A walk down Wilton Way by Immy Smith.
Like Becky and Huw, I have a deep-rooted affection for this little stretch of Hackney.
It’s a village in a street. A micro-community glued together by local businesses fuelled by hardworking, good people.
My introduction to Wilton Way was via a side-hustle job at Pidgin I started last June. By dint of my role, watching the street shift from its daytime trade into a nighttime frame of mind, I have come to know the people and pace of the road.
So join me as we take a walk along the Way.
Approximately half a mile long, Wilton Way starts just to the left of the Prince George pub at the West end of the street. It then runs practically uninterrupted across two of the area’s landmarks, the restored Hackney Empire theatre and the art-deco style Hackney Town Hall, joining the main thoroughfare of Mare Street at the East end of the Way.
Working West to East, just down from the Prince George cast your eyes right as you walk past what was formerly the Wilton Road Board School. A pleasingly symmetrical, Victorian-era building built in yellow and red brick with a distinguished presence.
Approximately 60 steps from the old school building, (I know, I counted) you’ll hit Violet Cakes, where Claire Ptak (aka the mastermind baker behind 2018’s Royal Wedding cake) combines the very best, low intervention ingredients with hero flavours and whips them into irresistible confections.
Starting out with a stall on Broadway Market, Claire tells me she “was looking for a permanent location but couldn’t afford anything. Then I found this very basic unit that was pretty run down but had tons of potential and I fell in love with it because it was free-standing and reminded me of California.” The cute-as-a-button bakery made its break after a Wilton Way street party organised on Facebook went viral, as Claire describes, “everybody came, it was like a festival. People dancing on roofs, out of the windows, food stalls and DJs…It was very exciting for us because up to that point we weren’t that busy and I think that event put us on the map.”
Grab yourself one of the iconic cinnamon buns to tear into with a coffee and a couple of pink-tipped madeleines for the road. It would be rude not to.
Armed with baked goods, walk on to The Spurstowe.
The Spurstowe Arms
This pub gives George Orwell’s favourite boozer, The Moon Under Water, a run for its money. Inside it’s both cosy and spacious, with high-lofted ceilings and big windows, a stately-looking bar, solid wooden floors and all the typical accoutrements of a decent pub: wine bottles as candle holders dripping with wax, vintage cinema posters and vases of flowers dotted between tables. The food is also great. Really great, in fact, and the regularly changing menu puts seasonality front and centre.
The Spurstowe also has that wonderful pub smell; cork mingling with the savoury hoppiness of beer. Like the inside of a barrel. Outside, the garden is spacious and doubles up as an idyllic sun trap in the summer.
Thirst quenched, hunger satisfied, coat on, head back out to the Way. Before you leave though, cast your gaze to just above the pub’s sign and you might catch a glimpse of Eloise Holmes’ weaving loom. Using her love of colour and nimble touch Eloise creates scarves, each one completely unique and a true example of craftsmanship.
Eloise in her own words on the charm of Wilton Way;
"Life at The Spurstowe & Wilton Way began about a year ago. Friends of mine own the pub, so when a room became available I jumped at the chance. I dismantled my loom, and set up a new workspace in the best little pocket of London (in my bias opinion).
Like many creatives working from home, my day is punctuated by sporadic breaks - some more guilt free than others. This time is best spent at Wilton Way Deli, gossiping about the good and bad dates from the previous weekend with my favourite Italian, Guila.
For the rest of the afternoon I weave by the window. Noticing the people below, on dog walks, delivery cyclists, school runs and runners - rhythmically passing. Each step a thread, building the fabric our community.
At 6pm the conversational hum from the pub starts to rise through my floorboards, and in my head I start to battle with the thought of sitting at the loom or popping downstairs for a pinot noir. Eventually I give in to temptation and join the locals, sharing stories about how they decided to punctuate their working day".
Bang in the middle of the street is where you’ll find the hub of Wilton Way.
Kicking off with this all-rounder eatery and wine bar. Order something warming and grab a seat by the window for optimum people watching – if you’re lucky, you might even spot Jamie Demetriou.
