As I turned the corner into Brick Lane on one of the hottest days in London since 1976. I slowly took in the sights, smells and randomness of what makes Brick Lane such a unique part of London. I felt excited, that feeling you get when you never know what the day may bring. That’s what I love about this little part of the city. It always catches you out when you least expect it. I’ve watched Brick Lane change over the last 23 years. I first discovered Brick Lane when it was more popularly known as Banglatown. Curry houses and Asian food stores lined the streets and the smell of spices mingled with the cries of the restaurateurs inviting you in to sample their dishes. Nowadays Brick lane has turned into hipsterville central with it’s coffee shops, vintage stores and trendily dressed visitors.
I am very aware of the impact that gentrification has had on the local community and the downside to the tourism boom in the area. However I’m also aware of some outstanding local projects like the Nomadic community gardens or Rich mix’s centre for arts and culture. There are also local long standing businesses like the Brick lane book shop or Beigel bake which could greatly benefit from our patronage.
Brick lane was initially called Whitechapel lane until the 15th century when the name was changed due to the brick earth deposits found locally. Brick lane has had a long history with immigration starting in the 17th century. The area became home to the Huguenots a Protestant community fleeing persecution in France. They were responsible for introducing the clothing manufacturing industry to the area, which continued long after they left.
In the 19th century, people from Irish backgrounds and Ashkenazi Jews immigrated to the Brick lane area. I would highly recommend looking up the battle of cable Street to learn about the fight against facisim fought here in the 1930s. These communities brought with them another change to the area. The Sunday markets, like the ones on Petticoat Lane and nearby Columbia Road. They date back to a dispensation given by the government to the Jewish community in the 19th century. At the time, there were no Sunday markets open because of the Christian observance of Sabbath.
In the later 20th century, Bangladeshis migrated to the area and became the predominant minority group. The Bengali community makes up one third of the local population and is the largest Bengali community in the UK. They introduced London to Banglatown and the excitement of spice on a Saturday night as well as the continued development of the garment industry.
Sadly these days the curry houses are starting to look a little sad and neglected. New editions like the gleaming Pierre Marco restaurant force them into the background. The lure of international and exotic street food has taken away those that came before to sample the mystics of the East. Sadly leaving behind broken dreams and hearts. But like always Brick Lane continues to build new dreams for the wide-eyed and optimistic.
A selection of the interesting shops that you will see down Brick Lane.
Crowds descend onto brick lane like bees to a hive on the weekends. Rummaging through ”one off pieces” while munching on vegan doughnuts. The two worlds blend together as you observe designer clad millenniums intertwining with bemused looking locals. But Brick lane is becoming an old hand at this game now, she’s become used to the changing faces and communities. The ever-changing world doesn’t phase her in the slightest. She is there always waiting patiently to welcome you in with her shabby but loving arms flung wide open.
Welcome to Brick Lane
There’s never a shortage of things to do around Brick Lane but here are some of my favourites to try out and top tips on getting the most out of the area.
No visit to brick lane would be complete without visiting Brick lane’s most famous bagel shop and its homage to Brick lane’s Jewish history. Baigel bake better known to local as The Brick lane bagel shop has been in business since 1973 and is open 24hrs a day. Be warned there are always huge queues for their fresh bagels. Even at 3 in the morning as I learnt in my university days. These days I prefer to grab a bagel and a cup of tea and go sit down in a local park.
I really can’t resist a fresh bagel.
One of my favourite places to go for quick bite is The Brick lane food hall which is situated in the Old Truman Brewery’s boiler house. The boiler house dates back to the 1830’s and is an integral part of the area. On the weekends it houses over thirty stalls of international cuisines, which truly represent multi-cultural London. The great part is that there are also lots of vegetarian and halal friendly options. The main reason I love to stop here, is not even the diversity of the food on offer but to also support local small business. On my last visit I decided to opt for Singaporean food. The food is Halal and a mixed container will set you back 6 pounds. You can take your food to go or if you feel the need to rest your feet like I did there is a cute seating area around the back.
