I was expecting many things before I visited Tom Brown’s almost year-old restaurant Cornerstone in Hackney Wick: seasonal seafood, impeccable cooking, and a chef as hip (and tattooed) as the hipster environs of the neighborhood. What I wasn't expecting was a down-to-earth conversation about fresh ingredients, cool things to do in London, and business ownership with this first-time restaurateur. Check out Tom's best advice for what to do in and around Hackney Wick and wider London below:
KQ: Where would you put up friends visiting from out of town?
TB: There’s a really nice one in Shoreditch called the Ace Hotel. The rooms are really nice and it’s not too far from here.
Katie Quinn: What is the thing people should get this time of year at Cornerstone?
Tom Brown: The way we do the menu is that we allow the markets to dictate what we get. Like, we do a carrot dish—cooked down with loads of butter, sugar, vinegar, and smoke them on the barbecue to order. But chestnuts have just come in, so we’re doing chestnuts now. We talk to suppliers and say, “What do you have?” and then we make a menu from that.
KQ: So it’s constantly on rotation.
TB: Yeah. We change the menu at least once a day. We just let the market dictate what we have—that’s the best way to do it, particularly with fish, which is a wild commodity.
Katie Quinn: Where do you head for a casual meal when you’re not working?
Tom Brown: I really like a place called Black Axe Mangal in Islington. It’s one of the most fun restaurants you can go to. It’s low-key in the sense they don’t give a f*ck. It’s really small, and the wood-fire oven in the back has a photo of Kiss over it.
KQ: Sounds quirky and fun!
KQ: What about a celebratory dinner out?
TB: I recently went to Bibendum with my girlfriend. It’s a two-Michelin start restaurant in Chelsea in the old Michelin building in London. It’s a guy called Claude Bosi, he’s an amazing French chef. Everyone talks about how it’s the next three-star restaurant, if you want a proper fine dining experience. The food is modern, but it’s really classic as well. It’s an incredible experience. The Ritz, as well, is next-level. It’s a real master class in how to do old-school fine dining properly. It’s like being on the Titanic or something!
KQ: Where do you go for a proper cup of coffee?
TB: There’s a little coffee shop just around the corner called Thingy, which is in a little record store, and they’ve kept us dosed up on caffeine, which is very important!
KQ: Vital to the success of Cornerstone! What about a night cap?
KQ: What’s the spot in town with the best late-night eats?
TB: Som saa does “som saa lates”—they go until like 3 a.m. They do it once a month—it’s a good night out, with excellent food as well.
KQ: What’s the thing to order?
TB: They have an amazing aubergine salad with the nangin dressing and things like that, and they roast a whole sea-bass. Oh and for dessert! They have palm sugar ice cream with turmeric banana. That’s unbelievable.
KQ: What’s the dish everyone should try once when visiting London?
TB: Well if they’re coming here, it should be our shrimp compote—it’s a very British dish. It’s the dish that everyone knows us for, I guess...it’s like our signature dish. It’s a crumpet with little baby shrimps mixed with gherkins and a spiced butter and then raw kohlrabi on top. It’s very very British.
KQ: What’s your favorite way to spend a Saturday or Sunday in town?
TB: My favorite Sunday would be to go to the Marksman Public House, get a roast dinner, sit there for a while, and then go to the Arsenal game.
KQ: And Saturdays you’re working your tail off.
TB: Saturdays I’m always at the restaurant, yeah.
KQ: Is there a museum or cultural activity you really love in the area?
KQ: What’s the best souvenir from London?
TB: Proper English tea! It’s the place for tea. We always go for Twinings.
KQ: What’s your favorite shop in the area?
TB: I really like the fact that we’ve got the Carhartt headquarters here! Oh, and I also love the Columbia Road Flower Market, which is only open on Sundays.
KQ: Where's the best view in town?
TB: I really love the view right down the canal. For my walk to work, I cross the canal and you can see the barges, the character of East London. And by night, you can see Olympic Park and the stadium and all of Stratford lit up. Around here is my favorite part of London—I think the views here are the hidden gems of London.
KQ: What’s the thing people shouldn’t leave London without trying?
TB: I suppose just going East! Everyone’s temptation when they come to London is just to go to the West End, see the center...but everyone should see Shoreditch, they should come to Hackney, they should go and have a beigel [on Brick Lane], they should have pie and mash, they should definitely go to Broadway Market and Columbia Flower Market.
What are your favorite London spots? Tell us in the comments below!