Four doors down, you may or may not accidentally fall into Retrouvé. More than a vintage shop, this is a treasure trove of clothes. Find hand-embroidered, 1940s French linen nightdresses, powerhouse blazers, dinky glassware and almighty flares. My sister convinced me to buy a shocking-pink, 1980s silk jacket from here one Saturday and after initially thinking it was completely unnecessary, it’s now one of the items I cherish most in my wardrobe.
Ginny, the owner, opened the Wilton Way store eight years ago, she tells me while steaming a 1970s St. Michael’s burgundy housecoat. Her love for vintage stems from growing up; “I’d spend hours at my granny’s house searching through the mountains of clothes that filled her attic. The thrill of discovering a total one-off or just the dress you were looking for has never left me.”
Ginny is also an advocate for the ethical and ecological side of vintage, encouraging people to shop for clothes made with care that can last a lifetime.
Retrouvé has a second shop on Broadway Market, which is also well worth a browse for that dress/blazer/pair of flares.
Wilton Way Deli
Owned by Francesca D’Agostino, the Wilton Way Deli is the cornerstone of the street. It’s a family-run, hole-in-the-wall spot, serving coffee, cakes, knock-out sandwiches and come five o’clock aperitivo-style drinks and salty snacks are on the menu.
“The last two years have been challenging and I’ve had to completely adjust my business but I made the decision to continue operating even when the street felt more like a ghost town” describes Francesca as we sit outside the Deli warming our hands on cups of coffee.
In doing her bit for the community, Francesca provided a lifeline not only for Wilton Way but for the tributary streets feeding into it. She knows all her regulars’ coffee orders by heart and her background in hospitality shows in the pasta nights and epic Halloween street party she hosts each year.
A hairdressers with a difference. The difference might not be blindingly obvious at first (like the best type of haircut) but book a trim and sit back in a space full of charm and great conversation. You’ll feel like a bonafide local in no time.
Thirsty? Swing by Borough Wines where interesting wines are on offer and interesting people are happy to help you pick out a bottle of properly good plonk.
What began as a shop at Borough Market in 2002, Borough Wines first introduced the Wine-on-Tap concept – a wine refill system that benefits the environment and customers alike. Double win.
It was in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis when “we opened Wilton Way and it was incredible. It was such a tiny shop and it became this big thing because people loved the idea. Something really positive came out of something really negative [the recession],” says Borough Wines Founder and Owner, Muriel Chatel.
While continuing to celebrate independent winemakers, most recently Borough Wines introduced its SustainableWineSolutions with a reuse and refill focus at its core. It’s a practically virtuous way to enjoy wine.
By this point, you’re probably hungry.
I’m biased but this is an example of one of London’s tried and true, best restaurants. What started out as a supper club, run by James Ramsden and Sam Herlihy, they hit upon No. 52 around eight years ago after “looking for a site for Pidgin in some pretty eccentric/optimistic/idiotic places. Wilton Way immediately felt like the right home for us. Pidgin was, after all, a neighbourhood restaurant without a neighbourhood. Or a restaurant.
In the kitchen, Drew Snaith is at the helm creating deliciously badass flavour combinations such as braised squid agnolotti with cacio e pepe sauce and burrata cheesecake with caramelized persimmon sorbet. The seven-course tasting menu changes every week (every week!) and the team never fails to disappoint in bringing genuine delight to each and every diner.
You might be in need of a break by this point in your meandering but don’t miss Momosan, a sanctuary in shop form offering a handpicked selection of objects made by independent craftspeople. From delicate glazed ceramics by the likes of Yuko Ikeda to knitted socks from Japan, these are products that celebrate the beauty that can be found in the everyday.
Immy Smith wrote this special reflection on Wilton Way while sitting at Footnote for the morning, fuelled by three coffees and watching life on Wilton Way happening in real-time. Thank you Immy.
Immy is a freelance copywriter with a front of house role at Pidgin. She’s a podcast enthusiast (current favourites include: archive episodes of Desert Island Discs, Talk Art and This American Life) and a self-confessed Francophile – a side effect of studying in Paris for four years. When she’s not working, you can find her either mooching around a gallery or batch-making kimchi.