The SL Guide To Stratford

Thanks to a multibillion-pound development sparked by the 2012 Olympics, Stratford has transformed itself into an East London hotspot. Home to destination restaurants, luxury hotels and fun bars, it’s also easy to get to. Here’s everything that makes it worth a visit…
By Sherri Andrew /
The Gantry

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK

Whether you’re after a romantic meal for two or a fun evening with the girls, Allegra is one of our favourite spots out east. On the 7th floor of Manhattan Loft Gardens (at the top of The Stratford hotel), it’s won several awards for its contemporary European dishes created by head chef Patrick Powell. Diners can sit on the terrace – one of the capital’s best hidden rooftop spots – or in the main restaurant to try dishes like Jerusalem artichokes with confit egg, clementine and truffle; barbecued quail with romesco sauce; and pollock with kohlrabi and citrus curry oil. The restaurant also offers a seven-course tasting menu on Wednesdays for just £55. Dishes change weekly, so there’s always something exciting on offer.

A short walk away, Haugen opened its door just over a year ago. Overlooking the Olympic Park, the alpine-inspired restaurant and bar has a terrace with faux fur throws and heaters, as well as an après ski-style rooftop bar which serves up cocktails, glühwein and schnapps. Dishes include ‘Mountain Fondue’ served with sourdough, new potatoes and pickles; tartiflette; and schnitzel with warm potato salad and lingonberries. Choose from desserts like a signature chocolate fondue with marshmallows, fresh strawberries and honeycomb for dipping, and apple strudel or ‘Schwarzwälder’ cherry sorbet.

Towards the recently developed East Village, The Gantry is Stratford’s newest hotel. One of its main draws is Union Social, an all-day dining restaurant and bar with a huge wraparound terrace. A stylish spot for post-work dinner and drinks, there’s an eclectic menu inspired by world cuisines – think salads and small Italian plates followed by burgers, risottos and seafood dishes. There’s a great kids’ menu, plus an ‘ABBA set menu’ for guests heading to the nearby ABBA Voyage experience. For tasty dumplings, visit the hotel’s new pop-up from Mama Chen’s where diners can enjoy dim sum and small plates at the dumpling bar.

For Mexican sharing dishes and spicy margaritas, book a table at MexiCasa on the high street. Amid colourful interiors and friendly staff, highlights include chicken, chorizo or sweet potato tacos and generous portions of nachos and enchiladas stuffed with guacamole and chilli. Finish the meal with a bowl-sized tequila or mezcal margarita. Ten minutes towards the Olympic Park is Italian restaurant Figo (also with outposts in Leyton and Brentwood), which serves small sharing plates and charcuterie boards to start, followed by pasta or pizza. There’s a great selection of Italian spritzes and non-alcoholic cocktails, too.

Haugen

The East Village is well worth a visit for its local hangouts and independent shops. As the name suggests, it has a neighbourhood feel where residents sit in the green spaces and collect freshly baked bread and coffee from its cafés. One of our favourite spots is Hand Café which serves Greek pies and bread, and colourful salads and soups at lunchtime. The tyropita (filo pastry layered with egg and cheese) is particularly tasty. You’ll also find some great Italian restaurants, including Darkhorse where a typical meal might include burrata with blood orange; onglet steak with castelluccio lentils and rosemary and garlic potatoes; and hot chocolate brioche pudding. Santi Restaurant Pizzeria is also worth a visit for its Neapolitan-inspired pizzas, best served with focaccia drenched in olive oil and an Aperol spritz or glass of prosecco.

If you’re after a relaxed lunch, the Fish House only serves sustainably sourced seafood. The menu changes regularly but you can expect to try dishes like ‘fish of the day’ tacos with lime and coriander, seafood paella, fishcakes with poached eggs and hollandaise, and ‘fish finger’ sandwiches served with fries. There’s an adjoining traditional fish and chip shop with all the classic items alongside calamari, feta and pea fritters, and deep-fried halloumi. It also makes its own gelato and sorbet – current flavours include salted caramel, hazelnut, pistachio, peanut butter and mango sorbet. The nearby La Gelatiera also serves artisanal gelato. The family-owned shop champions slow cooking, so the team only uses seasonal, organic ingredients. It also offers crepes and waffles, milkshakes topped with a scoop of gelato, and Italian pastries.

