Among the historic (and historically hardscrabble) corridors of London’s East End, a new energy has taken hold, marked by the efforts of trendsetting artists, designers, chefs, and hoteliers.
There’s a story that circulates through the London art world about the gritty Hoxton/Shoreditch area in the mid 1990’s, when it was just beginning to be frequented by the YBA’s (Young British Artists). Before the pioneering White Cube Gallery opened there in 2000 and things took off in earnest, Hoxton Square apparently had a planted brick border that served as both a literal and figurative divide between its west side—at the time home to the cutting-edge Lux art center and a handful of pioneering showrooms and bars—and the edgy, no-go east side. In the warmer months, the hedge flourished, conveniently obscuring the less glamorous aspects of Hoxton from the movers and shakers of the art, fashion, and culture worlds who were venturing out to mix at the edge of acknowledged London civilization. “But in autumn, when the bush lost its leaves, all sorts of designer bags would be revealed in the branches,” recounts Iwona Blazwick, the stylish and formidably clever director of the Whitechapel Gallery, located just a couple miles from the square. “The local kids would have nicked them from the people on the ‘right’ side, taken out what they wanted, and dumped them. That bush—that funny detritus—was a real metaphor for what was happening in the East End then.”
What was happening, of course, was gentrification. In the past decade it has rolled inexorably east, powered by the freak money being made and spent here in this world financial capital, first into Spitalfields, then Hoxton, Shoreditch, and Bethnal Green, in the borough of Hackney, and finally to Whitechapel and Mile End, in Tower Hamlets. (In 2012, it will roll even farther east when the Olympics are held in Stratford.) These are the neighborhoods and boroughs that make up East London, a palimpsest whose rough-and-tumble history indelibly colors its contemporary identity. (Cockney—the quintessential East Ender—is a term said to date back to the 1300’s, when it was used to identify a person born within earshot of the bells of St. Mary-le-Bow church, a few miles from Hoxton Square). The area is profoundly defined in the minds of Londoners as home to the working classes, whether English or part of the centuries-old tidal push of immigrants—French Huguenots, Irish, Eastern Europeans and Russians, and latterly, South Asians. Their ebb and flow has sustained a vibrant tension between displacement and integration, poverty and aspiration, heritage and the threat of its obsolescence that endures in East London to this day.
What’s changed in the past decade is that the immigrants in question have been as likely to hail from TriBeCa, or West Hollywood, or indeed the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (seven-odd miles away on a map; light years distant, socially), as they have from, say, Bangladesh or Belarus. And the vibrant tension has taken on a new dimension, as early adopters, and the wealthy who inevitably follow them, have set up shop, bringing along all the attendant signifiers of their lifestyle—from expensive handcrafted furnishings to heirloom produce.
Though it started some 20 years ago in Clerkenwell, just west of Hoxton, East London’s gentrification is still in its inception in other places. On the streets surrounding the Whitechapel Gallery, for instance, you might hear only a smattering of English amid the Bengali, and there are side lanes lined with joyless council housing or semi-decrepit warehouses that, when you consider turning down them on a late-evening walk, all but scream out: not a good idea. But Blazwick cites high-profile figures on London’s cultural scene—directors of the English Heritage society and the Royal Academy—who have eschewed Marylebone and Chelsea to colonize the pockets of pristine Georgian houses behind her gallery as well as bourgeois mums and dads from Wimbledon who venture in for world-class exhibitions and Sunday lunch at the White-chapel Gallery Dining Room, a tiny, exquisite wood-paneled canteen that, since opening last winter, has been one of the hotter seats in town.
A similar dynamic is at work across the rest of London’s East End as blue-chip creative and cultural talents—hoteliers and chefs, art dealers and designers—have been steadily working themselves into the fabric of daily life. In some cases, post-gentrification has arrived in regrettable ways: Hoxton Square and parts of Shoreditch on a Friday night are now awash in suburban twentysomethings with the same dual missions of twentysomethings everywhere: getting epically drunk and scoring. But on, say, a Tuesday afternoon, much of East London presents scenes of commerce and community that are dynamic and downright chic.
