Neighbourhood Guide: Bromley-By-Bow
From vintage shopping on Roman Road, to raising a glass in a cosy wine bar or seeking out stylish eateries in quirky industrial settings, Bromley-By-Bow is a quietly stylish neighbourhood filled with independents
This is a neighbourhood to take your time with, filled with quiet corners and leafy retreats. When you need a reset, cross the river from the High Street and take a walk through Three Mills Park. Pick up a coffee and sit by the River Lea to watch the world go by. You might see the odd scull floating past from the River Lea Rowing Club, or a canal boat chugging slowly through Bow Locks.
On your way back, stop in at the Grade One listed 18th-century House Mill Café for a light bite and a dose of local history (the mill itself has been standing since 1776). There’s an air of faded grandeur to the High Street too, lined with ‘olde world’ red brick pubs and Bromley Hall – a grand memorial to the area’s Victorian past.
For a craft or culture fix, check out Bow Arts across the street. This arts and education charity offers artists affordable studios and housing in the local area, supporting some 500 craftspeople in total. There are countless artisans to discover in the studio complex here, but the Art of Islamic Pattern is an impressive place to start. As well as a gathering point for Islamic art aficionados and academics, the studio offers year-round courses on everything from historic marquetry to plaster carving. Roll up your sleeves and get stuck in.
The Roman Road and its market are both fashionable hotspots, competing with the likes of Dalston and Brick Lane. Start at one end and you’ll work your way through close to a dozen vintage stores, specialising in everything from mid-century Americana to rare leather and sheepskin coats. Gina’s Closet is a standout – a small shop packed to the rafters – which mixes antiques with unusual pieces of art deco and mid-century fashion. Antiques and curiosities practically overflow from the creaking front door.
The Peanut Vendor is another must-see; a sizeable appointment-only showroom that specialises in early-to-late 20th century furniture, accessories and art-led objects. Visit for everything from 1930s side boards to ‘70s Maralunga velvet sofas. The team there are often abroad on sourcing trips, so do check in with them before you plan to visit.
The Nunnery Cafe in Bow Arts is the beating heart of Bromley-By-Bow, a small space that’s made a big impact on the local community. From reading groups to music gigs, owner Maliha Haider has created a much-loved social hub with freshly-baked pastries and superb coffee from female-staffed local roastery, Hey Sister, which roasts beans locally in small batches for optimum freshness. The salted caramel brownies are the stuff of legend, too.
Of an evening, Symposium comes into its own. A wine shop, deli and restaurant, authentic Italian pasta is the order of the day here. Try the paccheri with red mullet ragù, or taglioni with black truffles – and wash down with a glass of distinctive (but delicious) orange wine. There’s an Italian street food menu that’s available between midday and 5pm each day too – ideal for a foodie hit on your lunch break.
Vinarius is another need-to-know watering hole on Roman Road. A wine merchant by day, in the afternoons the space transforms into a space for regional wine tastings and an ever changing menu of small plates. Give them a follow on Instagram to keep up to speed with a busy schedule of tasting evenings.
Bromley-By-Bow’s food scene is less hyped than the likes of neighbouring Hackney, but every bit as tempting. On the High Street, the Bow Bells Pub (what else could it be called?) makes a mean pizza, and up on Roman Road, Mae + Harvey is a cosy café that serves the kind of hearty all-day brunch food that can’t help but improve your mood. Stop by during a lazy Saturday shopping trip and indulge in stylishly presented comfort food, from crepes with ricotta and blood orange, to red lentil daal with pickled red onion and coriander.
Then, there’s Polentina – a restaurant which puts the ‘hidden’ into ‘hidden gem’ and is well worth seeking out. Founded by half-Italian, half-Austrian chef Sophia Massarella, this small restaurant is attached to a sustainable clothing manufacturer in a warehouse just a few minutes from Bromley-By-Bow Tube. Tucked up a flight of stairs and around a corner, when you make it inside you’ll find yourself in an elegant cantina, which serves coffee, cakes and a light lunch till 3pm, and dinner service on Friday nights. The menu is seasonal and changes weekly, blending Italian and Austrian classics with a light touch.
If you want to bag a table you’ll have to be quick, though. Polentina is walk-ins only on Fridays and foodies travel across the capital to try traditional dishes from Sophia’s childhood, from moreish crostini to hand-rolled tortellini. Turn-up early, get yourself a table with a view of the factory floor next door, and work your way through the wine list.