Caitlin Evans recently moved to London to study her passion of creative writing, and to discover the exciting experiences the East End has to offer.
Resting proudly on the River Lea is Barge East, a 114 year old Dutch cargo barge that has been converted into a bar and kitchen by three childhood friends.
The restaurant was opened in 2018 and is already rated as one of London’s top restaurants on TripAdvisor. It’s easy to see why. You can feel the warmth and personality they poured into the transformation, and how their vision came to life.
I booked for a late evening in April and upon arriving I could instantly envision Barge East’s outer decking as the perfect spot for canal-side summer sunset drinks. (It’s moored on the watery border between Fish Island, Hackney Wick and the Olympic Park).
Stepping aboard the boat and descending down the stairs was like entering a secret hide-away – cosy and atmospheric, tucked away from the outside world. The warm-toned lighting, rustic furniture, and live music (smooth clarinet played by Luke Eira) made for a perfectly designed evening mood.
On one end of the boat stands the bar, with the kitchen at the other, with hatches that open the space and invite you to see the magic that goes on while your food is being prepared.
The restaurant’s setting means tables are closely spaced, but the cosy and rustic interior design makes this feel like part of the friendly experience, and the attentive service proved that too.
Crafted by Head Chef Ryan Craig, the Barge East menu is influenced by his time cooking globally on luxurious yachts, which can be seen in the variety and originality of dishes on offer. The breadth of options most definitely did not lead to a sacrifice in quality. The three dishes I tasted were each delightfully tasty and rich.
Seated next to the kitchen, I watched excitedly as my sourdough bread and bacon butter starter was prepared. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect ‘bacon butter’ to be, but what came did not disappoint; a thick and creamy, soft pink butter with a salty bacon infusion on an equally thick slice of toasted sourdough bread.
They also generously served us an extra portion of this sourdough bread free of charge, when my friend informed them of her allergies to the flatbread that came with her spiced red pepper hummus starter.
Feeling content with the starter, I then ordered the chorizo risotto with baby squid, shallots, and saffron aioli from the ‘small plates’ section of the menu. As listed, this meal had many levels to it, which all created an unexpectedly delicious synchrony. The creamy texture and smoky chorizo flavour of the risotto was the perfect surrounding to the salty, fried pieces of squid (which, as a seafood lover were my favourite element). The garnish and sauce were added generously and were also used well for the presentation of the dish.
Last up was the Panisses; chickpea fries with rosemary and truffle, with a parmesan garnish (they also had a vegan version for the cheese). The cheese was very strong, and I brushed most of it aside so that it didn’t take away from the delicious taste of the panisses. The truffle stood out most, with its rich and filling quality, and the texture couldn’t have been better – crispy on the outside and instantly melt-in-the-mouth inside.
One of the most impressive qualities of Barge East is the affordability of their menu, which as a student I definitely appreciated. For the quality of the food, paired with presentation and attention to detail, it would be understandable to charge more. Yet me and my two friends, having ordered five dishes between us, walked away with a total bill of just £32.50, and an experience to remember.
We can only be thankful that this boat made its long journey from Holland to Hackney Wick to deliver us this independent dining experience full of charm and character.
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