A walk down Redchurch Street, in loud, busy Shoreditch, manifests this in its most concentrated, and current, state. Art exhibition spaces—Urban Angel; the Redchurch Street Gallery—mix with shops and creative firms housed in former convenience stores and warehouses. Fashionable apothecary Aesop made its debut here nine months ago in slick, scented surroundings; Labour & Wait, selling simply perfect household items, recently relocated after 10 years in Spitalfields to the old green-tiled pub at No. 85. And Hostem, a menswear store that opened in June, counts among its clients both fashion-forward gentlemen hailing from within the Square Mile (hedge fund managers; derivatives analysts) and locals sporting the East London hipster uniform of sockless brogues, rolled denim, thick spectacles, whiskers, and the occasional waistcoat. At the street’s westernmost end is Terence Conran’s Boundary, which comprises a proper French restaurant, a 17-room boutique hotel, and a rooftop bar and brasserie that was completely packed within about 10 minutes and has by all appearances remained that way (English weather permitting) since opening last year. From here the much larger terrace of Shoreditch House, in the top floors of the Biscuit Building across the street, can be seen. Opened in 2007 to cater to the influx of media companies setting up shop in the area, the Soho House group’s eastern outpost has a no-suits-or-ties clause in its dress code—smirk all you like, it’s strictly enforced—and as of February a new 26-room hotel, Shoreditch Rooms, that allows guests access to the club’s rooftop. The hotel rooms are small, wood-paneled, and gratifyingly affordable; the Cowshed Spa downstairs proffers pedicures to customers in sleek white leather armchairs. Just around the corner is Pizza East, a sprawling pizzeria with an unreconstructed industrial interior and a menu of rustic antipasti and wafer-thin pizzas.
Just a few blocks to the south is Brick Lane, a cacophonous artery connecting Shoreditch to Spitalfields and Whitechapel. It’s known, of course, for having London’s best (or at least its most prolific) Indian-food scene. But it has a history that’s illustrious enough to fill textbooks. Case in point: Jamme Masjid—the Great London Mosque—on the corner of Brick Lane and Fournier Street. It was consecrated in 1976 in an early Georgian house that, for the century prior, was the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. Before that, it had a Victorian life as a Methodist church; and in the early 1800’s, existed as a chapel to promote Christianity among a burgeoning Ashkenazi immigrant population—before which it was the Huguenot Neuve Eglise, built in 1743.
Brick Lane’s brewing tradition also dates back centuries: the Old Truman Brewery here takes its name from a family who started making ales in the late 1600’s. Today, the brewery building is home to almost 200 independent creative companies. It’s connected to Brick Lane by a small pedestrian alley called Dray Walk, over which the brewery towers, and along which the best of Brick Lane’s energy can be experienced: food stands peddle izakaya-style snacks, dosas, empanadas, kebabs and dolma, and eye-watering Goan curries. Small fashion traders with provocatively arcane names (Son of a Stag; A Butcher of Distinction; Public Beware Co.) enjoy fiercely loyal local followings. In and around Brick Lane are multiple markets, including the storied one in adjacent Spitalfields; Thursday, not Sunday, is the connoisseur’s day for antiques.
Less than a mile north lies Columbia Road, the grassroots opposite of Redchurch Street’s sleek canniness and Brick Lane’s hurly-burly edge. It’s in low-rise, charmingly shambolic Bethnal Green, and is home to London’s favorite flower market—a Sunday morning affair lent a surreal Dickensian air by vendors cajoling browsers with hyperbolic sales pitches delivered in semi-ironic Cockney accents. (The original Saturday market was moved to Sunday to cater to the area’s Russian and Eastern European Jewish traders.) People are packed tight as sardines among the stalls, bargaining for Dutch tulips and Kenyan lisianthus and English roses.
