prices it delivered. The presentation needs work but, more importantly, the flavours were there. The kebabs were juicy and packed with fresh herbs and chillies. A bowl of shorba, a north African tomato, chickpea and lamb soup, had decent depth of flavour. Drinks (from £1.60) range from Middle Eastern teas and Fentiman’s traditional soft drinks to Carl Jung’s alcohol-free wines.
• Light bites from £3.50, mains from £7.95. 11 Leytonstone Road E15, 020-7366 3666, d-gaf.co.uk
To get to this south Indian curry house, from Stratford, you either need to walk – it’ll take about 30 minutes – or catch the 257 bus up Leytonstone High Road. It is well worth the effort. Where the typical British curry menu is all meat, heat and heavy sauces, south Indian cooking offers something much lighter. The emphasis, at Mudra, as at other south Indian specialists, is on the sensitive application of fresh spices, mustard seeds and curry leaves to draw out rounded, delicate flavours. A dosa was, perhaps, a shade greasier than it should have been, but the mutton and potato filling, like the accompanying okra and courgette curry, was long on warm, complex flavours. A tiny pot of coconut chutney was, likewise, remarkably clean and fresh. £6 for such skilled cooking? It’s a bargain.
• Starters from £2.75, mains from £4. 715 High Road Leytonstone E11, 020-8539 1700, swadrestaurant.com
Westfield, Stratford City
Pasta Remoli’s in Westfield, Stratford City
There isn’t space here to reprise the arguments for and against enormous shopping malls. But if you are hunting for cheap eats near the stadium, Westfield does contain several noteworthy venues. The primary draw is the third branch of Franco Manca, the mini-chain bringing authentic wood-burning brick ovens, sourdough bases and seriously good Neapolitan-style pizza to London (from £4.50, first floor, World Food Court, 020-8522 6669, francomanca.co.uk). Other credible, affordable operators onsite include Wahaca (burritos from £6.40, ground floor, Chestnut Plaza, 020-3288 1025, wahaca.com) andBusaba Eathai (mains from £5.50, ground floor, Chestnut Plaza, 020-8221 8989, busaba.com). Down in the Great Eastern Market, PastaRemoli’s fresh, handmade pastas and sauces (eg, oxtail agnolotti) look enticing (mains from £7, 020-8555 9149, pastaremoli.co.uk).
Finish with a drink at brewpub, Tap East (lower ground floor, Great Eastern Market 020-8555 4467, tapeast.co.uk). Despite the visible copper tuns and all its rugged wooden planking, it has that slightly plastic, stage-set feel, inevitable in a shopping centre. But what Tap East lacks in authenticity, it makes up for in good beer. A spin-off from Borough Market craft beer hub, the Rake, it carries 16 draught beers and more than 100 bottles. If Westfield has sapped your will to live, a bottle of London brewery Kernel’s flamboyant Columbus Summit IPA (£4) will restore your faith in humanity.
• Montfichet Road, Olympic Park E20, 020-8221 7300,uk.westfield.com/stratfordcity
Dalston Farm Shop, Dalston
Just minutes away from Hackney Wick or Stratford by train, Dalston Farm Shop is the diametric opposite of Westfield. An experiment in urban living, it is an indoor farm created in an old shop unit. There are herbs, vegetables and salad leaves budding, under special lights, on every available surface, alongside large tanks of tilapia fish which, as they grow, filter the water for DFS’s self-contained irrigation system.
A cafe uses this produce, as well as ingredients from like-minded local growers, to produce a simple menu of sandwiches (using excellent sourdough bread), tasty, rustic soups, for example squash and red cabbage, and specials such as homemade pork pie and salad. There are also creditable cakes by various local bakers. The cafe has a slightly ramshackle, thrown-together feel and, while the service is friendly, staffing is limited, so you may have to queue for a few minutes. But who wants slick efficiency, right? This is a fascinating place. Have a look around. Explore a little. Or, while you wait, flick through the latest issue of The Jellied Eel, « London’s magazine for ethical eating ».
