We love our local London mums! In our Mum in the Hood series we speak with mums around the greater London area to find out what they love about where they live. This week we spoke with Candace McManus who lives in Hoxton and gave us an impressive array of recommendations for the best places to go in Hackney and Islington with your family. Thanks Candy!
Please tell us a little about yourself…
I’m Candace McManus, an American living in London for three years with my partner and our two kids, Mae (nearly 4) and Josephine (15 months). I used to work in publishing and now work from home managing a bestselling and award-winning children’s author; Jason Reynolds. Moving abroad was a first for both my husband and I, and we’ve been loving living here! It’s incredibly convenient and for the most part, clean, there are great green spaces, many things are free and if not, affordable – we’re never bored here! And if we do find ourselves needing to wander, London has been a perfect jumping off point to travel and discover other countries. We try to document our travels using the hashtag #MaeVenture.
Which area do you live in, and what do you love about it?
We live in Hoxton; right on the border of both Islington and Hackney. In one direction, steps away, is Shoreditch, known for its hip vibe, markets, and plethora of delicious places to eat. Turn around and you’re a five-minute bus ride from Angel, a less grimy locale yielding to more families, yet still chill and plenty of great shops and places to eat. Right in the middle, lies the canal, which is so magical in the warmer weather. We’re surrounded by incredible options and have easy transportation to all of London!
Where do you like to hang out with your kids?
We’re a quick walk from the Barbican, and every time I find us spending hours there, I’m always a little surprised. Not sure why as it’s the perfect place for little legs to run wild along the wide corridors, coupled with Squish Space, a free-flow sensory room for unders fives, filled with colorful objects and textures, tripled with a free/paid exhibition… and there’s more: the Children’s Library is such a chill spot and their rhymetime is ace; find yourself there on a Saturday or Sunday, and you can also make a stop into the Conservatory or take part in the Family Film Club; and if all else fails, just walk around the grounds peering at the fountains and cool architecture. I’m a huge fan of it all. (Side note, the Barbican is conveniently located right near the Museum of London, also a great place, without meaning to, spend a few hours. Even with its future move, it won’t be far from the Barbican.)
When all is said and done though, my kids just love a good playground! The best ones around us are: Graham Street playground, where you can also enjoy a nice view of the canal; Astey’s Row playground, which recently underwent some much needed improvements – it’s so joyful now, with bright colors and plenty to keep all ages busy – also conveniently located next to New River Path, a nice place to feed the ducks; and King Square Gardens playground, perfect for summer with tons of sand, tons of swings, and a nice splash pad and fountains for the summer. Of note are a couple of adventure playgrounds. We’ve been to Toffee Park (toddlers can visit during term time on Saturdays, from 12-5pm) and Waterside (toddlers can visit during term time on Saturdays, from 11:30am-1pm) – @kerri_and_sprog has curated a great list of toddler-friendly adventure playgrounds. Honorable mentions for a few other playgrounds, as they’re slightly longer trips for us: Spa Fields, Highbury Fields, and Clissold Park.
What are your favourite local family-friendly eateries?
I wouldn’t bill it as family-friendly necessarily, but I’m obsessed with Pophams (Islington), a bakery first, coffee shop second. Their pastries are drool worthy and I always have to talk myself out of going after I’ve dropped by oldest off at nursery. Like, seriously limit myself to once a week. You’ve been warned. Why is it family friendly-ish? Because who doesn’t love a good pastry. Plus in warmer weather, the kids can scoot or run around out front. No public bathroom though, so there’s also that.
Toconoco is a great little Japanese cafe just off the canal. They have a small play area and it’s just a really sweet place. Did I mention there’s a p l a y a r e a? This will get you a solid 15 minutes of quiet time to drink your matcha latte and ignore your kid. And then they’ll ask you to play with them, so bring a friend? Kidding. But am I?
We’re huge fans of Byron Burger on Upper Street. The mac and cheese is legit and that goes a long way in our family. Read: Mae loves it so much and starts humming with impatience, while clutching her fork, as we wait for our meals to arrive.
Our favorite Sunday Roast spot is The Pig & Butcher. The staff (one of the managers in particular), are always so great and accommodating. It’s by far the best roast we’ve had in London. Book directly on their site, but definitely a month or two in advance.
My favorite spots for sushi: Sushi Show on Camden Passage (I love Camden Passage!) and Pham Sushi on Whitecross Street (also the weekday lunch market that happens here has so much variety – pair this with a trip to the Barbican and/or Fortune Street playground and you’re set).
Best pizza spots near us – most authentic goes to Saponara (two doors away from Pophams), but they don’t have high chairs… so maybe make this a date night or go with older kids. Best pizza spot with high chairs goes to The Hanbury Arms – they’ve got games (albeit dated, but kids don’t care) and they do discounted pizzas on Mondays and Tuesdays. Best ice creams near us in either direction: Soft Serve Society in Shoreditch and Udderlicious on Upper Street.