The road itself is a sweet two-block stretch of early Victorian houses, traditional two-up, two-downs, many converted by their new owners into hobbyist shops with façades painted lurid shades of purple and green. Glitterati, for instance, keeps hours more or less according to the whims of its owners, a couple who are specialists, respectively, in vintage watches and Miriam Haskell costume jewelry. At the pint-size Café Columbia, open for 30-plus years and still the best place around to get a bagel, there’s a photo of Pete Doherty in his Babyshambles days affixed to the wall; comment on it to the stout sixtysomething owner, and she rolls her eyes heavenward as if to say: I knew that little geezer when, and “when” wasn’t pretty days for him either. Sunday mornings, croissants and fair-trade coffee are served in the courtyard of the Royal Oak, a pub with excellent food and an aggressively self-regulating clientele (the change in noise level and quality of gaze directed your way when you walk in tell you more or less instantly whether you should stay, or just turn around and go).
If it’s a Saturday, one should instead proceed beyond Columbia Road and along Goldsmiths Row past Regent’s Canal to Broadway Market. It’s mostly foodstuffs rather than flowers here, and to miss it on a sunny day would be to miss the best people-watching in town—equal parts farmers’ market and urban style show, with the cast of flaneurs and flaneuses sizing up organic Wiltshire Horn lamb and Excalibur plums while only slightly less overtly sizing up one another. Lining the road are cafés and pubs to please all aesthetics and palates: for the Francophiles, there’s shabby-chic L’Eau a la Bouche; for beer drinkers, the picturesque trellises and outdoor tables at the Dove Freehouse; for synapse-stimulating coffee and flapjacks, Climpson & Sons; for pie and mash and even jellied eels (don’t knock ’em till you try ’em), F. Cooke.
“I still love [the scene at] Broadway Market,” says Pablo Flack, a co-owner of Bistrotheque, the Hackney restaurant-cum–cabaret parlor opened in 2004. Flack and business partner David Waddington are, like Blazwick, elder statesmen of East London’s culture and nightlife scene. In the late nineties and early oughties, Flack ran Shoreditch’s Bricklayers Arms, famously the watering hole favored by YBA’s, before Bistrotheque became a social nexus for the fashion designers and artists who’d put down roots in the area. He could easily decry the loss of authenticity, perceived or actual, that gentrification has wrought. But he’s dismissive of the naysayers: “I don’t subscribe to the ‘It was all better in the past’ mentality,” he says. “Shoreditch was a ghost town. Today there are great shops, restaurants, bars; some of the streets are actually pretty now. And an awful lot of wealth has been created. There could—there should—be more places like Boundary, or Town Hall.”
“Town Hall” is Town Hall Hotel & Apartments, an ambitious five-star establishment that opened just a few blocks away from Bistrotheque in May and is housed in the former Bethnal Green council chambers—a listed monolith that’s a hybrid of Victorian and Edwardian architecture. The Singapore-based boutique hotelier Peng Loh fell in love with (and signed a lease on) the site the first time he laid eyes on it, despite the monumental task of its restoration and the arguably equally daunting one of convincing the traveling classes that Cambridge Heath Road—east of Shoreditch, way east of the West End, and not exactly walking distance to the City—was the New Place to Be (at $460 a night, to boot). Certainly, the spaces have “labor of love” written all over them, with Peng and Paris-based architects Rare collaborating to meticulously restore original wood- and stonework, any new detailing carefully crafted to reference, if not replicate, the original elements. Furnishings are spare and clean-lined, a mixture of Midcentury reissues and new pieces designed by Rare principal Michel da Costa Gonçalves. Conspicuous luxury isn’t the order of the day here; one is meant to appreciate having 18-foot ceilings, Tasmanian oak–paneled walls, and original casement windows (and thanks to Rare’s subtle ministrations, one probably will). Locals, meanwhile, are coming to sample Viajante, Town Hall’s restaurant, where chef Nuno Mendes is turning out consistently imaginative, delicious, seasonal food (despite London’s critics meting out only the thinnest, most begrudging praise, as is their bitchy wont).