• Snack meals £3.50-£4.50. 20 Dalston Lane E8, 07736 002006,farmlondon.weebly.com
Photograph: Brian Ferry
It would be easy to sneer at Railroad. With its Square Mile coffee, Kernel Brewery beers, tiny radical bookshop and basement arts space, it seems custom-built to appeal to that much derided figure: the east London hipster. The only problem is, Railroad is very good. If this place is cool, it is cool at that point where cool bleeds into the valuing of authenticity and traditional craft skills. Which will never go out of fashion. It’s a breakfast or lunch-only destination for the budget traveller – in the evening main dishes start at £11 – but the food shines all-day.
From a short lunch menu – which included a cauliflower, coriander and yoghurt soup, and grilled chicken salad with tahini and dill potatoes – a spiced pork Vietnamese sandwich positively shuddered with flavour. The ground pork was moist and comfortingly savoury, the pickled vegetables a nerve-jangling alarum of sweet, sharp attitude. The bread was more baguette than light Vietnamese banh mi, but that hardly mattered. A flat white (£2.20) was the best coffee I’ve had in a long time. In theory, applying correctly textured milk to a properly dosed espresso is a simple task. But it is rarely done well and, boy, do you notice when it is. This was coffee as a smooth, serious mouthful. It was served, but of course, in hand-thrown 1970s pottery.
• Breakfast dishes from £3.90-£5.90, lunch dishes from £4.80-£9.60. 120-122 Morning Lane E9, 020-8985 2858, railroadhackney.co.uk
Photograph: Ben Roberts
This Vietnamese canteen near Victoria Park is a real boon for the budget traveller. At lunchtime and early evening you can grab one or two courses for £5.50 or £6.95, including tea or a glass of homemade lemonade. In the evening, the vast majority of the main courses come in well under £10. At those prices, the food is good value, rather than outright brilliant. The base broth in a bowl of bun hue didn’t offer the greatest depth of flavour, but it was fresh, fragrant, and packed with herbs, beef, noodles and pak choi. And a surface slick of chilli oil gave it a cough-fit-inducing kick. Staff are notably chatty. The room itself is nicely understated, a minimalist space in which quiet design details give it a certain stylish character.
• Mains from £6.90. 178 Victoria Park Road E9, 020-8533 0639,namo.co.uk. Second branch in Shoreditch
The Deli Downstairs, Victoria Park
If Vietnamese doesn’t take your fancy, why not picnic in Victoria Park? Around the Victoria Park/Lauriston Road junction, you can pick up sensational, forearm-sized hot sausage rolls (£3), enormous scotch eggs and proper pies at upmarket butcher, The Ginger Pig (99 Lauriston Road E9, 020-8986 6911, thegingerpig.co.uk). Across the junction, in The Deli Downstairs (211 Victoria Park Road, Victoria Park Village, 020-8533 5006, thedelidownstairs.co.uk), you can choose between interesting rice and lentil salads, gorgeous cakes and seriously good homemade savoury tarts. A sample piece of ham, endive and red onion tart (£2.25) was a very sophisticated bit of baking, the sweetness of the ham and the vegetal bitterness of the endive working very well.
The deli also sells Eat My Pies‘ ham and chicken creation, a winner at the British Street Food Awards. For £2.95, you get a slice that you could use to wedge open a barn door. Unsurprisingly, it tastes great, too: the rich pastry nicely larded, the jelly used in the right ratio, the ham coming apart in great fibrous, piggy strands.
Alternatively, you could also take out fish and chips (£5.25) from Fish House (126-128 Lauriston Road E9, 020-8533 3327, fishouse.co.uk) or a 12-inch pizza from the well-regarded Sardinian deli, cafe and restaurant, Su Sazzagoni (all £7.50, 136 Lauriston Road E9, 020-8985 8448, susazzagoni.com). The deli sells wine and beers from the key London craft brewers (Kernel, Meantime, Red Church), as does Bottle Apostle (95 Lauriston Road, 020-8985 1549, bottleapostle.com) on the other side of this very foodie road.