It is less than two years since we published a 24-hour Forest Gate food trail (see here), and we struggled to find half a dozen decent places to eat in the area. That number of additional outlets has popped over the last three months alone, to add to the mix of food and drink options within the E7 postcode.
This article traces the changes and reviews some of the more interesting possibilities currently on offer in Forest Gate.
In many senses the origins of the recent local food boom can be traced back to the opening of the Forest Gate Market in December 2011. The market now, among its varied stalls, sells organic vegetables , a delicious cheese stall (Forest Grater) and charcuterie outlet, with occasional appearances from an Essex organic farmer. There are, additionally, food evenings and appearances by other hot food hawkers at different points during the year.
|Woodgrange Market - start of food boom|
The first modern coffee shop, Kaffine (now sadly gone, but replaced by Familia), popped up soon after the market opening, to be followed in 2013 by CoffeE7, Aromas on Forest Lane, Artemis (the coffee and crepe rotunda outside the station, closed while the newly-named Elizabeth Line is being developed) and the Forest Tavern.
The following year Compotes, the Wanstead Tap and Woodgrange Road's Afghan restaurant (now gone and replaced by a Peri Peri chicken shop) appeared for the first time. The international food chain Subway, too, opened up at the foot of Woodgrange Road.
2015 saw the demise of the Siam Cafe but the beginnings, underneath the arches in Winchelsea Rd - in close proximity to the Wanstead Tap - of Hawkes, the innovative cider brewers. They soon linked up with Wanstead's Lupollo, to offer a drink and pizza weekend dining option.
There have been half a dozen openings locally since the end of last year, most of which we have visited, and we provide a quick survey of what is currently on offer. The restaurants and bars are listed, below, in no particular order.
This is just a couple of doors down from the now departed Siam Cafe, at the northern end of Woodgrange Road. It is small and pleasantly decorated. It has a ridiculously large menu selection, but the food is all freshly cooked - and delicious. It will certainly give Aromas (just round the corner, and winner of a Time Out restaurant award last year) a run for its money.
It's difficult to assess how well it will do, as there isn't much space for diners, their on-line marketing - in what is becoming a crowded market - isn't great, and its hasn't seemed too busy whenever we've passed.
But we thoroughly enjoyed the good prices, decent sized portions, range of choice, pleasant swift and helpful service and most of all the food. As a BYO restaurant (with an off-licence opposite), diners can save money on alcohol consumption there. It has become our local Indian of choice.
Much trailed and incredibly well located, this new venture has stepped up the ante in Forest Gate dining terms. It is a pizza house, coffee shop and delicatessen rolled into one.
It is owned and run by two local young women with great catering/hospitality CVs. It's a gamble and must have cost a fortune to furnish so tastefully and well (Epping Forest wood table tops, chairs covered by Robinson's, Upton Lane's great local upholsterers). It is staffed by local labour, offers home made products and uses local suppliers for many more.
What's not to like? Well "anarchist" vandals daubed the windows with graffiti during its opening week, presumably objecting to people having some local choice of eatery in a food outlet that, unlike Starbucks, say, will end up paying UK taxes when it becomes a viable proposition.
The main attractions are the pizzas - more expensive than the other local options. But infinitely better: freshly cooked with great and generously portioned ingredients, and totally delicious. As the CK develops, it is extending its range of offers, there are now anti-pasto starters and some great cakes for desserts. Some tasty take-away sandwiches are being offered for the passing trade. The charcuterie range is beginning to expand.
The downstairs dining area options are gradually being developed; as a side-line it features fun activities for under-fives a couple of times a week, meeting the needs of the young mum owners, at the very least!
Forest Gate's super chef, Michael Sanders is running his Supper Clubs from there, starting this week. The match up with Michael, who launched himself locally with these clubs at the Wanstead Tap in 2014, followed by pop up sessions in pubs in Leytonstone and Stratford last year, is a great one, in which both chef and owners deserve to prosper. His prices are a bit up on those at the Tap, but the location is more convenient and the ambience more up market.
On the drinks front, the all-day coffees are delicious - they need to be, as there's plenty of competition, locally on that front. There is also a range of craft beers and ciders available, together with an extensive (and expensive) wine list - featuring many organic products.
