Area Guide: Waterloo
Just Opened London’s Area Guides cover a combination of recently opened venues and established London favourites, to make sure you get the full lowdown on where to spend your time and hard-earned cash.
In Waterloo, old reliables rub shoulders with hip newcomers, craft beer and coffee share space with caffs and boozers, and high-end eating sits alongside street food start-ups and quirky pubs.
Avoid the tourist traps and win your own battle of Waterloo with our locals’ guide.
Best for… gastropub grub
Anchor & Hope
This pub (sister to The Canton Arms near Stockwell) went gastro well before most, and — for better or worse — was also a pioneer of the ‘no reservations’ mentality. It’s worth queuing if you have to for the hearty plates of seasonal food, including the likes of salted pig’s liver with crackling and a radish salad, and roast rabbit with beans, mustard and bacon.
The highlight of the week might just be the Sunday roast, which sees a whole joint served for sharing at the table if you’re in a group of four or more. Best of all, this is the one meal of the week you can book.
Anchor & Hope, 36 The Cut, SE1 8LP
Best for… bites and brunch
Set on bringing a piece of Tel Aviv to Waterloo, you’ll find a bakery and ‘pitta kiosk’ here of a morning before it becomes a full-service meze restaurant for lunch and dinner. Inventive takes on Middle Eastern cooking include lamb neck served with quince, Persian dumplings and pecorino, and braised oxtail with tahini and warm hummus. The soft, pillowy flatbreads are a highlight, as is the weekend brunch when shakshuka is on the menu.
Bala Baya, Arch 25 Old Union Yard Arches, 229 Union Street, SE1 0LR
Best for… cocktails
This brightly painted Cuban restaurant is one of the most iconic venues in Waterloo, and it never fails to deliver on the good time vibes. It’s not a place that takes itself seriously, and neither should you, but it knows how to whip up a mean mojito, work the salsa music and turn out plate after plate of street food-style Cuban dishes to boot. The team are also well versed in throwing all manner of parties, should you be tasked with organising one.
Cubana, 48 Lower Marsh, SE1 7RG
Best for… excellent ingredients
Three floors packed with outstanding produce, plus bakery and butchery concessions, make Greensmiths a local favourite and the kind of deli everyone else wishes they had close by. A small café area upstairs serves simple breakfasts, sandwiches, soups and salads made outstanding by the ingredients used. The sausage rolls and scotch eggs to go are also worth a detour.
Greensmiths, 27 Lower Marsh, SE1 7RG
Best for… old-school glamour
If you’ve got a penchant for old-school Italian restaurants where the walls are lined with photos of celebrity diners such as Robert De Niro, Kylie Minogue and, er, Tony Blair, then you’ll fall in love with La Barca in a second. Of course, its exemplary homemade pasta and rich meat dishes are also a draw.
Many diners team up a trip with a visit to the Old Vic nearby, but the restaurant does a nice line in theatre itself — choose correctly and you’ll see brandy-bathed beef flambéd and zabaglione whisked before you at the table. Just note that none of it comes cheap, so you might want to save a trip for a special occasion.
La Barca, 80-81 Lower Marsh, SE1 7AB
Best for… coffee culture
Love + Scandal
Love and Scandal takes it coffee very seriously. It is painstakingly ethical about eating and entirely vegan-friendly, with an impressive range of non-dairy milks, but it doesn’t do almond milk because, as the owner tells us: “It’s ‘not a professional milk; it separates.”
Despite its veggie credentials, omnivores are more than welcome: gorgeous homemade cakes, substantial burgers and hearty breakfasts make this more than a coffee shop. On a street that has some serious competition on the coffee shop front — also check out Four Corners, Coleman Coffee Roasters and Scooter Caffé — it easily serves the best brew. Oh, and it does booze too.
