How This East London Neighbourhood Became the City’s Hottest Dining Destination – and No, It’s Not Shoreditch

Words by Christina Dean

Looking for a guy in finance? Head to Canary Wharf. Looking for a good bit of dinner? Head to Canary Wharf 

Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, West India Dock on the Isle of Dogs, where Canary Wharf came to be established (taking its name from the quay where fruit and veg from the Canary Islands were unloaded), was one of the busiest docks in the world. But the port industry in London wasn’t made to handle containerised cargo, and from the 1960s, it began to decline, with the docks closing for good in the 80s. 

A scheme to redevelop the area, stemming from an idea by American bankers to transform the area into a ‘back office’ for the businesses operating in the City, was introduced and by 1991, One Canada Square, the UK’s tallest building at the time (which it remained until 2012), was open. It wasn’t long before Canary Wharf became a cluster of skyscrapers and a global financial centre, home to big banks and businesses like JPMorgan, Barclays, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup.

Canary Wharf is a privately owned estate and is currently held by Brookfield Property Partners and Qatar Investment Authority, whose aim is to turn the estate into a “24/7 city where people can live, work and thrive”. That means more residential space, which has been created through the development of Wood Wharf; even better transport connections, like the Elizabeth Line; more amenities, like bars, shops, restaurants, salons, gyms and parks; and more culture, like the Museum of London Docklands, a large public art programme, and events including summer film and sports screenings, seasonal open water swimming, a winter light festival and a festive ice rink. The Canary Wharf Group recently injected further investment into the neighbourhood, specifically for residential and life sciences projects, signalling a diversification away from the financial sector. 

This new direction comes amidst a changing business landscape. Working habits have changed (and remained changed) post-pandemic, with commuter numbers to Canary Wharf still below pre-Covid levels and many firms reducing their office footprints – HSBC, Moody’s and Clifford Chance are just some of the big names swapping Docklands for the City when their leases expire. But a few businesses moving out hasn’t been the biggest signal that things are shifting, instead it’s been the influx of restaurants, and more importantly, good restaurants. 

Hawksmoor was the first big, credible name to head east, opening its biggest-ever restaurant and the Lowback Bar on a floating pavilion in Wood Wharf in late 2021, around the same time that rotating tasting menu concept Six by Nico also set up shop in Canary Wharf. Market Halls, Caravan, Dishoom, Mallow and Blacklock all soon followed suit. Where restaurant groups would usually look to expand into central London, planting a flag in E14 has now become the marker of growth. 

Following the investment and following the people are obvious moves from a business standpoint – the estate’s owners have injected a lot of cash into Canary Wharf and the Lizzie Line has increased the area’s potential footfall – but for some of these operators, opening in Canary Wharf hasn’t solely been about going where the money is. 

For Gordon Ker, founder of Blacklock, Canary Wharf offered the group the opportunity to create something standout. “There’s a fascinating history in the Docklands and Billingsgate Market nearby. The preconception is that it’s a place for work, but people live here too, and now it’s a destination for people coming in on weekends. So, when we got a call telling us about one of the oldest buildings in Canary Wharf, a single-standing warehouse under a bridge with a train going over the top, we were down right away,” he explains. “It felt characterful and different, a unique slice of the story of this area. We even managed to acquire some wood panelling for our bar from HMS Hermes – in service with the Royal Navy from 1959 until 1984 she served as the flagship of the British forces during the 1982 Falklands War – which was docked at Canary Wharf.” With trade “ahead of our expectations and particularly so at weekends which are very very busy”, it’s a move that’s clearly paid off, though bountiful chop platters and generous scoops of white chocolate cheesecake won’t have hurt. 

The thinking was similar for the Fallow team, who have recently opened the massive 500-cover Roe in Canary Wharf. As Chairman James Robson states, “we chose our site in Canary Wharf quite simply because we wanted to put a world-class restaurant in a world-class building. Designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the architects behind the Tate Modern extension, One Park Drive is the seventh tallest building in London, and the view and terrace are just stunning. We even have the sun from about 11am until late evening – you don’t find many terraces like this.” It’s only been open a couple of months but critics and influencers alike have been flocking east to eat there, so it seems like another hit for the team. 

Modern Indian group Kricket is also bound for the area. Co-founder Rik Campbell acknowledged that the “established community” and “full seven-day operation” that Canary Wharf has become was a draw but there was also a gap in the market he believed his operation could fill. “Even with a wealth of destinations to choose from, we identified that finding food after 10pm can be a challenge!” he explained. “We’ve got a late licence on the site so we can open to 2am, which is great for our bar, SOMA, but we’re also going to use that for our restaurant, Kricket, and do the full service until late, on the nights that demand it – Thursday, Friday and Saturday!”

And the pace of openings doesn’t seem to be slowing. French restaurant Marceline, inspired by the brasseries of Paris and New York, is opening in Wood Wharf in August, and word on the street that Big Mamma is eyeing up a site, possibly one with a waterfront terrace but definitely one that’ll be completely OTT, in Canary Wharf too.

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