Like the neighborhood she calls home, Emma Dabiri’s background is eclectic. Born in Dublin to a Nigerian-Irish father and Irish-Trinidadian mother, the lecturing/writing/TV-presenting polymath spent her early childhood in Atlanta, Georgia, before returning to Dublin and then eventually setting off for London. Now, she lectures on African Studies at University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, writes for the likes of the Guardian, the Telegraph and the Irish Times and presents for the BBC. Her first book, A History of Hair, which charts 500 years of black hair culture, will be published by Penguin in 2018. Somehow, Dabiri still finds time to make the most of her neighborhood, checking out the latest events at Sutton House, gong bathing at the Well Garden, and setting off on long walks through Hackney Marshes. Here, she shares her insider’s guide to Hackney.
Hackney streets. Photo by @marianstrumfa
Why do you choose to live in Hackney rather than any other part of London?
I moved here in 2001, when Hackney was a very different place to what it is now. I guess I was attracted by the cheap rent initially (those days are long gone!), creativity, nonconformity and that Hackney had this sort of self-contained village feel to it. It’s a relatively small place that caters to all of your needs, in contrast to London in general, which is so vast and can be exhausting to traverse on a daily basis.
Breakfast at El Ganso. Photo by @samdspence
Describe your ideal food day in Hackney.
El Ganso on Broadway Market for their huevos fritos breakfast. Toconoco in Haggerston (right by Regent’s Canal) for a really authentic Japanese lunch of cold soba noodles with a sesame sauce (I lived in Japan for two years, and this place measures up) and then Yum-Yum on Graham Road for a Nigerian dinner of pounded yam and Egusi soup.
A cappuccino at Wilton Way Cafe. Photo by @wiltonwaycafe
Do you have a morning routine?
I usually try to get to the 8 a.m. yoga class at London Fields Yoga on Richmond Road, and then I drop by one of only two places where I’ll drink coffee in Hackney: Wilton Way Café on Wilton Way or Climpson & Sons on Broadway Market.
Why just those two places?
I feel like a lot of places in London just can’t make coffee; like it ends up tasting burnt or plasticy, but thankfully the coffee tastes of neither at these two spots.
Raw Duck, one of Emma's favorite places to take meetings. Photo by @raw_duck
Where's your favorite place to have meetings in Hackney?
Rawduck on Richmond Road or Shoreditch House on Ebor Street.
The storefront of Donlon Books. Photo by @atelierbigjon
Where’s the one place you take visitors?
Donlon Books on Broadway Market.
Inside London Fields Yoga. Photo by @jubilicious2017
Where do you go to be pampered?
I love the Ayurvedic massage at London Fields Yoga. (There’s a masseuse there, Nicola Croucher, whose massage is pretty much life-changing.) I also just went to a New Moon cacao ceremony there, which was the most amazing combination of chocolate-drinking, dance, and yoga breathing.
Hackney Picturehouse—a good spot to escape the London rain. Photo by @hackneyph
Where do you go when it's raining?
Hackney Picturehouse to see a film.
Greenery at Regent's Canal. Photo by @regentscanal
Where do you go when it's sunny?
For a walk along Regent’s Canal, or around Hackney Marshes.
The "School of Anarchy" exhibit at Sutton House. Photo by @nevertiredoflondon
What's your favorite museum, gallery or other cultural destination in Hackney?
Sutton House. As Hackney’s oldest house, it’s got a special appeal for a historian like me. They’ve got an ongoing exhibition this year, ‘Sutton House Queered’, which is really interestingly done and there’s also going to be a ‘School of Anarchy’ for the summer season, which is set to be a really cool series of workshops about anarchy and DIY culture, some of which are for children - perfect for my four-year-old!
Where in Hackney do you go when you want to be inspired?
Walking in one of Hackney’s more isolated green spaces.
Ridley Road Market. Photo by @scandinavianabroad
If you were to pick just one Hackney sight that's actually worth seeing, what would it be?
Ridley Road market. It’s like a little bit of West Africa in East London.
What's your best recent Hackney discovery?
Kelechi Okafor’s bomb twerk classes in Clapton.
Brilliant Corners Restaurant. Photo by @brilliant_cnrs
The hottest bar or restaurant in Hackney right now?
Between parenting, writing a book, and completing a PhD, I don’t have much time to stay right up to speed with what’s hottest, but I love Brilliant Corners, a Japanese restaurant-cum-music venue on Kingsland Road.
How do you get away, every day?
Meditation, yoga, and walking in nature.