Where have all the hipsters gone? It’s a question I often find myself asking as I prowl London’s bustling, ritzy streets in search of the kind of scintillating good vibes enjoyed by only the coolest twenty-somethings.

There are plenty of cool neighbourhoods in London: Brixton, Peckham, Soho’s back streets all spring to mind. but there is a fear — at least in me — that London’s coolest spots are being flipped into glitzy, neon-clad, instagram joints with any curated charm sapped to an inch of its life. But if you know where to look, hipsters you will find.

Your first stop should probably be East London, where that kind of grungy, manicured effortlessness is in abundance — all tatted up streets and spoken word poetry nights. And if you're looking for a true late night hipster hideout then look no further than Bambi in London Fields.

Like its namesake, you might live in doe-eyed fear of the dangers of the concrete forest: ridiculously garish cocktails, the thumping tunes of obnoxious DJs, a £500 bill for two. These were mine and my partner’s fears as we drifted into the ‘music-led’ wine bar at Netil House. Thankfully these fears were almost immediately assuaged when we learnt who would be taking care of us for the evening.

Bambi London Fields

Unlike those other, more grating DJ-set while you eat experiences, Bambi’s music programme is curated by London legend Charlie Dark. Dark’s set tastefully drifts between hip-hop deep cuts (the likes of which you probably pretend to know but are surreptitiously Shazaming while nobody’s looking); or old-school crowd pleasers played at a refreshingly understated volume.

If there were some platonic ideal of cool and/or hip, then Bambi would be as close as it comes. When we arrived we were greeted by well-dressed staff, the tunes throbbing pleasantly in the background, as we were led to our nordic design table. Though I must say, the experience was slightly dampened when I noticed the smell of cheese and onion crisps perfuming the air. No matter.

In my personal definition of cool, there is a passage somewhere about how everything must be in tasteful balance — nothing overwrought or laboured. Bambi’s cocktail menu models this thesis beautifully, with a scant but deliberate selection that offers just enough variety without all the pomp. For my sins I started with their spicy margarita, which was the perfect piquant tonic for the fast and exciting panoply of food to come. Speaking of food, Bib Gourmand awarded Henry Freestone takes the helm here, who previously headed up, similarly coveted, Peckham Cellars back in 2020.

Bambi London Fields

The food menu, equally as scant, is all about its share factor; it’s a matter of breaking bread with friends just as much as it is about enjoying every bite. But enjoyed them, we did. Ever the curator, Freestone chose our meal for us, starting with the smoked mackerel pate and pickled cucumber; squash, ricotta and almonds and wholegrain bread with whipped garlic butter.

I’ve always been of the opinion that starters should be cold, light and refreshing and I have never felt more validated in that belief. The real joy came in marrying these flavours. The sweetness of the squash combined with rich, creamy pate, the bright acidity of pickled cucumber and the sharpness of the ricotta all harmonised in a beautifully satisfying way. It felt so natural to drift between plates, ripping out mammoth sized chunks of bread to adorn with these unctuous toppings.

For mains, when Freestone asked whether we wanted the fun option or the serious option we found ourselves dumbstruck for an answer. It seemed Freestone had predicted our indecision and gleefully added “how about both?”. Right answer. The fun option, the chicken parm ciabatta, was delightful in a sort of juvenile way, elevated miraculously by the vodka marinara. Useful tip: ask for extra napkins. However, fun as it was, it was seriously overshadowed by the serious option: the rump steak and braised butter beans.

Bambi London Fields

There is something inherently exclusionary about hipsterdom — when something becomes too popular it loses its cool factor in the eyes of its trailblazers. But Freestone’s menu remains blithely accessible. In fact, I had recently seen him make his braised beans on the Great British Chefs Youtube channel, and as something of a homecook myself, I bookmarked the dish to make at a later date. Some of my favourite meals are those so deliciously simple that they inspire at home recreation.

The biggest praise I can heap on Freestone’s steak and beans is that I was immediately resolved to make it the very next day. And though not quite up to the complexity of Freestone's efforts, it was every bit as warm and comforting. As for dessert, it's not a requirement here as the frozen espresso martini does the job in spades, though the apple crumble sundae did tempt.

There is an argument to be made that niche wine, small plates toting, hipster bars like Peckham cellars and Bambi have all become a bit derivative in the year of our lord 2023, but the idolatry that surrounds them remains. And for good reason: Bambi wears its music, wine and food on its exposed brick coloured sleeve. Our hosts had us seeing off glass after glass of Chenin Blanc, licking our plates, and even having a little boogie in our seats.

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1 Westgate St, London E8 3RL; Bambi