Eating & drinkingLocalOut & About

e5 Poplar Bakehouse is a thing of quiet beauty, an artisan café without pretension

A satellite of Hackney’s e5 Bakehouse, this unassuming spot on Bartlett Park is many things rolled into one; a bakery, a café, a farm shop, a training hub and a community centre.

Away from the roar of traffic on East India Dock Road, Cotall Street follows the Regent’s Canal, mostly deserted here at its southern end, before joining the Thames.

You might hear the whining of drills or other construction noise – maybe a passing car. London is working one of its favourite magic tricks: just one street away from a main road, it is quiet enough to feel suburban. 

The Bakehouse, located on the ground floor of one of Poplar’s many residential new-builds, emerges from the vast expanse of Bartlett Park and almost blends into the greenery, except for the word café painted on a window in white serif. 

It is one of those places that merges indoor and outdoor, public and private. Picnic tables surround the entrance, inviting walkers from the park and the canal to rest awhile. Baskets of fresh vegetables peek through the doorway and warm yellow light beckons you inside. 

Shelves of apples and onions for sale next to bags of flour at e5 Poplar Bakehouse in East London.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are on sale along with e5 Poplar Bakehouse’s bread and tinned goods. Photo by Holly Munks ⓒ Social Streets

To your left is a vintage dropleaf table which you might have seen in your grandparents’ house, as if ready to be folded open when the guests arrive for tea. But now it is laden with eggs from e5’s Suffolk farm, which you can take home in one of the nearby cartons. 

Coffee beans are roasting in the open kitchen to your right, and their aroma mingles with the cool air blowing in from the park, and fresh bread stacked on shelves behind the coffee machine. 

The space is larger than it looks, high-ceilinged and vaguely industrial, but resolutely cosy. Past the pastry counter and homemade preserves are clusters of wooden tables and chairs. Yellowish lamps play well with the bright, grey light streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the park.

The Union operates from the same building, and they originally approached e5 with an offer to rent café space. Though independently run, e5 often collaborates with the Union, catering for events and serving customers from Union activities. It has been here since 2017, when it opened as the e5 Roasthouse, and has since rebranded as the e5 Poplar Bakehouse.

The staff smile easily, chatting to customers and each other with equal familiarity. Mothers stroll in with baby carriers. Laptop workers tap away in the generous seating area, whilst kids scamper past.

Boards above the counter explain types of bread and coffee available at e5 Poplar. Photo by Holly Munks ⓒ Social Streets

East London is not short on bakeries – arguably, Poplar is. But the owners of e5 are trying to do more than simply satisfy the sourdough cravings of young professionals in new-build flats. The business is built on ideals: they mill their flour in Hackney, source ingredients locally, and roast ethical beans on-site. And a key part of their mission has been looping local communities into their work. 

e5 has worked with the Refugee Council since 2013 on a baker’s training programme for displaced and vulnerable people. They have been running classes with people from across the world, particularly North Africa and the Middle East, looking to upskill and find employment opportunities. 

Many of their current staff started as trainees on the programme. Head Baker Jean Kearne explained how e5 uses baking as a channel for community building, telling me: “It’s not just about a loaf of bread.” 

They welcome young people looking for work experience, customers who want to learn more about making bread or even home bakers in need of a sourdough starter, which Jean is more than happy to share. 

Head Baker Jean Kearne hard at work preparing a fresh batch of sourdough. Photo by Holly Munks ⓒ Social Streets

The café has also made a point of adapting to its customers. Front-of-House Manager Alex Vera-Guerra explained that the café is largely vegetarian and on the occasion that their menu includes meat, it is certified Halaal. 

You could be forgiven for wondering how this little oasis stays in business, given that it is so well hidden. But there is a steady trickle of regulars from surrounding flats, who come for the bread, but linger to soak up a relaxed, friendly atmosphere, and return to e5 as their default meeting place. 

Add to this visitors from the Union, gaggles of kids playing sports in the park, alongside caffeine-starved parents, and you have the ingredients for that rare thing: an artisan café which avoids pretension, and feels like a genuinely welcoming community space. 

If you want to escape the constant motion of the city for some green space near the Canal, but still feel connected to the people around you, this is a perfect solution. 

And, of course, it is a no-brainer for your daily bread.

Manager Alex Vera-Guerra and Head Baker Jean Kearne in front of the bread counter at e5 Poplar Bakehouse. Photo by Holly Munks ⓒ Social Streets

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