Love + Scandal, 107 Lower Marsh, SE1 7AB
Best for… street food
Lower Marsh Market
Street food fills Lower Marsh on weekdays and is a particular favourite with nearby workers who’ll often be found queuing for their favourite jerk chicken, falafel wrap, sub sandwich or topped waffle. Among the regular stalls, there are frequent guest pitches and short-term visits to keep things fresh, while a scheme to encourage new businesses means you very often will be able to ‘see it here first’ when it comes to hot street foodies of the future.
Expect around a dozen stalls that take in almost as many different international cuisines. A nice touch is that you can take your food and eat it in Scooter Caffé, so long as you buy a drink.
Lower Marsh Market, SE1 7RG
Best for… when only a caff will do
In a rapidly gentrifying Waterloo, longtime residents have a deep love for stalwarts such as Marie’s. And there’s a lot to love. This caff of two halves is at once a proper greasy spoon serving up super-cheap (but not super greasy) full Englishes like they’re going out of fashion, and a surprisingly good Thai restaurant.
Of a late evening or early morning, its customer base is a wonderfully varied mix of railway maintenance staff and shift-working doctors from St Thomas’s hospital, those on their way home after a bender and locals simply seeking some grub. Support it to make sure it sticks around.
Marie’s Cafe, 90 Lower Marsh, SE1 7AB
Best for… tapas
Meson Don Felipe
Regularly cited as one of the first Spanish restaurants in London, this lively tapas bar dating back to 1987 may have more competition on its hands these days but it’s still pretty special. After all, where else can you see a man play guitar while perched on a chair nailed high on the wall, all the while quaffing good value vino tinto and knocking back croquetas? Classics such as calamari and gambas al ajillo are done well, and you must tuck into some Iberico ham.
Meson Don Felipe, 53 The Cut, SE1 8LF
Best for… a hip hangout
There’s a brilliant backstory to this Lower Marsh coffee shop and bar. It was originally a scooter repair shop, run by a guy who really liked his coffee. He would serve customers espressos and the likes made from his vintage Italian coffee machines while they were waiting, and word gradually got out that this was the place to come for coffee whether you had a scooter or not.
The repair shop has since moved on, but a Vespa or two remain, along with a collection of vintage coffee machines and assorted salvaged curiosities. People flock equally for the coffee and wines, beers and spirits. It also serves a first class Negroni.
Scooter Caffé, 132 Lower Marsh, SE1 7AE
Best for… pretending you’re in Europe
Union Street Café
This lively Italian restaurant and basement bar is part of the Gordon Ramsay empire, though less formal than many of his offerings. From cured meats through to brightly-flavoured pasta dishes and simple grilled meat and fish mains, it does well at bringing a sunny piece of sud Italia to Southwark.
Your best bet may be to head straight down to the bar where you can sit among olive trees and sip Negronis while tucking into bar snacks such as truffle and pecorino fries and balsamic beef meatballs.
Union Street Café, 47-51 Great Suffolk Street, SE1 0BS
Best for… something different
This eccentric, theatrical boozer from the team behind The Vaults under Waterloo station is hard to miss. It was initially intended to be used solely for the company’s catering and prop storage but has evolved into a fully-functioning bar, albeit one that’s still full of props.
Its real strength is the ever-changing and wonderfully random decor as well as a scatty, makeshift vibe, but the bar food is also well above par. Highlights include jerk chicken tacos and Korean fried chicken with kimchi mayo, plus a selection of burgers.
Vaulty Towers, 34 Lower Marsh, SE1 7RG
Best for… craft beer nerdery
Following the success of the Euston Tap, the team decided to hit up another big railway station for a craft beer fix. The concept is the same: lots of taps (there are 20 keg beers and 6 cask ales on at any time) offering many great brews from London, the UK and beyond.
Set in an archway just outside the main station, it’s far from the cosiest or comfiest of places in the area but it does serve the best beer by far. A couple of booths are prime position if you can nab them, and you’ll be glad to know it’s nowhere near as busy as its older sibling. You can also buy beer to take home, or to drink on the train.
Waterloo Tap, Sutton Walk, SE1 8RL