A visit to London is not complete without taking in the new, revitalised, and suddenly cool East End, writes Sheriden Rhodes.
Basking in the glow of the Olympics, the Queen’s Jubilee, James Bond’s 50th birthday and now with a royal baby on its way, Britain has certainly had a big year. And London’s cockney East End - home to Dickens, the notorious Jack the Ripper and Cockney rhyming slang - is but one corner of this dynamic city to benefit from a post-Olympics makeover. Long considered the poor cousin to the posher West End, London’s east side is emerging as one of the city’s best-kept secrets. Thankfully the locals remain true to their Cockney roots.
To Market, to Market
London’s east end boasts some of the capital’s best markets. Browse funky Roman Road and Brick Lane Market’s hotchpotch of junk stalls selling leather, clothing, second-hand furniture and bric-a-brac, and, every Saturday, sample possibly London's best street food and people watching at Broadway Market in Hackney.
London’s oldest market, Spitalfields, a much-loved East End icon, has been given a fresh new look now incorporating the refurbished old market, an adjacent, contemporary retail precinct and two new public spaces, Bishops Square and Crispin Place. Every day 100 plus stalls offer everything from up-and-coming designers, vintage threads, craft, jewellery, handbags, bespoke toys and the full spectrum of East End life. Go Thursdays for antiques and vintage, Fridays for art and fashion. www.spitalfields.co.uk
Smell the roses
Sunday’s open-air Columbia Road Flower Market is a riot of colour, floral aromas and the banter of Cockney accents. Held rain, hail or shine, the market takes over the bustling street lined with Victorian terraces, while nearby is a cluster of quirky and independently owned boutiques and galleries including Nelly Duff, one of the first to feature the work of street artist extraordinaire Banksy. Grab a freshly baked strawberry and cream bagel from Cafe Columbia and soak up the festive atmosphere. www.columbiaroad.info
The shiny stores of the gargantuan new Westfield mall in East End London (Europe’s largest urban shopping centre) offer everything the well-heeled shopper could desire and then some. With John Lewis at one end, Marks & Spencer at the other and more than 300 high street shops – H&M, Primark, Topshop, Monsoon, River Island, Liberty – in between, there’s also an ice skating rink, cinemas and a viewing gallery of London’s Olympic Park from the third floor. www.uk.westfield.com/stratfordcity
Eat, Drink + Art
Australian Jules Wright’s Wapping Food Project is a fusion of fine dining and art installation venue housed in a converted hydraulic power station. Think potato soup with foie gras, an all-Aussie wine list and a dash of contemporary culture. Check out our photos of their interiors at the House & Garden Facebook page. For artisan crafted cocktails, the decadent Lounge Lover is a favourite with Madonna, while Dickens was a patron of The Grapes, an historical pub overlooking the Thames where bankers now come for the excellent upstairs restaurant.
Trip down memory lane
Along with the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge, the Victoria and Albert Children’s Museum is another of the East End’s treasures. Take a nostalgic journey though one of the world’s best collections of kids’ toys, dolls' houses, games and costumes, spanning the 1600s though to today. There are activity rooms (including a dress-up box, play dough and sandpit), interactive exhibits, Meccano, Lego, lead soldiers, rocking horses, clockwork train sets, puppets and a decent cafe to boot. www.museumofchildhood.org.uk