Peng, like many of those around him, is betting that East London has achieved critical mass of the best sort—an ideal balance of inviting and challenging, despite the occasional Hoxton Square–style lapse. And the move ever eastward continues: the 2012 Olympics are pulling development beyond Mile End to Stratford; Westfield Stratford City, an outpost of the massive Westfield mall, is slated to open shortly—a good or terrible sign, depending on whom you ask. Blazwick, for her part, is more cautiously positive. “When I say it’s cosmopolitan, I mean truly cosmopolitan,” she says. “There’s a mix of people and classes here you can’t erase. There’s still a great deal of public housing, for one thing. I think it will never be too gentrified, and conversely, will never again descend to a real ghetto.” This tension between the area’s storied past and its electric present ensures that East London (or parts of it, anyway) will remain a forcing ground for creativity. It’s a delicate balance that Blazwick roots for: “I, for one, hope we’ll maintain this tremendous dynamic—this fragile ecosystem.”
Great Value Boundary 2-4 Boundary St.; 44-20/7729-1051; theboundary.co.uk; doubles from $222.
Great Value Shoreditch Rooms Ebor St.; 44-20/7739-5040; shoreditchrooms.com; doubles from $214.
Town Hall Hotel & Apartments 8 Patriot Square.; 44-20/7871-0460; townhallhotel.com; doubles from $460.
Bistrotheque 23-27 Wadeson St.; 44-20/8983-7900; dinner for two $95.
Café Columbia 138 Columbia Rd.; 44-20/7033-8764; breakfast for two $15.
Climpson & Sons 67 Broadway Market; 44-20/7812-9829; breakfast for two $40.
Dove Freehouse 24-28 Broadway Market; 44-20/7275-7617; lunch for two $50.
F. Cooke 9 Broadway Market; 44-20/7254-6458; lunch for two $11.
L’Eau a la Bouche 35-37 Broadway Market; 44-20/7923-0600; lunch for two $24.
Pizza East 56 Shoreditch High St.; 44-20/7729-1888; dinner for two $35.
Rochelle Canteen Nose-to-tail gastronomy from Margot Henderson and her husband, Fergus. Rochelle School, Arnold Circus; 44-20/7729-5677; lunch for two $70.
Royal Oak 73 Columbia Rd.; 44-20/7729-2220; dinner for two $68.
St. John Bread & Wine Fergus Henderson’s simple foods prepared to unadorned perfection. 94-96 Commercial St.; 44-20/7251-0848; dinner for two $92.
Viajante Town Hall Hotel; 44-20/7871-0460; dinner for two $150.
Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room 77-82 Whitechapel High St.; 44-20/7522-7896; lunch for two $57.
A Butcher of Distinction 11 Dray Walk; 44-20/7770-6111.
Aesop 5A Redchurch St.; 44-20/7613-3793.
Folk 11 Dray Walk; 44-20/7375-2844.
Glitterati 148 Columbia Rd.; no phone.
Hostem 41-43 Redchurch St.; 44-20/7739-9733.
Labour & Wait 85 Redchurch St.; 44-20/7729-6253.
Public Beware Co. 7 Dray Walk; 44-20/7770-6213.
Rough Trade 91 Brick Lane; 44-20/7392-7788.
Son of a Stag 91 Brick Lane; 44-20/7377-9800.
Verde & Co. 40 Brushfield St.; 44-20/7247-1924.
Broadway Market From London Fields to Regent’s Canal; broadwaymarket.co.uk; Saturdays 9 a.m.–5 p.m.
Columbia Road Shops & Flower Market columbiaroad.info; Sundays 8 a.m.–3 p.m.
Old Truman Brewery Different markets run from Friday through Sunday. 91 Brick Lane; trumanbrewery.com.
Spitalfields Market Various stalls and stores are open throughout the week. 16 Horner Square; visitspitalfields.com; 10 a.m.–4 p.m. daily.
See and Do
Jamme Masjid 59 Brick Lane; 44-20/7247-6052.
Whitechapel Gallery 77-82 Whitechapel High St.; 44-20/7522-7888; whitechapelgallery.org.
White Cube Gallery 48 Hoxton Square; 44-20/7930-5373; whitecube.com.
