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Best of the East – London 2012 Olympics and beyond

To celebrate the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games, I’ve put together a very personal list of restaurants, cafes, sounds and sights not to miss in East London, home of the Games and hands down the coolest part of town *prepares for indignant reactions*.

columbia road east end brick lane

Sooooo. The big G (not sure I can really name the event without breaking any LOCOG rule) are finally here. The Olympic torch has gone up and down the country on its slow, choreographic snail trail in an orgy of cheesiness and self- congratulatory coverage from the UK media, of which I suspect we’ll have far more in the next days.

Hard to be excited about the Games when all you’re going to see of them, not being part of the elite of ticket holders, is the mess on public transport, groups of spaced out tourists asking you for directions, and lots of trashy souvenirs (I don’t mind the logo, but the mascots make me shiver). In short, I am one of many grumpy Londoners who don’t quite hate London 2012 but it’s not even so enthusiastic about it. However, I understand the excitement of others, especially tourists coming to London for the first time and discovering this amazing city I love so much. However, the East tend to be still a bit overlooked and frankly nobody believes that Westfield Stratford is really the best thing around.  So here’s my list of the “best of the East”, in pretty random order

  1. Broadway Market (Hackney- London Fields)- if you are not interested in Portobello Road and its mounds of fake antiques, or want to buy food and cannot face the thought of the crowds in Borough market, then head East to Broadway Market. The market is small and compact, with a few great stalls which I’ll leave to you to discover (hint: the guy selling game and venison in a kilt is worth a peek- or two- I call him “Lady Chatterley’s lover”), including stands specializing in mushrooms, apples and tomatoes.
  2. The Corner Room (Tower Hamlets)- sister restaurant of Michelin-starred Viajante. Charming Portuguese chef Nuno Mendez also oversees this little jewel in a lesser- known part of Bethnal Green (technically, Tower Hamlets). I’ll just say, set lunch is £21, Saturday included. Just go, you won’t find food of this quality and beauty at this prices anywhere else.
  3. Viajante- see above. Mixed reviews abound (a very balanced one here from The London Foodie) on this Michelin-starred restaurant featuring a very experimental approach to cooking. It’s clearly not cheap but consider you’ll get surprise amuse- bouches between courses, and it’s an unforgettable experience. Plus, the chef is hot (Ok I said it *Nuno you have a stalker*)
  4. The V&A Childhood Museum (Bethnal Green) – lesser known that that the V&A in South Kensington, but not less interesting. I won’t spoil the surprise; just tell you it’d definitely worth a detour. Food- wise: the surrounding park is so nice that you’ll find the Benugo sandwiches much more pleasant than they would normally be.
  5. Red Dog Salon (Hoxton Square)- ok, this is not going to win me any food blogger respect. It’s trashy, it has a cheap saloon style décor and it’s infested by huge tables of teens on weekends. But the ribs are very good (order the pork ones before they run out), the burgers rival the nearby Byron, and sometimes they have good music in the basement.  For a more politically correct alternative (as street food is all the rage in LDN these days), you should check out the Ribman (follow him on twitter, he’s quite a character) and enjoy your ribs with some of the hottest sauce you’ll ever have- and I mean “holy-mother-of-god” , “christ-on-a-bike” hot.
  6. Kingsland Road Vietnamese community and restaurants (Shoreditch to Dalston) – on the road between cool-but-gentrified Shoredict to hipster-town Dalston, you’ll pass by a number of Vietnamese restaurants.  I have tried almost all of them and for no particular reason my favourite is Que Viet (close to the inspiring Geffrye Museum of the Home- go if you have a chance, it’s free). Their signature whole fried seabass  is served with the head and spine- which is apparently a mark of authenticity as they don’t give in to the squeamish, sterilized Western food culture. Anyway, it’s yummy, like the piggy aubergine. For a rock-bottom-cheap option, go to nearby famous Song Que and enjoy huge bowls of pho under the gaze of giant plastic lobsters (I know you want to…)
  7. Lily Vanilli Bakery on Columbia Flower market (Hackney Road). The market itself is now flooded by tourists, but it maintains some of its charm, especially in the side roads and alleys. Stop for a bite at this too-cute-to-be-true bakery which also serves a very good coffee.
  8. Bottega Prelibato (Shoreditch)- This café-deli can be spotted by the light blue Vespa parked out of the door. It looks a bit odd sitting on trendy Rivington Street (just in front of Marcus Hix new and controversial Tramshed- wouldn’t advise go eat there after the trusted Chris Pople reviewed it, but go have a look at the Damien Hirsch installation). It’s my quiet spot for Sunday mornings (opening at a leisurely 11AM), they make awesome cappuccino and interesting Panini with first-class Italian ingredients- just ask for suggestion. They also do lunch and dinner- homestyle Italian cooking with a bit too much oil for my taste, but the kindness of the staff more than makes up for it.
  9. Callooh Callay (Shoreditch)- on the opposite side of Rivington Street, an ideal place for post- dinner drinks. Their list is very inventive both in contents and form- last time I went, it was an ‘80s style music cassette!- and I think everyone has to drink with a straw from a dwarf-shaped jug at least once in a lifetime. “Weird and wonderful” at its best, without too much of the snobbish attitude of some Shoreditch places. Remember- the best part is inside the wardrobe…
  10. Time for Tea (Shoreditch)- this is a bonus entry, as you never know when and where this place is going to open. They don’t have a website (!) but you can read my post and have a peek here.

Hope you enjoyed this selection of the best (for me) places to eat drink and be merry in East London- whether you are an Olympics enthusiast or not, a tourist or a resident, this city has so much more to offer than McDonalds and Coke….Happy (or at least, bearable) London 2012 to all!

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  1. I have seen Time for Tea so many times over the years….always closed!! Now at least I know the place really exists behind the closed shutters!

    Anyway, I would add another recommendation about East London and that it is briefly walk through Brick Lane, but without wasting too much time there. Walk to Redchurch Street instead, full of pretty shops and cafes.

    Also avoid the curry restaurants in Brick Lane (they are not Indian!!). If you want to try really good Pakistani food, then go to Lahore or Tayyabs.

    • You are right. I should write a list of things NOT TO DO in London and that would surely include Brick Lane curry restaurants! ;)


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