Dining aboard a boat usually conjures up mental images of naff dinner cruises, but Barge East manages to totally avoid the tourist trap. Permanently moored in Hackney Wick and with a view of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Barge East’s shell is a 114-year-old cargo boat which was brought (or sailed) over from the Netherlands. Inside, though, there’s a much greater local focus – the seasonally changing menu of small plates is made with best-of-British produce, while craft beers are brewed in the neighbourhood.
It’s a cosy and buzzy venue, with space to dine on both the upper deck and inside the barge if the weather isn’t playing ball. Although the space is intimate, it never feels cramped, mainly because the friendly, chatty staff are well versed in gliding between tables without causing any accidents.
Although the menu changes periodically, you can always expect to find ingredient-led dishes which are more sophisticated than they first appear. We kicked off with smaller dishes including a pork-belly sausage roll, which saw a hunk of tender meat wrapped in a buttery, flaky shell of pastry and served alongside a blob of bacon and chilli jam.
We also loved our portion of thick-cut panisses (essentially chickpea fries), which arrive assembled like a Jenga block and are dusted with flecks of Grana Padano cheese and truffle shavings. From the larger plates, pork belly came up trumps again, this time given an Asian-style twist thanks to bundles of kimchi and a sprinkling of toasted cashew nuts.
It’s not all about the food though, as Barge East also serves up a list of cheeky house cocktails, including the rum-based Sex with the Captain. Prefer to dine in the daytime? Head here on the weekend to enjoy bottomless brunch and a two-course Sunday lunch, both at fair prices.