St. John Bread & Wine
Opened in 2003 across from Spitalfields Market, Bread & Wine is a more casual offshoot of Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver’s St. John Bar & Restaurant. The high-ceilinged dining room, housed in a former bank, has white walls, simple wooden furniture, and a bustling open kitchen. Incorporating fresh seasonal ingredients, dishes from the daily changing menu can be enjoyed as a three-course meal or as a selection of small plates. The menu emphasizes adventurous head-to-tail cooking, with possible options including foie gras and duck liver toast and venison and trotter pie. Wine and baked goods are available to take home.
it’s a wood-beamed but mercifully unkitschy English pub that’s less than an hour by train from London, in the Berkshire countryside near Windsor Castle. The updated British cooking, by chef Dominic Chapman, is straightforward and features superb produce. The wine list is carefully considered, with some serious Bordeaux and Burgundy bottles that are ungreedily priced—a 1998 Château Haut-Bages Monpelou, for instance, comes in at around $55.
London’s oldest market, Spitalfields has a history dating back to 1666. Today, the sprawling marketplace includes both the old market and a newer traders market, which features up to 110 stalls each day. Spitalfields is open Tuesday through Friday as well as Sunday, with Sunday being the most popular day to visit. Shoppers may find everything from designer clothing and handbags to eco-friendly stationery, vintage furniture, handmade jewelry, and bespoke children’s toys. After browsing the stalls, market-goers can dine at a variety of restaurants, including Carluccio’s, Giraffe, and Leon, and attend special events such as concerts and wine tastings.
The Whitechapel Gallery is one of London’s premier venues for displaying contemporary art. After acquiring the Whitechapel Library and completing an extensive expansion project, the gallery has nearly doubled in size. The newly expanded Whitechapel Gallery features a Collection Gallery, displaying collections from around the world, and Commission Gallery, highlighting works created specifically for the Whitechapel Gallery each year. Throughout its history, the gallery has premiered such emerging artists as Picasso, Rothko, and Pollock, solidifying its place among London’s most influential galleries.
White Cube Gallery
Perhaps the most influential contemporary gallery in London, White Cube was established by renowned art dealer Jay Jopling in 1993. In 2000, Jopling opened a new location in East London’s trendy Hoxton Square, amidst the largest artists’ enclave in Europe. Within the gallery’s striking industrial-style structure, two pristine exhibit spaces enable patrons to immerse themselves in cutting-edge work by celebrated British and international artists such as Damien Hirst, Sam Taylor-Wood, Tracey Emin and Chuck Close. The pieces represent a variety of media and range from the beautiful to the nightmarish. Festive gallery previews are also open to the public.
Patrons willing to search for this unmarked eatery, tucked away in a converted East London factory, will likely find it's well worth the extra effort. Part restaurant, part bar, and part cabaret theater, Bistrotheque offers a trendy, industrial-chic atmosphere with exposed pipes, gleaming cement floors, and sleek marble-top tables softened by vibrant bouquets and plenty of sunlight. The bistro is particularly popular for brunches consisting of eggs Benedict and traditional Sunday roast, although the dinner menu is equally enticing, pairing fresh fruit cocktails with delicate steak tartare and garlicky roast chicken followed by decadent crème brûlée.
Open for more than a century, this authentic mash and pie shop was established in 1900 to serve traveling shepherds. Today, the family-run eatery remains largely unchanged, still situated in Hackney on the border of Broadway Market. Behind a Victorian glass-and-marble façade, the interior has original yellow and blue tiled walls, marble benches, a long metal counter, and a floor sprinkled with sawdust. The shop serves 100-percent minced beef pies with homemade pastry, mashed potatoes, and “liquor,” or parsley gravy. As per tradition, F. Cooke is also known for its hot and jellied eel, which tastes similar to pickled herring.
Town Hall Hotel & Apartments
Singaporean hotelier Peng Loh made his European debut by transforming an Edwardian town hall into a fine-dining restaurant, 98 rooms and apartments, and public spaces that exhibit work by up-and-coming East End artists. The room rates—which are, on average, $250 less than those at other pedigreed hotels in London—are cause for celebration, too. Furnishings are spare and clean-lined, a mixture of Midcentury reissues and new pieces designed by Rare principal Michel da Costa Gonçalves. Conspicuous luxury isn't the order of the day here; one is meant to appreciate having 18-foot ceilings, Tasmanian oak-paneled walls, and original casement windows (and thanks to Rare's subtle ministrations, one probably will). Locals, meanwhile, are coming to sample Viajante, Town Hall's restaurant, where chef Nuno Mendes is turning out consistently imaginative, delicious, seasonal food (despite London's critics meting out only the thinnest, most begrudging praise, as is their bitchy wont).
