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What makes East London the new Hipster Central

Hindustan Times logo Hindustan Times 04-02-2019

Do you love avocado and polenta? Are you into flat whites? Have you flirted with (the idea of) being vegan? If you’re a man, does your beard benefit from oils and waxes? If you’re a woman, are you wearing glasses, and do your trousers hit the top of your (bare) ankle to show the brogues/sneakers beneath? If your answers to all or most of the above are yes, then this is your guide to London.

East London – that once gritty, scary part of town where Jack the Ripper did his work, and featured in Brick Lane – is now hipster central. Shoreditch, Hoxton and Bethnal Green are chock-a-block with cafés, markets, restaurants, galleries and cinemas. Notting Hill, Oxford Street, Kensington – oh, they are old, old, old.

The Pavilion Café in Victoria Park offers mainly vegetarian organic fare. And Bistrotheque is a restaurant without any sign to alert you to its existence

Here, the vibe is completely different, you can feel the energy in the air. The Regent’s Canal winds through it, boats are tied to the towpaths and people live in them. Designers like Erdem Moralioglu have made it their home, and even Amazon Fashion is headquartered there. It’s multicultural, filled with one-off boutiques and stores, and even though things change daily, here’s a map of places to eat, shop, and experience.

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1. Victoria Park Market

The oldest public park in London is a sprawling affair, with jogging and cycling paths, water bodies, a pagoda, and tree trails. Its most recent addition is the Victoria Park Market, open every Sunday from 10 am to 4pm, which unlike most other London markets, doesn’t feel cramped or crowded. Think food trucks and stalls, and open air seating, and a parade of hipsters – young, not so young, on foot, on bikes, with partners, with children, with friends, dogs, or a combination. There’s French cheese and desserts, fresh tomatoes (yes, an entire stall devoted to tomatoes), organic vegetables, there’s Vietnamese food, vegan pizza, and even a dog delicatessen.

Every Sunday, 10am-4pm

2. Broadway Market

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Between Regent’s Canal and London Fields, this Saturday market is a jumble of clothing, street food, fresh produce, flowers, books, vintage offerings and jewellery. The site of a fruit and veg market from the late 1800s, it was reimagined and opened in its current form in 2004. Now there are over a hundred stalls, and these are flanked by pubs, boutiques, bakeries and restaurants that are open through the week. These including Donlon Books, home to some of the best art tomes in the city. When the weather’s good, there isn’t much space to walk, and crowds from the cafés and pubs spill out onto the seats, making it seem like one big party.

Every Saturday, 9am-5pm

3. Columbia Road Flower Market

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It’s hard to miss Columbia Road Flower Market – all the streets leading to it and around it are dotted with people carrying armloads of flowers or hefting potted plants. Columbia Road is lined with some 60 stalls of flower sellers hawking everything from tulips, lilies, roses and orchids to plants and greens like eucalyptus, cactus and British shrubs. There are also bulbs and seeds. You may not end up buying much if you’re on a short visit, but the market is a pretty place to see. The road is also lined with stores selling antiques, glassware, jewellery, vintage as well as garden and home goods. There are also art galleries and cafés. Step into Vintage Heaven, and beyond into the Cakehole Café, the place to have a cream tea with scones and cake.

Columbia Road, 8am-3pm

4. Mare Street Market

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This is a market of an entirely different persuasion. An indoor dining and shopping space, it has a florist, a deli, a vinyl records shop and an antique dealer. There are a bunch of dining spaces too – an eccentric one with a stuffed giraffe and lit by a plethora of chandeliers, an open seating area, and a little outdoor greenhouse-ish one. There’s sourdough pizza, artisanal coffee, and all-day dining; there’s a bar, an open kitchen and a dining room. You’ll find people working away at their computers, but at its heart is the vibe of a beer hall – warm, welcoming, fun.

117 Mare Street.

5. Pavilion Café

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The waterfront Pavilion Café in Victoria Park is a destination in itself. Looking onto a lake with swans, ducks, fountains, and sculpture, it offers mainly vegetarian organic fare (avocado on toast with poached egg) with a Sri Lankan influence, so you’ll find string hoppers and a lentil stew as well as sandwiches. Bread is baked in-house, there are daily soups and the option of coffee with oat milk. The Sunday brunch is extremely popular, so don’t baulk at the long queues, remember it is an East London institution after all.

Victoria Park, Old Ford Road, open till 4pm

6. Bistrotheque

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It’s a restaurant without any sign to alert you to its existence. A former clothing factory in the East End, it is now a large, airy, white space with a baby grand piano. The ground floor houses a private dining room that seats 80, and the first floor, with its tongue-in- cheek, is titled Manchichi Bar and the Main Dining Room. It’s only open for dinners on weekdays but weekends mean piano brunches. The staff is attentive, the vibe super trendy, and the food French inflected. It’s been a favourite with the fashion crowd for launches and events, and on any given day you could find yourself across actresses or young artsy groups.

23-27 Wadeson Street,

7. E5 Bakehouse

Established by Ben Mackinnon under a railway arch, E5 Bakehouse has built up a reputation for its sourdough breads, its baking classes and its coffee. This artisanal bakery and coffee shop is vegetarian-friendly, is about all things organic, and serves up great coffee, homemade cakes, soups and toasties. Besides eating in, you can also take away jams, peanut butter, and chocolate spreads. The winning element of the Bakehouse though, is the sourdough bread-making courses and the jams, pickles and butter making classes. The only rub: you have to book months in advance as they are usually sold out.

There’s no shortage of hipster destinations on Redchurch Street in Shoreditch, but what sets this one apart is how it makes mundane objects beautiful

Arch 395, Mentmore Terrace,

8. V&A Museum of Childhood

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Really, only the British could have such a museum. Remember when you loved stories of pirates and princesses, dolls houses and rocking horses? The Museum of Childhood brings it all back, with displays that include everything from robots to dolls, making it a brilliant place if you are travelling with young children. There’s an interactive story hour, there’s a sand pit and a bunch of daily activities including arts and crafts to keep little ones occupied and happy.

Bethnal Green. Open 10am-5.45pm, admission free.

9. Libreria

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It’s found itself in lists of London’s most beautiful bookstores and it’s not hard to see why. The inspiration behind Libreria comes from the short story The Library of Babel by Argentinean author Jorge Luis Borges and it gives the impression of a never-ending space of books, end to end with shelves and a mirrored wall. With soft lights and nostalgic music, warm, honey wood and nooks that invite you to sit and read, this store reminds you of the magic of paper, and the joy of reading. The atmosphere is helped by the banning of cell phones, so no text messages are allowed, and no taking calls. The store offers curated selections of books, some by authors such as Jeannette Winterson and Alain de Botton (the latter’s disappointingly full of his own books), many by staff, usually intriguing offerings that stretch the boundaries of what you usually read.

68-80 Hanbury Street

10. Labour and Wait

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There’s no shortage of hipster destinations on Redchurch street in Shoreditch, but what sets this one apart is how it makes mundane objects beautiful. The store offers both new and vintage items and the selection has everything from hand soap to books, mugs to scissors and smocks and pitchforks to candles. There’s bakeware and hardware and clothing and accessories, and besides two branches in East London, they have one in Dover Street Market. It’s not a very big space, but the curation is on point and if you manage to leave the place without buying something, well, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

85 Redchurch Street, Shoreditch

The writer is a senior lifestyle journalist, author and a photographer. She has been the editor of the women’s fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar India.

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