Kitchen E20, The Stratford Hotel
Union Social, The Gantry

There are some hidden gems in Stratford, too. Sawmill Café regularly wins awards but is tucked away behind Stratford Park. Locals stop at the family-run café for classic breakfast dishes including a full English, pastries and coffee, and sandwiches, toasties and soup for lunch. Leave room for a slice of cake or a warming bowl of crumble. Elsewhere, Unit 6 Café in Stratford Shopping Centre serves quality coffee, homemade cake and freshly baked rolls with fillings like smoked salmon and avocado.

Of course, Stratford Westfield has a range of restaurant chains and casual dining options – we like Balans for lunch and cocktails by night, as well as Thunderbird Fried Chicken for burgers and fries. Don’t forget to pop into the Japan Centre for a range of supermarket essentials and hard-to-find ingredients.

WHAT TO SEE & DO

The area that was once a row of disused yards is home to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, featuring gardens, wildlife parks, wetlands, meadows and playgrounds. Visitors can go to the Mobile Garden at Hackney Bridge for free drop-in gardening sessions for all abilities, and follow the walking routes along the river towards Hackney Wick. Bookmark a ride on the ArcelorMittal Orbit when it reopens later this year for a 40-second descent down the world’s tallest and longest tunnel slide.

Allegra

One of the area’s highlights is the London Aquatics Centre with its world-class Olympic pool that’s open to the public. You can take part in lane swimming, family session and swimming lessons. It’s also home to a state-of-the-art gym and the Tom Daley Diving Academy which is open to all ages and abilities. If swimming isn’t your thing, book sessions at the Olympic Lee Valley VeloPark with its elite racing track. You can take part in four types of cycling: track cycling, road racing, BMX or mountain biking. You don't even need a bike – simply hire everything you need from the venue.

For an unforgettable night out, book tickets to ABBA Voyage, the concert experience near the Olympic Park that brings the iconic group to life. The venue opened last spring and it quickly received a string of five-star reviews from critics. Using cutting-edge technology and lighting, the group is projected onto a holographic screen. The show has just been extended to 2024, so there’s still time to experience it for yourself. A fun night can also be spent at Roof East which will reopen in the spring. This year, you can expect fresh food vendors, new games and the return of its rooftop cinema screening blockbusters and new releases. The roof also has traditional bowls games and Sluggers – an American-style baseball batting game – that’s perfect for a date.

Finally, head to Theatre Royal Stratford East to hear underrepresented voices and take in talent from the surrounding areas – there’s a regular programme of plays, dance shows and comedy nights. Visitors can currently see How Not To Drown, a play about a young boy who embarks on a treacherous journey across the Adriatic with a gang of smugglers, hoping to create a new life in Europe (until 11th February). We’re also looking forward to the upcoming show from Cassa Pancho’s Ballet Black company (10th-20th May). Don’t miss the venue’s bar, which is a lovely spot for pre or post-theatre drinks.

ABBA Voyage
JOHAN PERSSON

WHERE TO STAY

Transformed by the group behind St Pancras Renaissance Hotel and Chiltern Firehouse, The Stratford hotel is a design-led property in the sky-high Manhattan Loft Gardens. Bringing a touch of glamour to the neighbourhood, it takes its inspiration from New York’s glossy hotels – you won’t miss an impressive triple-height lobby and sky terrace to the glass atrium. There are 145 rooms, from standard rooms to studio apartments, all featuring marble en-suites with Rituals toiletries and rainfall showers or free-standing baths. The food is a real highlight, from fine dining at Allegra to casual options at Kitchen E20 which regularly hosts DJs. There’s also a separate bar, if you want to carry on the party, with live music and excellent cocktails.

The other noteworthy hotel is The Gantry in the East Village. There are 291 contemporary rooms to choose from, ranging from deluxe rooms to spacious suites with views over the Olympic Park. In addition to Union Social and Mama Chen’s, the hotel is home to the slick cocktail bar Coupe, a coffee shop and STK Stratford. Further down the line, it’s set to open an artisanal food market and rooftop bar.

The Stratford Hotel
The Gantry

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