At this experimental East End eatery, adventurous foodies savor a surprise-stocked trip across the globe courtesy of fearlessly creative Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes. Housed in a majestic former town hall, the restaurant comprises two simply chic dining rooms and an open kitchen that offers mesmerizing views of the culinary theatrics. Seasonal prix fixe menus are served "blind" and feature a tantalizing parade of inventive plates which may include a bold galangal and lemongrass-scented confit of chicken sandwich; Iberian pig’s neck with Savoy cabbage and salty explosions of fried caper; and dark chocolate pudding with hazelnut, praline powder and blackcurrant gel.
The Boundary Hotel
Taking hotel design to an exciting new level, this Shoreditch property offers 17 unique guestrooms and suites, each of which is inspired by a major designer or design movement ranging from Andrée Putman and Josef Hoffmann to Bauhaus and Shaker. Housed in a converted Victorian warehouse, the hotel still has original brickwork and enormous sash windows in each of the bright, comfy rooms, which also feature bespoke furniture, free Wi-Fi, Apple TVs, and stylish bathrooms with luxurious heated floors. Dining options include an on-site, gourmet restaurant and a well-loved rooftop terrace where guests can sip cocktails beside a roaring fireplace.
Visitors hoping to amp up the glam in London will be pleased by the 26 stylish yet affordable rooms at the ultra-exclusive, members-only Shoreditch House. Opened in 2007 by Soho House founder Nick Jones, the Shoreditch is housed in a renovated warehouse that embodies the concept of industrial-chic cool. Rooms are light and airy with big screen TVs, rainforest showers, and quirky touches like old-fashioned telephones and a "Borrow Me" collection of games and goodies. Guests also enjoy the on-site Cowshed Spa and the many hidden treasures of the Shoreditch House, which range from a bowling alley to an expansive rooftop pool.
Every Sunday morning, historic Columbia Road becomes a colorful, fragrant collage of flower stalls, and in the midst of all the lovely blooms, an equally ambrosial treat awaits: the fresh, blissful bagels of Café Columbia. Only open during flower market hours, this charming family-owned café has been delighting market-goers with delicious fare for over three decades. Behind the quaint green storefront, customers discover just-baked bagels stuffed with unusual, delectable fillings like crayfish and cress, English breakfast and sweet strawberries and cream. Patrons can dine inside the cafe or outside on the sidewalk, surrounded by bright blossoms and joyful street music.
Climpson & Sons
Smooth, creamy bliss in a cup warms even the dreariest of London mornings at this coffee shop in East London’s Broadway Market. Opened in 2005, the shop is run by passionate baristas who hand-roast their own beans and top each expertly-made cup with a cheerful heart design. In addition to silky flat whites and bold cappuccinos, Climpson & Sons also offers gourmet goodies such as flaky croissants, moist banana chocolate chip muffins, and scrumptious aubergine feta sandwiches. Patrons enjoy their sips and snacks in a cozy space with sage green walls, beautiful old hardwoods, and vibrant flowers.
Rich wood paneling, cozy hidden nooks, occasional live music, and stacks of board games all cultivate a uniquely welcoming vibe at this landmark pub in Borough Market. Established over two decades ago, Dove Freehouse offers a timeless combination of tasty homemade comfort food and beer galore, including approximately 100 Belgian bottles, an array of ales on tap, yummy ciders, and rare lambics and sours. Pints are paired with pub classics as well as a few Thai and Belgian specialties, with favorites including the fish and chips, hearty bison burger, Waterzooi van Vis (seafood stew), and traditional full breakfast with a secret-recipe Bloody Mary.
