By Hannah Silverman
I first heard about Brick Lane when my English-born father told me I would be disowned if I did not try a salt beef beigel within my first few months of moving here. So, like the obedient daughter I’ve always wanted to be, I jumped off a plane and went straight to Salt Beef Heaven. OK, not straight away but it was on my early to do list. What would have got me there faster, however, is if he told me the fashions are inspiring, the vibe is electric and that the beigels will Actually. Change. Your. Life. Exclamation point.
The Beigel Bake House, and indeed Brick Lane and its gritty surrounds, have become an East End institution with great reason. Vintage boutiques with a glamorous mix of pre-World War II frocks (perfect for Blitz Parties, more on that another time) and Stepford-style purses hang next to Rockabilly scarves and hipster vests you could almost meet the Queen in. Of course, there’s trash among the treasure, but there are also bargains among the sometimes over priced Charity-style offerings. Beyond Retro (http://www.beyondretro.com/en/help/stores/bricklane/) on Cheshire St (just off Brick Lane) is a huge warehouse of vintage standouts while a recent weekend introduced me to nearby Vintage Basement with dresses as affordable as a fiver. Another of my favourites is the old and old-inspired range at Found.Loved, but don’t expect to leave with just one purchase.
Wedged between the vintage splendour is the aromatic explosions of intercontinental cuisine. Mexican Loco Mojito and its original, frozen or “posh” margaritas. There’s the weekend food stalls, the juice bars, the hideaway pubs and the elaborate cocktail lounges including my hotspots Beach Blanket Babylon and Shoreditch House (with its wait to be on the wait list situation, mind you).
There’s antique emporiums, textile treasure troves and more art than you can point a paint brush at. Graffiti is king while abstract props prove you don’t need to colour between the lines when it comes to East London art. At the very least a bicycle wicker basket draped in wild flowers is certainly worth of an Instagram.
And then, of course, Gastro God created the Beigel Bake House and its buns of bliss.
You’ll know where it is because as you shuffle down Brick Lane towards Shoreditch High St it will be the one with the line up to make you almost forget everything I’m about to tell you and impatiently walk on by – but stay with me, your stomach can thank me later. As you eventually near the counter you’ll watch as the beigels (most people order salt beef although there are other options, apparently) are slapped together with thick, succulent slices, squirted with mustard and shoved in a brown paper bag. For £4 you’ve got yourself a meal. Food couture it isn’t, but you won’t care. There are no tables so you’ll probably do what the others do – ask someone to take your photo eating said beigel and then devour it on the street.
Brick Lane is fabulous for a days exploration, a morning wander or an afternoon vino with friends. The nearby Columbian Road Flower Market (Sundays only) is also well worth an adventure so bring your camera and your coins and enjoy exploring.
NOTE: Things I’ve learnt from this post… do not write on an empty stomach.