Stoke Newington’s fame as one of the hippest areas of London’s East End doesn’t seem to be fading. While a bustling nightlife crawls along its non-showy streets, a visit before dusk can explore outdoor attractions, quirky shops, community markets and art galleries.
Located in the north-west corner of Hackney, Stoke Newington has been recently dragged into the rapidly expanding makeover of the East End. Nevertheless, gentrification hasn’t erased the village-like character which distinguishes “Stokey” – as it is known locally – from the typical London urban landscape.
Such character is particularly evident along Church Street, where the original hamlet developed. At its west end, the Neo-Egyptian gates mark the entrance to Abney Park, home to one of the “Magnificent Seven” London cemeteries. Past the gates, the inscriptions of ancient gravestones accompany the visitor through wide avenues and narrow paths, alongside memorials, monuments and, in the middle of the park, the Gothic chapel.
As a former arboretum, Abney Park’s wildlife is unusually rich for such a central location, and the activities available to visitors include woodworking, stone carving and regular free guided tours. A series of evocative audio guides can also be played from any internet-connected device to explore the mysteries and magic of the cemetery (see www.abneyrambles.com).
Not far from the cemetery, Clissold Park is the other major outdoor attraction of the area, featuring a paddling pool, various playgrounds and a deer enclosure. Next to the park, the original core of the ancient parish of Stoke Newington is marked by the Town Hall, St. Mary’s Church and the Old Church (today an arts and community space).
While walking down Church Street keep an eye out for banners indicating food fairs and street markets, with the monthly Hackney Flea Market and the all-organic Farmers’ Market standing out as two of the most awaited happenings for the local community. The car boot sale hosted every Saturday and Sunday at Princess May School is another popular outlet for vintage, retro and second-hand goods.
The main market of the area, however, is the one that has been located in Ridley Road since the late 19th century. From Monday to Saturday, over 150 stalls fill the road selling food, clothing and household goods, as the warm and community-driven atmosphere moves to the beat of the reggae music coming from the stalls.
Starting from the Overground stations of Dalston, Kingsland High Street (then Stoke Newington Road) is the other, busier main road of the neighbourhood, with no shortage of vintage shops and art galleries. Look for Beyond Retro for an example of the former category, or head towards the Hang-Up Gallery to find a contemporary art space specialising in Bansky prints.
At this point of the tour the plethora of eateries overlooking the streets is unlikely to have gone unnoticed, and the mix of established communities and more recent generations of global residents makes the the range of options considerably wide. Hence, there’s little left to do other than pick one of the many Turkish diners, hipster cafés, Mediterranean fusion restaurants or Jewish bakeries churning out bagels at any time of the day.
By night, the choice of cocktail bars, pubs and clubs is just as pampering. Birthdays, The Nest and The Moustache Bar are among the most popular venues, featuring rich programmes of DJ sets and live gigs, but the best way to find one’s way around is by following the crowds gathered here and there along Kingsland High Street.
Restaurants & Bars
Escocesa(67 Stoke Newington Church Street) crossbreeds Spanish produce with fresh Scottish seafood, delivering a refined take on Iberian classics coupled with reasonable prices and an easy-going approach. Mirroring the crew’s varied backgrounds, the menu derives influence from every corner of Spain, from Galician octopus to crema catalana via Valencian paella (served only on weekends). The drinks list also has a strong Spanish accent, cadenced by an intriguing selection of wines, sherries and liquors. At brunch, try agua de Valencia if a dear old bloody mary feels too ordinary.
Stoke Newington Road teems with kebab shops, Turkish grills and trendy fusions with other Mediterranean cuisines. Named after a bird said to taste delicious, Cirrik (34 Stoke Newington Road) values tradition over new trends, its menu featuring classics like halloumi cheese, casseroles, shish kebab, falafel and grilled vegetables dressed with traditional sauces. According to the story behind the restaurant’s name, it is rumoured that the chefs will even cook a cirrik bird free of charge for the customer who happens to have one at hand (too bad such bird is to be found mainly in south-eastern Turkey).
At The Haberdashery (170 Stoke Newington High Street), food is served on mismatched dishes and vintage breadpots, coffee bowls are stacked on the espresso machine and the wall is decorated with Victorian fireplace tiles. It all adds up to an award-winning charming café serving countless breakfast options, sandwiches, salads and soups. A broad selection of soft and alcoholic drinks is also on the menu, with the alluring list of juices bound to draw attention. In good weather, the little back yard is not to be missed.
Regarded by many as the best cocktail bar around, Ruby’s (76 Stoke Newington Road) is a drinking den shielded from the hubbub of the main road, set in a subterranean, intimate and friendly atmosphere. In addition to the classics, the menu features seasonal cocktails which change every three months, although the inventiveness of the recipes remains unaltered. In addition to cocktails, the good selection of wines and beers makes for a good alternative. On top of that, Ruby’s lounge hosts live music and disco nights.
Five years since opening, Nook (153 Stoke Newington Church Street) has become one of the must-visit concept shops in London. Furniture, accessories, stationery, stoneware and plants provide a wealth of original ideas to liven up interior and outdoor spaces. The items thoughtfully arranged on Nook’s shelves are sourced from all over the world, with a keen focus on design and longevity.
Fee Fee La Fou HQ (6 Bradbury Street) is the outpost of an independent art collective inspired by all things circus, from Pinocchio’s Toyland to the legendary bearded lady. The antithesis of a high street gift shop, this concept boutique resembles a funfair, driven by creativity and curiosity. Step inside to find circus-themed accessories and stationery, original art, limited edition prints, bespoke furniture, custom jewellery and more. There’ll also be a chance to meet Fee Fee La Fou in person, naturally the ringmaster of the show.
Pushchairs are a common sight around Stoke Newington. Such demand requires a trusted children’s store like Olive Loves Alfie (84 Stoke Newington Church Street). An independent retailer, it was founded in 2006 “to challenge the traditional view of boy-and-girl style and play”. Innovative gift ideas and inspirations for the little ones of the family can be found among the responsibly-sourced products on display, which include Scandinavian childrenswear, toys, games, books and homewares. In 2015, Olive Loves Alfie was recognised as the “Best Established Children’s UK Independent Retailer”.
Upon opening in 2010, Pelicans And Parrots (40 Stoke Newington Road) was said to be the “first proper shop” in the area. It is better described as a “mixture of classic tailored and trend-aware vintage fashion, furniture and interiors”. Products are sourced from antique fairs and markets across the UK, Europe and the US, while 90% of the vintage clothes come from Italy. Disinterested in sticking to traditional categories, the online shop also sells uncouth objects like an armour glove and a taxidermy bird, which is one more reason to go nosing around in person.