L’Eau a la Bouche
This Borough Market deli, whose name means "mouthwatering" in French, lives up to its alluring appellation with a smorgasbord of foodie-approved treats. Elaborate displays offer typical deli finds, including quality meats, artisan cheeses, freshly baked bread, and rare olives. You'll also find already-prepared homemade goodies ranging from fluffy quiches to hearty toasted sandwiches like the Italian ham with pesto and sundried tomatoes. Patrons can chow down inside, where reclaimed timber and warm globe lights create an inviting atmosphere, or outside at a sidewalk table where rich coffees and creamy pear flan come with a side of spectacular people-watching.
Hidden behind the soaring walls of an old Victorian school playground in residential Shoreditch lies a small converted bike shed housing Rochelle Canteen, a cafe made all the more magical by its secretive location and almost imperceptible buzzer entrance. Run by Melanie Arnold and Margot Henderson of Arnold & Henderson catering, the canteen serves weekday breakfasts and lunches embodying Henderson's head-to-tail culinary philosophy. In the landscaped courtyard or all-white dining room, patrons indulge in daily specials that may include creamy asparagus soup, deep-fried cod cheeks with tartar, and pecan caramel ice cream.
Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room
As artful and intriguing as the masterpieces displayed in the gallery's nearby exhibits, the plates presented in the Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room reflect the imagination of consultant chef Angela Hartnett. The space is minimalist with large windows, white walls, and long mirrors reflecting the warm glow of delicate pendant lights. Here, patrons indulge in seasonal gourmet creations that may include whipped goats' curd with roasted garlic, cote du boeuf with balsamic shallots, and a decadent chocolate pot topped with homemade honeycomb. The wine list is brief but covers all the bases.
A Butcher of Distinction
Upon entering this simple shop, designed in green hues with reclaimed wood, patrons are awed by row after row of dark glass apothecary jars filled with cutting-edge beauty potions. The third London branch of the now-global Australian brand, this Shoreditch shop provides a welcomed option to Aesop addicts and newbies alike. The products, made with extensively researched botanical ingredients, are at once effective and enjoyable, with favorites including the aromatic geranium leaf body scrub, moisturizing Moroccan Neroli shave lotion, sage shampoo, and mandarin facial cream.
"The details are not the details, they are the design." This quote from Charles Eames has largely influenced Folk founder Cathal McAteer, who transforms predictable clothing into playful, stylish designs elevated by wonderfully quirky details and fine fabrics from across the globe. The second of three standalone Folk stores in London, this Brick Lane branch is a clean, inviting space featuring pristine white walls, funky marble sculptures and vintage gym horses used to display an ever-changing selection of men's and women's designs. Patrons adore the shop's soft chunky sweaters, slouchy cardigans, colorful patterned button-ups, comfy khakis and vibrant tees.
The shop keeps hours more or less according to the whims of its owners, a couple who are specialists, respectively, in vintage watches and Miriam Haskell costume jewelry.
The most fashion-forward men in London are raving about this Shoreditch style house established in 2010 by native fashion guru James Brown. Created by innovative design team JamesPlumb, Hostem's three-room interior is strikingly shabby-chic, incorporating an antique church pew, hand-painted hessian walls, reclaimed Victorian floorboards and caged light bulbs dangling just inches above stacks of cashmere. One room focuses on sharp streetwear by labels such as Visvim and Adam Kimmel, while the second room is all about the avante-garde, showcasing the likes of Ann Demeulemeester, MA+ and Rick Owens. The final space serves as a display room for up-and-coming designers.
Labour and Wait
Although its name is actually derived from a Longfellow poem, this charming Shoreditch shop inspires patrons to "labour away" with its enticing selection of everyday home goods, ranging from sleek metal dustpans to hand-knitted dishcloths. Established in 2000 by former menswear designers Rachel Wythe-Moran and Simon Watkins, who had become disillusioned with the demands of ever-changing trends, Labour & Wait specializes in timeless, functional and simplistically beautiful goods from across the globe. The shop itself is tidy and cheerful, brimming with such tempting treasures as pastel milk jugs, ceramic teapots, cozy wool throws, leather diaries, ash-handled trowels and darling aprons.