The venture is a great addition to Woodgrange Road and deserves to succeed. Perhaps more than all the other newcomers, judging by its popularity, it seems to typify what the recent incoming residents to our neighbourhood want from local dining: good ingredients, great atmosphere, convenient location and plenty of look-alikes as fellow customers.
After 7 at CoffeE7
The longest-operating of the new local eateries, perhaps sensing a bit more competition, has recently branched out, with its After 7 at CoffeE7 on Thursdays - Saturdays.
And it is great!
The offer is simple: some fine cocktails and a range on bottled beers and ciders and wines plus a very limited, but extremely delicious nocturnal (7pm - 11pm) food range.
|After 7 at CoffeE7|
There is a great charcuterie board and cheeseboard, supplied by a couple of the stalls on Woodgrange market (see above) on the menu and an absolutely delicious veggie Weedburger (seaweed), with sweet potato fries and side salad.
They are all very reasonably priced, and the three, shared between a veggie and a carnivore, make a delightful light evening meal.
Very highly recommended. We'll be back!
This small enterprise on the corner of Woodgrange Road and Forest Lane has replaced the original Kaffine coffee house. It suffers the same problem: a small dining area, but offers - like its predecessor - great coffee, tasty cakes and imaginatively loaded sandwiches.
It has a limited, but interesting, lunch selection and more customer friendly staff/owners than its forerunner. We hope it succeeds - but it is in an increasingly crowded market.
This is next to the aforementioned Robinson's on Upton Lane (in SoRo, as the local hipsters would have it). They opened with a soft launch last week and have a mouth-watering menu of "fresh, wholesome and comforting food with a unique blend of flavours", as the blub has it.
There are half a dozen, reasonably priced starters (£3.95 each, or 3 for £10) and half a dozen delicious-sounding pies, each with 2 sides, for £7.95 as the main attraction: these include chicken, lamb, fish and veggie. The ingredients are exciting and the food looks great.
For non-pie eaters there are half a dozen other offers, including burgers and fish and chips. The drinks (non-alcoholic) and desert (limited selection) are reasonably priced too.
A three-course meal and drink can be had for well under £20 a head - so a more than decent meal at an even better price!
On the outskirts: Lakehouse Tea Room
This is on Cann Hall Road, just outside E7, but within easy view of the edge of Forest Gate's part of Wanstead Flats. It is an upmarket cafe, providing a wide choice of fresh breakfasts (English and continental) - but being Halal, no bacon is on offer. The sandwiches, home-made cakes and interesting lunchtime soups look tasty and mouth-watering.
|Lakehouse Tea Room|
A pleasant stop after a ramble round the Flats; it even has some outside seating, on which to continue to enjoy the healthy outdoors. Highly recommended.
On the horizon: pub re-openings
Antic, the brewery that took over the down-at-heel Railway Tavern and turned it into Forest Gate's liveliest pub - the Forest Tavern - a little over two years ago, is looking to breathe life into two other old and famous boozers in the area: Manor Park's Earl of Essex and the Lord Rookwood a couple of doors down from the Lakehouse Tea Room on Cann Hall Road.
These are huge pubs with fine traditions, both now, unfortunately closed. It will be a big ask to turn them around, but it seems like Antic intend off-setting some of their investment costs by building (and selling) flats in and around them - half a dozen 1 - 3 bed flats on the upper floors of the Earl of Essex and flats in the car park/grounds behind the Rookwood, if rumours and early plans are to come to fruition.
|Looks like success for the campaign to |
"Save the Lord Rookwood" is in sight
The real E7 challenges for Antic - or another enterprising pub chain - however, would be to revitalise the Live and Let Live, currently dry (but squatted in?), on Romford Road or even to do something truly innovative with one of Forest Gate's most iconic buildings, The Old Spotted Dog, on Upton Lane.
As far as the Old Spotted Dog is concerned, members of the trust established to save it met with the site's new owners at the end of last year and discussed the developers' plans. These include building low rise flats in the car park area and beyond, and refurbishing the pub, before selling it on.
The attraction of building flats for the new owners is plain and lucrative to see; vigilance will need to be maintained to ensure that the more important historic parts of the development are sympathetically restored to something approaching former glories.
Watch this space.