Pop into Pilpel for fresh falafel and hummus and try something a bit out of the ordinary for lunch.
A small, square takeaway and cafe on Brushfield Street, Pilpel specialises in falafel and hummus. Falafel for lunch is the norm in many areas of the Middle East, and the folk behind Pilpel are big fans. In fact, you could say it’s more a lifestyle than a lunch – the owner’s grandfather opened up a falafel stand in Tel Aviv 60 years ago, and the food has been part of the family ever since.
The Brushfield Street venue is a combination of modern and rustic design, with big windows, bright colours, potted plants and eye-catching photos of chickpeas and other food on the walls. There are a couple of high tables along one wall as well as an L-shaped counter space made out of thick, pale wood, providing a seating area that makes the most of the small space. To order, head for the counter and choose from a variety of falafel fillings and hummus toppings, or grab something from the cold counter on the left.
Despite its small size, Pilpel gives off a big, bright welcome, with staff bustling around behind the counter and a constant flow of customers. Despite just opening, it’s incredibly busy during lunchtimes, so if you’d rather not queue for your falafel turn up a bit later – or earlier – instead, as they’re open from 10am to 8pm, Sunday to Friday. Busy market days see an influx of tourists but the main clientele are people who work in the area who are tired of chains’ sandwich and salad offerings. Although there are only a couple of tables and a long counter to sit at, the large windows give you ample opportunity to people watch.
Falafel, falafel and more falafel – with some hummus, too. The menu at Pilpel isn’t very complicated but why mess with a tried and true formula? Falafel and hummus are pretty much the ideal lunch food – cheap, relatively healthy and best eaten with your hands. At Pilpel, a falafel in pita bread costs £3.99, and with it you can have your choice of salad, including pickles, olives, chickpeas, onions, tahini, hummus and even aubergine – the pita isn’t enormous but they stuff enough toppings into it that you’ll have trouble eating it without at least some bits falling out. The falafel – choose from the classic green version or the lesser-seen yellow version without the spices – are about the size of a squashed golf ball, ensuring that you can get at least three in the pita. They’re soft, slightly crumbly and not at all greasy, just as they should be.
If you can’t deal with the complexities of the stuffed-to-the-brim pita, falafel in a container (with pita on the side) is £4.99. Extra dressings are available, including tahini, amba (an Indian-inspired sauce made with mangos, which give it a vivid orange colour) and a bitingly sharp chilli sauce. A container of hummus with two pitas costs £3.99, and Pilpel’s version is creamy and slightly tangy, with a nice, thick texture. Extra toppings include aubergine (40p), feta (60p), guacamole (50p), free range egg (40p) and falafel balls (70p). Other dishes include a few pre-prepared salads (from £2.99) along with sabich, a pita filled with hummus, aubergine and egg (£3.99). Soon to appear on the menu is shakshuka, a lasagne-like dish made with cooked tomatoes and eggs, along with a variety of sandwiches. Everything is locally sourced where possible (the pita bread comes from a bakery in North London) whilst the hummus, falafel and tahini are all made on site.
There’s no alcohol here, but large plastic cups filled with sharp and tart mint lemonade are freshly squeezed and only £1.20. Brightly coloured cans of Spring soda line one of the shelves on the cold counter and coffees are also available.
The Last Word
Despite its trendy reputation, the area around Spitalfields Market has a lot of chains and the prospect of grabbing lunch somewhere can leave you feeling uninspired. The people behind Pilpel have been making hummus and falafel for years, and they do it well. The enthusiasm they have for their food is something you won’t find at in ordinary sandwich shop.