Daring fashionistas from across the globe are sporting bold urban threads from Public Beware, a stylish East End boutique located in the Old Truman Brewery. Founded in 2002, the shop began as a tees-only production but now showcases three full clothing lines that echo the glamour-meets-grunge style of designers like Phillip Lim, Alexander Wang and Rick Owens without the jaw-dropping price tags. Within the boutique’s bright, simple-chic interior, trendsetters are inspired by flirty feather skirts, dramatic asymmetrical coats, sheer tops layered with silk blooms, loud graphic tights, drop-crotch pants, sexy pinstriped blazers and structured dresses cut with eye-catching details.
Considered one of the world’s greatest independent record shops, Rough Trade was founded in 1976, quickly emerged as a major retail presence on London's punk scene, and evenutally gave birth to a record company that signed The Smiths. With such a rich history, it’s no wonder audiophiles flock to Rough Trade’s East End store, established in 2007 and revered for its astonishing collection of CDs and vinyls as well as band merchandise, music books, a Wi-Fi corner and a café. Customers can try out new beats at one of 16 listening stations or, better yet, attend one of the store’s free live gigs.
Son of a Stag
Run by a friendly team of denim demigods, this East End jeans shop is arguably the best in London. Located in the Old Truman Brewery, Son of a Stag specializes in rare Japanese selvage denim and also stocks well-loved brands like Edwin, Takumi, Lee, Wrangler, Levi’s and Studio D’Artisan. The shop offers mostly menswear along with a small but brilliant selection of women’s designs, including casual tees, beautifully tailored jackets and drool-worthy shoes from Redwing, Viberg, Pointer and Tretorn. In the center of the store, a rare vintage Union Special stitching machine is used to create impeccable hems with original threading.
Verde & Co.
In front of this charming gourmet shop in Spitalfields, a pair of rustic weathered tables sit beneath a teal-green awning, surrounded by wicker baskets overflowing with bright fruits, fresh veggies and delicate flowers. Inside, the warm and inviting little marketplace continues to entice visitors with an array of fine olive oils, homemade chutneys, rich pestos and locally sourced produce, as well as glass cases lined with beautifully sliced meats, artisan cheeses and mouthwatering Pierre Marcolini chocolates. Patrons can also stop by for scrumptious weekday lunches of fresh salads and decadent sandwiches like the chorizo with creamy gorgonzola and sweet chili.
Columbia Road Shops & Flower Market
A Sunday morning tradition for many decades, the Columbia Road Flower Market is a bright, bustling event that has become one of the most beloved in all of London. Beginning at 8:00 a.m., hundreds of vendors set of shop, filling the historic road with gorgeous, aromatic blooms and jovial shouts of “Three for a fiver!” To coincide with the market, more than 60 independent shops and cafés also open their doors along Columbia Road, inviting market-goers inside to savor bold coffees and flaky croissants or to browse gorgeous vintage wares, contemporary art, scrumptious sweets and a variety of fashion finds.
Old Truman Brewery
Old Truman Brewery here takes its name from a family who started making ales in the late 1600’s. Today, the brewery building is home to almost 200 independent creative companies. It’s connected to Brick Lane by a small pedestrian alley called Dray Walk, over which the brewery towers, and along which the best of Brick Lane’s energy can be experienced: food stands peddle izakaya-style snacks, dosas, empanadas, kebabs and dolma, and eye-watering Goan curries. Small fashion traders with provocatively arcane names (Son of a Stag; A Butcher of Distinction; Public Beware Co.) enjoy fiercely loyal local followings. In and around Brick Lane are multiple markets, including the storied one in adjacent Spitalfields; Thursday, not Sunday, is the connoisseur’s day for antiques.
The Old Truman Brewery, once home to London’s largest brewery, is now East London’s primary destination point for the public and creative businesses alike. Eleven years of sensitive regeneration and investment has transformed over ten acres of derelict buildings into spectacular office, retail, leisure, exhibition and event spaces.
Jamme Masjid, London
Jamme Masjid—the Great London Mosque—was consecrated in 1976 in an early Georgian house that, for the century prior, was the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. Before that, it had a Victorian life as a Methodist church; and in the early 1800’s, existed as a chapel to promote Christianity among a burgeoning Ashkenazi immigrant population—before which it was the Huguenot Neuve Eglise, built in 1743.