Why East London is the Best Place in Europe to be Vegan

2019 Update: Unfortunately some of the places mentioned in this guide have sadly closed. The two dedicated vegan markets have stopped operating but many of the trader mentioned have stalls elsewhere across London. Dough Society had some venue issues so had to close (I will never get over this), and whilst Biff’s Jack Shack no longer provide food at the Haunt they have a regular stall at Broadway Market and a permanent location at Boxpark in Shoreditch.

I grew up in London and eventually moved to Hackney in 2011 and it’s fair to say that things around here have changed quite a bit since then.

I’ve always known it as a place where alternative cultures and left-wing ways of thinking have flourished and been celebrated and the vegan movement has had good support here for a number of years, thanks to long standing institutions such as Gallery Cafe and the now sadly closed Pogo Cafe. It’s therefore no great surprise that it’s now becoming one of the most vegan friendly places in the whole of Europe.

Particularly in the last two years, there’s been an exponential growth in the number of restaurants, bars, pubs and markets providing cruelty-free menus. And while, on the one hand, of course, I’m fully supportive of the vegan food movement, I also acknowledge that the arguments around hipsterdom and gentrification that make some very critical of Hackney in particular. Because let’s be honest, this is a market that says it’s ok to pay over £6 for a sandwich, and in area like Hackney that has such high levels of income inequality, that’s understandably alienating.

The Gallery Cafe in Bethnal Green

However, there is something incredibly positive about the vegan scene in East London which I value very much. There’s a real sense of community here which is trying really hard to be as welcoming and un-alienating as possible. There’s still a reliance on pop up kitchens and markets to a huge degree, and there’s a impression of ethical entrepreneurship, of people ploughing their hearts and souls (and savings) into creative excellent quality vegan food rather than simply following a trend or doing it to get rich.

So with that in mind, here are my top tips for vegan produce, food & drink in and around Hackney.

Vegan Produce & Groceries

For the vegan in a bind, the vast majority of corner shops & supermarkets across Hackney will stock a pretty good selection of food, so there is very little reason to go without here. Some of my favourites, and those which have a wider range including vegan meats, cheeses, ice creams, and basically pretty much anything you could want include Harvest E8 in Dalston, which also has a great selection of vegan and gluten-free cakes, and Hackney Fresh and Grains & Greens, both on Mare Street.

Hackney Fresh on Mare Street

Healthy Stuff, near Hackney Downs station, is a wonderful tiny little shop selling a limited selection of organic and free-from produce, whilst also operating as a small coffee shop. There’s usually a couple of vegan baked goods available, either to eat in or takeaway. For fresh, local, seasonal veg, then there is nowhere better than Stoke Newington Farmers’ Market, which sells organic produce direct from UK based growers. There are a few other supporting food stalls here, including bakeries, and an excellent mushroom stall, though not everything is vegan.

The market is run by Growing Communities, which is an excellent community-led charity in the borough that encourages sustainable food systems. As well as the market, which runs every Saturday, they also operate a weekly veg & fruit bag scheme, with pick up points across Hackney. We’ve been getting a weekly veg bag for a couple of years now and it’s a wonderful scheme that must be encouraged.

Stoke Newington Farmers’ Market

Broadway Market is known as being a bit of a foodie destination, but in reality it’s always seemed to me just to be a place where you could buy really expensive pulled pork and salt beef sandwiches (if you were so inclined). Thankfully, more recently, the market has started to accommodate a few more vegan friendly options in addition to the actual vegan market next door (see “Markets & Events” below), and I was amazed last week to discover that I Am Nut Ok now has a regular stall there, where you can pick up their absolutely mind-blowing nut-based cheeses. There’s also great sourdough baguettes available from Pavilion bakery, plus a good selection of small grocery shops which sell vegan sausages, cheeses and tofu based products. If you enjoy wine (and if not then why not) then you must also pay a visit to Noble to pick up a bottle of organic or unfiltered grog.

Vegan cheeses from I Am Nut OK

Vegan Markets & Events

Made in Hackney is a charity that promotes healthy & affordable food. They don’t have a permanent location (or any regular fixtures) but occasionally hold cooking classes and events that are very vegan friendly, such as vegan cheese, vegan cooking for beginners, homemade cosmetics and preserving & fermentation. Events and masterclasses cross-fund their community work and outreach programme.

The Double Kimchi Burger from Eat Chat at Broadway Vegan Market

Amazingly, Hackney has two weekly vegan markets – Broadway Vegan Market and Hackney Downs Vegan Market. Traders vary weekly and can be similar across the two, so it’s worth checking the websites weekly to see who’ll be around. Hackney Downs is the busier of the two and has more of a holistic feel, with vegan cheeses, nut butters and sauces on sale alongside the street food stalls. Our favourite traders (we’ve not yet managed to try everything!) include:

There’s also a monthly(ish) event called Vegan Nights which takes place at The Boiler House on Brick Lane. Expect more of the same traders but with djs and more alcohol. This one is ticketed. The Boiler House usually has a couple of vendors at the weekend too (this is where my favourites Temple of Hackney and Dough Society got started) including, if you’re lucky, the amazing Pomodoro e Basilico.

