One of the pleasures of being an expat is finding small moments in which your many homes and identities come together. When The Good Egg, the Israeli restaurant at the bottom of my street in north London’s Stoke Newington, began selling proper Montreal bagels from a takeaway window during lockdown, it was a small joy for me. Less doughy and slightly sweeter than New York’s famed version, finding a taste of my native land on my doorstep has proved oddly comforting during this uneasy period of separation.
This, then, is where I would recommend starting a Stoke Newington walking tour: with coffee and bagel in hand on Church Street, the neighbourhood’s quaint main artery. This circuit will take about an hour if done at a diligent pace, but can take up the better part of a day if pausing to shop, browse and picnic.
There is always a queue at The Good Egg, but the wait is a local rite of passage and a chance to watch the street slowly wake up from the slumber of lockdown.
Stoke Newington is one degree removed from the trendier hubs of east London. In recent years the neighbourhood has become a mix of hipsters over thirty who have outgrown hard-partying Dalston, longtime residents and a large community of Orthodox Jews. It is quieter and greener, its streets lined with well-kept Victorian terraced houses.
There’s a Whole Foods and an abundance of gastropubs, so the area has run the full gamut of gentrification and is about one children’s clothing shop shy of becoming twee. I love it for its village feel, great restaurants and large parks, with everything you need readily available from small local shops.
From The Good Egg, I walk east along Church Street. The weekend flea market at Abney Hall has finally reopened. It used to be so packed with prams, vintage clothes and pottery that there was scarcely room to move. The stalls and customers are sparser now, and the vendors wear masks, but browsing through racks of cards and records is one of the more normal moments I’ve had in months.
Further east and just before the fire station, tall iron gates guard the entrance to Abney Park Cemetery. It might seem eccentric to say that when I moved to Stoke Newington three years ago it was in large part for this graveyard, but it’s one of my favourite places in London. I’ve walked here almost every day during lockdown.
Opened in 1840, Abney Park is one of London’s “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries, beautiful and overgrown with tombstones cascading into one another and being pulled apart by vines. Notable graves include those of William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army, as well as a number of abolitionists, and music hall and theatre performers from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Teenagers loiter, parents push prams, dogs trot alongside their owners and older people sit on benches reading newspapers. It’s reassuring to see daily life taking place among these monuments to the past.
On exiting the cemetery, I walk south down Kersley Road towards Newington Green. Signs supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and frontline NHS workers are taped up in people’s front windows. I pause for a takeaway pint at The Prince pub on Kynaston Road — though a sudden downpour forces me and my friend to shelter under a neighbour’s overhanging tree. (Several pubs in the area sold takeaway drinks or other provisions to keep business ticking over until their eagerly anticipated reopening last week.)
Newington Green is better known for what’s nearby than for the actual square itself. The local greengrocer, Newington Green Fruits & Vegetables, is a few minutes down the road from the square’s south-west corner — and is the best shop of its kind for miles. The cornucopia of top-quality produce has yet to be defeated by even the most obscure recipe lists.
Around the square, there’s an excellent natural-wine store, a Swiss-cheese shop, a decent French boulangerie and a few very good restaurants including one of my favourites, Perilla, a local gem that serves high-concept European fare. I’m planning to picnic later on, so I stock up on fruit, cheese and a bottle of chilled, lightly sparkling red wine.
From the square, I cut over to Petherton Road, a tree-lined boulevard that leads north to Green Lanes — a destination for Turkish food in London — and eventually to the southern tip of Clissold Park. This vast green expanse offers something for everyone: a running circuit, tennis courts, a skate park, a mini zoo — I’m partial to the deer — and large ponds. Recently, it has been the scene of so many picnics that on warm evenings it has at times resembled a minor music festival.
After stopping to enjoy our own alfresco feast, my friend and I pack away our blanket and walk towards the spires of Church Street’s namesake, St Mary’s. Further on, the Art Deco town hall, which typically hosts weddings at weekends, remains shut. The Rose & Crown pub across the road, normally rammed with dog walkers and tipsy wedding guests, was doing a roaring trade in pints-to-go — tiding the locals over until its reopening at the beginning of July.
Early-evening shoppers and cyclists line the main road. Locals queue at the butchers and the pharmacy, but most of the shops selling trinkets and used books are still shuttered. On a boarded-up fence in front of an empty lot, a new graffiti mural has appeared: the words “Brave New World” emblazoned in blue and orange. It’s a fittingly ambiguous reference. No one is quite sure what life in the wake of this pandemic will look like — or how the neighbourhood will change.
Map by Liz Faunce
Have we left out any gems in Stoke Newington? Share your local intel in the comments below