Image courtesy of Barge East.
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Barge East food review: Tasting menu at award-winning, eco-friendly barge restaurant in Hackney Wick

Creative cocktails, playful modern tasting plates and intimate wood-panelled interiors: the rustic refinement of Barge East’s restaurant, just a fraction of its food empire in Hackney Wick.

Though arguably not as wild as it once was, Hackney Wick’s canalside community is home to a diverse range of businesses, shops and restaurants that might surprise you. From a floating church and London’s first Scandi wood-fired saunas to a bakery that doubles up as a communal oven, what you see is not always what you get.  

Catching a glimpse of Barge East floating on the canalside, you might wonder how the historic sailing boat wound up on our waterways in the first place. After a 90-mile voyage from Holland to Hackney Wick in 2018, the 122-year-old Dutch barge anchored in the River Lee and became East London’s oldest floating restaurant.

Following its recent AA Rosette Award, we visit the old barge on an early summer’s evening, its large bankside garden awash with light from the setting sun. Moored at the foot of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the garden’s street food menu features small plates, salads and a variety of burgers starting from £12.50 (not including the fries). 

But as we are about to find out, things are a little more refined aboard the historic barge, whose lower deck has been lovingly restored into an intimate wood-panelled dining area for about a dozen tables. 

Though not as radical in its environmentalism as Silo, the world’s first zero-waste restaurant found just across the canal, Barge East is committed to minimising waste by sourcing ethical and locally-grown produce. 

Two cocktails served at Barge East, Hackney Wick.

And there’s nothing more local than the ingredients grown in its own canalside garden, which feature in every cocktail from the bespoke ‘Tidal Sour’ to its take on the classic, ‘Barge-arita’ garnished with home-grown sorrel nectar.

The six-course ‘Taste of Barge’ menu starts with a delicate buckwheat cracker with reduced sweet onions and chives. 

The plates are decorated with modern, playful touches, including a roasted carrot and labneh starter topped with pink peppercorn granola. Though it takes a few bites to get over the feeling of eating yoghurt and oats for dinner, the granola adds some welcome texture to the dish which comes together rather nicely. 

At £55 per head, the tasting menu at Barge East is a more accessible brand of fine dining than the likes of Michelin-star Da Terra in Cambridge Heath. The wine pairings will set you back a further £44 for four glasses, and the price of a bottle starts at £34. 

Like many other sustainable British restaurants, Barge East features venison on its menu, which is considered one of the UK’s most ethical meats as deer have no natural predators in this country. Learning this is enough for me to surrender my vegetarianism for the evening, though there is a ‘Taste of Barge’ vegan menu for the more committed herbivores among you. 

Preceded by a lighter course of market fish, fennel and samphire, accompanied by a spherical potato and seaweed dumpling, the meat is the standout dish of the two mains. 

Plate of venison at Barge East restaurant, Hackney Wick.

Two slices of pink venison loin are accompanied by parsnip, rainbow chard and bread sauce, lifted by a smattering of sweet pomegranate seeds and a drizzle of deep red venison jus.

While Guardian food critic Jay Rayner might think dogs don’t belong in restaurants, the well-behaved spaniel at the table next to us adds to the boat’s homely atmosphere and is seemingly undisturbed by the smell of venison wafting from the open kitchen. 

The sound of cooking and a gentle hum of chatter fills the room, and above us, fairy lights adorn a delicate sprawling branch reaching across the boat’s ceiling. Upcycled hooks and chains from the original barge add a rustic feel to the warmly lit space.

If, like me, you’re of the mindset that most desserts benefit from a good dousing of alcohol, you’ll be more than satisfied with the sweet dishes served aboard the barge. 

A tall shot glass of boozy lemon sorbet – known as Sgroppino in Italy – makes for a refreshing palate cleanser after the rich venison. And while authentic Italian tiramisu is made with marsala wine, the sweet port used in the Barge’s final dish is a lovely substitute, balanced by the bitter coffee and airy mascarpone topping.

The unique flavour combinations and pristinely-presented plates of the Barge’s faultless tasting menu secured the restaurant two AA Rosettes for culinary excellence earlier this year. But, stepping onto dry land, what sticks with you is the expansive offering that this ever-growing food mecca is not just pulling off, but perfecting. 

From eco-friendly fine dining and locally-renowned Sunday roasts to gourmet street food and a lively canalside bar, there really is something for every taste. 

And in true Hackney Wick fashion, it all appears effortless. Barge East team members can even be found unwinding after a day of work with a quick DJ session across the canal at Two More Years. How’s that for work-life balance? 

For more local restaurants, bars and clubs, see our insider’s guide to Hackney Wick after dark. 

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