What are your favourite local independent shops?
I often find myself wandering around these shops, wishing I could buy everything: Molly Meg, for its whimsical inventory of children’s bedding, toys, party accessories, and more; and After Noah for its mashup of traditional children’s toys and household items.
We also love supporting our local fishmonger, Steve Hatt, and the butcher, James Elliott – celeb sighting alert – Kiera Knightly gets her meat at the same place we do, so you know it’s good!
What local activities do you and your family take part in?
We’ve been huge fans of Wake Up Gigs at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch. Usually, held on Sunday afternoons, it’s the perfect way to finish out the weekend. The creators, Adam and Sarada, are so warm and inviting and they select obscure and hip talent to serenade parents – yes, this is music for the adults. The tickets are even priced per adult and there’s no circle time, no nursery rhymes – it’s all very refreshing and is one event my partner and I ALWAYS agree on going to. There is stuff for the kids to do – coloring, face painting, and even musical toys so they can get in on the act as well.
Music, but for the kids: If you’re looking for an energetic music activity, please please please check out Piccolo Music. We sometimes head to the Tuesday session at the Hanbury Arms near Angel. I wish I could make it every week! It’s so fun for little ones and the organizer, Stefanie, effortlessly captures every child’s attention in that room. Stop at the aforementioned Pophams, for a nice treat before or after!
To get our bodies moving, we head to open swim sessions at the Ironmonger Row Baths or at Britannia Leisure Centre. The family pool at Ironmonger often has classes running at the same time, so there isn’t too much room for free swim, but it’s a nice space to get acquainted with the water. Britannia’s pool really caters to the kids – it’s like a child’s indoor pool dreams come true…but at Better Gym. The layout is almost set up like a beach, so even babies can sit on the floor and scoot around in the thin layer of water that rests there. It also boasts a wave machine and tube slide.
Once or twice a year, we try to catch a production at the Little Angel Theatre. They put on such stunning shows – a beautiful combination of wonder, magic, and whimsy.
We recently joined Maggie & Rose Islington, a new family club with wonderful children’s dedicated areas throughout the entire space. Mae has grown particularly fond of the classes (art, music, cooking) they offer and knows Maggie & Rose is a weekly weekend treat for us now.
Last but not least, one of our favorite activities is a walk along Regent’s Canal. We typically walk the stretch of canal from near Angel station to Broadway Market. There’s places to stop for coffee or food, and there’s plenty to see along the way – of course, the usual things like ducks and swans, dogs, bicycles, etc., but we also love seeing the groups of kayakers, people lounging on the tops of their narrowboats, the plethora of designs seen on the sides of the narrowboats, and the hot tub boats with their inebriated occupants floating past.
Where’s your favourite place to escape in your area for a little solo time?
I recently had some quality “me time” at Shoreditch Nails for a fun manicure, followed by a massage at Cowshed. Completely atypical of my usual solo time, but thought it worth mentioning as it was all QUITE a lush day. More often than not, when I do get some free time, I find a coffee shop to do work for awhile. Favorites are: Pophams, Gails, and Appestat – of mentioning and right next to Appestat is Katsute (Japanese Boutique and Tearoom), their Matcha Hot Chocolate is a winner and so is the overall vibe.
Where’s the best place for a night out with friends / date night?
We recently discovered Homeboy Bar, dubbed as “Modern Irish Hospitality,” – great for cocktails after you’ve enjoyed a meal out, or just in general. I’m still thinking about the Wild Honey Porter I enjoyed on my first visit. I’m equating this pretty close to Butter Beer for you Harry Potter fans!
Love a good ramen spot and Kanada-Ya is it. They also have a kids menu, but this is the night out section, so ignore that bit. We’re also close to Bone Daddies, which doesn’t have a kids menu and actually the seating there is definitely not kid friendly, but great ramen – great night out.
My Neighbours The Dumplings has that hip underground feel. Rightly so, as there’s a sake bar in the basement. My kind of place!
Pophams (how many times can I mention Popham’s in this post), has a Hackney location that serves up small plates (but meant to be shared) of delicious and stylishly plated pasta. Each dish I had was so unique and flavorful – highly recommended!
If you ask my partner though he says, “I could just go play darts with you at the Wenlock Arms for a few hours.” What I will note about this pub, is not only the darts, but also the fireplace. A couple of years back, in the throes of winter, we were on the hunt for a pub near us with a fireplace. We finally found it. It definitely has a locals feel to it and was one of the few places open between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
What’s the best hidden gem in your area?
Nibbles, located on St. Peter’s Street, is this unassuming, mom and pop type eatery. It’s takeaway only, but the staff is always so sweet. This was where I had my very first English jacket potato – a decent portion, drowning in butter, and smothered in beans and cheese. I have yet to find a better jacket potato and to be honest, I haven’t really tried. Though I’ve cut back on how often we go, Nibbles holds a special place in my heart.