Last Updated on September 8, 2021
East London living at its best – Barge East
I love eating by the water and, luckily for me, the last few years have seen an explosion in waterside dining for Londoners. Hackney Wick’s River Lee Navigation Canal is one of the most recent areas to bring new gastronomic opportunities to those of us hungry for a river view to accompany our cocktails and canapés. So, it was great to be asked to review Barge East, a bar and restaurant on a 118-year-old converted Dutch goods barge that is berthed on the River Lee. Close to Hackney Wick station, Barge East is situated in what is fast becoming a buzzing new foodie destination, with Michelin-starred fish restaurant Cornerstone and zero waste pioneers Silo both close by.
Barge East has already won many plaudits (Rated London’s #1 Restaurant 2019 – 2020 and Travellers’ Choice 2021 by Tripadvisor and currently nominated for 3 prestigious Catey awards) but I’m intrigued to see if a galley-sized kitchen can really deliver. There is also. a largish outdoor dining spot and bar called Barge East Gardens on the river bank that serves a variety of good-looking street food and burgers and more about that later. But the barge itself is where the serious food action is happening.
You can eat inside below deck, but it’s the on-deck seating that gives you views of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium, either on the canopy-covered ‘Middle Deck’ or on the slightly more private ‘Captain’s Cabin’. It’s all a bit rough-hewn but that’s part of the charm and adds to the rusticity of the experience.
In charge of the kitchen is chef Stefano Campiano. Stefano has a CV that includes über-chef Simon Rogan’s 2 Michelin-starred l’Enclume. Like his Lake-District based mentor, Stefano uses produce for the Barge East menus grown at an on-site vegetable garden that produces 37 different types of herbs, fruits and vegetables including artichokes, black Tuscan courgettes, rhubarb, lovage, Comice pears, nasturtiums and more.
While we checked out the set menu (snack, starter, main and dessert with 3 choices at each course) we tried the Garden Cocktail – a blend of gin, sorrel syrup, lemon juice, egg white and Prosecco. It’s zingy and refreshing and not too sweet – really a gin fizz with a slight vegetal taste. And just in case you were worried about getting cold there are plenty of electric heaters to keep you warm and to add a red tinge to our photos!
The snack was a playful tomato and tofu cigar. The interior had a creamy tofu and tomato filling with the intense, chewy exterior being made with the residue from a tomato concasse mixed with sugar and vinegar.
We moved onto a bottle of Six Poets Chardonnay, a Californian vegan white with bucket loads of oak, vanilla and apple flavours.
Our first starter was a delicious plate of barbecued cuttlefish with a spiced cuttlefish Rillette, and a Moroccan-spiced broad bean and roast pepper salad. The fish was properly seared and had plenty of flavour, perfectly complemented by the salad ingredients. And who knew that Burrata was now made in the Big Smoke? In fact, some pundits think it is superior to the original Puglian version combining the quality of UK milk with the inherent freshness of a local product. This dish featured a super-creamy London Burrata with the crisp sweetness of Cantaloupe melon, pickled chilli, Chinese chives and a tangy in-house sourdough.
The seared pork neck was tender, juicy and full-flavoured. It came with a beautiful jus, sweet apricot purée, crunchy Calabrian tropea onion, and some sultry smokey chard.
Perfectly cooked pan-fried pollock was. served with a wedge of grilled hispi cabbage. An intense crab bisque sauce added flavour.
Side dishes can so often be an afterthought but at Barge East they were spectacular. A. side salad came featured wonderfully fresh leaves. from the Barge East Garden coated in a plum and mustard dressing. Skin-on fried baby Jersey potatoes were cooked with black garlic and were so full of flavour I couldn’t stop eating them! But the standout dish was a plate of charred grilled leeks topped with lovage and with the salty crunch of pork crackling.
For dessert, we had a burnt honey diplomat, the moulded pudding sitting in a peach compote and topped with gorgeous fermented elderflower honey from Bermondsey. And, with another nod to the Cumbrian connection, we loved the unpasteurised, ewe’s milk. St James cheese with its cucumber chutney and seeded cracker.
A couple of Espresso martinis were a lethal finish to the evening!
There is something excitingly innovative and democratic going on at Barge East. The food is a gutsier take on the Rogan style with the ingredients reflecting the price point. But for creative cooking in an original setting, the set menu has to be amongst the best value in London. With a development chef on board, there is a new dish added to the menu every 2 weeks so I will be returning soon (it’s open through the winter) to see how things are developing. On Saturdays, Barge East offers a 2 or 3 course set lunch menu and on Sunday there’s a roast dinner so there’s really no excuse not to jump on the train to Hackney Wick.
And, the latest news is that their outdoor dining spot Barge East Gardens – https://www.bargeeast.com/gardens – is offering 50% off all food Mon-Weds in September. There will be street food from their own Street Kitchen or flatbreads from The Flatbread Society. Take your pick from smoked haddock; bacon & apple ketchup; Nduja & burrata and more. It seems like an unmissable offer to me! Let’s hope the sun shines…
Barge East Restaurant
White Post Lane,
East London, E9 5EN
Looking for something on land? How about The Buxton – a gastropub near Brick Lane serving a sustainable, local menu of delicious food.