Six of One - Vittles Restaurants
The Stepney River Café, and five other restaurant recommendations
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Six of One is a new column dedicated to London restaurant recommendations. In each newsletter, we send out six tips from six writers for six different restaurants, bakeries, cafes or takeaways that deserve to be better known.
Todays recommendations are from Sean Wyer, Jonathan Nunn, Isaac Rangaswami, Fatima Pabani, Angela Hui and Joel Hart.
There are some cities where plenty of workplace canteens are open to anyone, but London is generally not one of them. Polentina, a small restaurant inside a clothing factory on Bow’s Empson Street industrial estate, is a rare exception. It may not look like a cafeteria – there are no laminate trays – yet meals are subsidised for staff at clothing manufacturer ApparelTasker, who eat lunch alongside artists and local residents. A glass wall separates the diners from neat rows of sewing machines.
Some of the city’s most discerning connoisseurs of Italian food are now dining alongside them: from Café Deco’s Anna Tobias to La Grotta Ices’ Kitty Travers. They come to Polentina for food that would look out of place in Soho’s boisterous, TikTok-ready trattorie: subtle dishes with intricate backstories, like ciceri e tria and lasagna in brodo. Chef and founder Sophia Massarella combines home recipes (she has grandparents from Frosinone, south of Rome, and from Austria) with an archivist’s passion for hyper-local Italian cuisine.
On Friday nights, and during occasional weekend collaborations, the atmosphere shifts, helped by some litty natural wines and a playlist of Italian pop ballads. The dining space is elegant but functional, which stands out in a city that’s fixated on recreating La Dolce Vita. Polentina embraces its setting on the first floor of an industrial estate, but it’s not the first canteen to enrich London's Italian food scene. More than three decades ago, on the other side of the city, another restaurant started life in a similar way: as the employee canteen for the architectural partnership next door. It was called The River Café. Sean Wyer
ApparelTasker, 1 Bowood House, Empson St, E3 3LT