Vegan Restaurants and Cafes

For non-breakfast meals, the general theme in Hackney is that dining has a more casual feel, with cafe style venues a lot more prolific than a fancy sit down dinner. The overly pretentious and preachy doesn’t have much of a place in the vegan scene here, which is what I love so much about it.

Brunch is a big thing in Hackney (and rightly so), but the number of vegan outlets offering a good weekend brunch are surprisingly limited. My absolute favourite spot is I Will Kill Again, which operates Thursday-Sunday out of the Dark Arts Coffee roastery in between Hackney Central & Homerton stations. The (omni) brunch menu is spectacular, with amazingly creative twists on brunch staples. The coffee is also, unsurprisingly, excellent, and there’s a good selection of vegan cakes and brownies as well.

Black Cat Cafe (on the site of Pogo Cafe aka the original Hackney vegan cafe) serves probably the best vegan full english in London. This is good no-frills stuff, all excellent value, and served up by a team of super friendly staff and volunteers.

My other favourite Hackney breakfast is a plate of donuts from Dough Society (though these bad boys are huge so one is probably enough *sadface*). These guys have just moved into a bricks-and-mortar store right in the middle of Hackney and I made a habit of visiting it weekly for a short while because I couldn’t get over how great their Samoan donut is. It really is exceptional. They also have a selection of sandwiches and toasties alongside a small brunch menu, and serve great coffee too.

Amazing jackfruit wings from Biff’s Jack Shack

For dirty junk food, the only place to visit is Biff’s Jack Shack at The Haunt in Stoke Newington. Here you can get the absolute dirtiest burgers made with jackfruit patties, plus a great selection of equally dirty sides including vegan poutine (!!!!!). However the best thing on the menu here is the signature jackfruit wings, which are crispy on the outside, soft and juicy on the in, and come in 3 or so different flavour options. Treat yourself and order at least one of each.

Biff’s Jack Shack also make appearances at markets across London, so check their website for updates on their current locations. As of October 2018 Biff’s has moved from The Haunt and will soon be opening a permanent location at Boxpark in Shoreditch.

Other excellent places for a quick dirty snack include What The Pitta for amazing vegan doner, baklava and halloumi fries, Temple of Hackney for world famous vegan fried chicken and Voodoo Rays for their amazing Queen Vegan pizza on the best crispy base you’ve ever had.

Chicken Bacon Cheese Burger from Temple of Hackney

There are also some good, slightly more formal, sit down dinner options too. Stoke Newington institution Rasa has been serving excellent South Indian pure vegetarian cuisine for as long as I can remember. Some dishes contain dairy but the staff are incredibly knowledgable about veganism and will happily direct you through the menu.

Just next to Regent’s Canal by London Fields is a wonderfully cute little cafe called The Hive of Vyner St. This place is omni, but they have a couple of really good quality vegan options including desserts on the menu that are very reasonably priced, as well as some delicious freshly pressed juices, cold brew coffee and natural unfiltered wines. However what makes this place truly special is the super chilled out atmosphere, which is something that’s increasingly rare in this part of London. I’m genuinely surprised each time we visit that this place isn’t rammed, but also kinda chuffed that it isn’t.

Chicken and Waffles at The Spread Eagle

Saving the best for last, would any summary of East London vegan options be complete without a full on celebration of the best food in London aka The Spread Eagle in Homerton? Opened in early 2018, this all vegan pub serves food by the amazing Club Mexicana each weekend and is already pretty much rammed every night. We’ve been three times so far and I get menu greed every time and as a result we’ve never made it to dessert. Everything on offer here is spectacular, from the very succulent vegan chicken wings to the amazingly gooey deep fried cheese. Absolutely top of the list though are the tacos, particularly the tofish, which has the most amazing texture. What I love most is that all of the Mexican-inspired food here tastes fresh – there’s nothing heavy or claggy, no bog standard vegan chilli that tastes a little too earthy, but instead a riot of lime and coriander and chilli set off with fresh pickles and creamy salsa verde. I have absolutely no idea what magic these guys are throwing around in that kitchen, but I’m so very grateful that they’re doing it here.

In writing this list, it was pretty obvious that I could have gone on for a while yet. Even better, the number of vegan options in East London is increasing on a weekly basis, which meant that editing my thesis to a manageable post was pretty challenging!

It’s also worth stating that the bar has been set incredibly high and if I’ve not mentioned somewhere it doesn’t mean that it’s not good, there’s just such a ridiculous number of amazing options available that some had to not make the cut. If I’ve missed anywhere off the list that you think deserves to be included then please do let me know! Otherwise, enjoy eating!

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