The portion was way bigger than I could manage
The cute seating area and bar around the back.
3. Dark Sugars
I cannot even voice how much I am in love with this place. Their chocolate is as delicious as the store’s history is inspiring. Before I even begin my praise of the goods on offer let me get to the history.
This is a story about a woman call Nyanga or as her staff call her Mama. Nyanga began her journey in Spitalfields Market, where she teamed up with the elusive chocolate man!! Together, Nyanga and the Chocolate Man set up in Borough Market. One day Nyanga packed up and flew to South America and West Africa; where she spent three years researching cocoa on her family’s farm. In 2013, Nyanga reunited with the Chocolate Man and together they opened the Dark Sugars Chocolate Shop on Brick Lane. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Nyanga and receiving a warm and motherly hug but the elusive chocolate man has still evaded me. Everything about dark sugars makes me giddy. From the afro centric decor, to the unique and decadent chocolates and please don’t get me started on how out of this world their ice creams are. I can’t wait for my winter visit so that I can justify drinking their calorific hot chocolate.
pistachio with Coconut chocolate on a black charcoal cone yummy!!!
Is this what heaven looks like?
What’s even better is that there is a hidden gem around the back. If you take the side street from the main store you will find a huge courtyard covered in the most elaborate African inspired street art. In the summer this yard opens up for Halal and Vegan friendly West Indian BBQ. Special recommendation is the spicy Plantain. So whether you want to buy some chocolates or a cooling ice cream on a summer’s day head to dark sugars.
Places to shop
Brick lane has so much variety for shopping, more than I could possibly list here but here’s a few of my faves and why.
This small bookstore has had two monikers before this one – initially as the Tower Hamlets Arts Project (THAP), back in 1977. Followed by Eastside Books in its current location. A third name change a few years back created its current incarnation. Brick Lane Bookshop is home to one of the largest collections of East End history books, as well as a great range of fiction and non-fiction sections, If you head down on a Monday or Tuesday you can join in on the shop’s regular writing group, and they also hold a monthly book club. I always make sure whenever I am in town I pick up at least one book. This visit I purchased Akala’s Natives.
Trying really hard to look learned!!
Below is the May 2018 Bestsellers list just to give you an indication of what’s on offer.
2. Men Without Women – Haruki Murakami
3. Sapiens – Noah Yuval Harari
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I totally love heading to this store when I want to buy jewelry with an ethnic feel to it. The vibe is very Asian and African inspired and exactly what I love. The store was founded by former banker and businesswoman, Akriti Puri. Urbiana offers a selection of own brand products and bespoke pieces from young designers across the globe. All of the pieces are hand-made and fair-trade. I particularly like the idea of supporting a business run by a WOC which offers the same type of items that have been culturally appropriated by other companies in the past. On my last visit there I brought an unusual and colourful Pharaohs chocker which I can’t wait to try out.
Can’t wait to find a reason to wear this.
I just couldn’t write this post without giving Eddy a mention. It’s really easy to miss Bitschkitsch if you blink your eyes on Brick lane. Eddy can be found in a tiny cabin with an arrow outside pointing to his store. All around the door are boards covered in iron on patches. It’s easy to dismiss his place and think it’s just a cheap London gimmick store but if you slow down enough to peer inside you will be in for a surprise. Eddy arrived from Thailand in 2006 to study jewelry design at Camberwell College of Arts. This is where he hit on the bright idea of using toys to create unique Jewelry pieces. You will find bits of Barbie, lego and action figures turned into bespoke pieces. You will also find lots of one off zany items of clothing. It’s definitely something different and Eddy with his hesitant English and eccentric but kind attitude is great to buzz ideas off. I didn’t buy any jewelry last time I visited but I did come away with a hand painted Nazar eye t-shirt- quite apt considering I live in Turkey
I present the fabulous Eddy
Don’t judge me. This isn’t my Tinder profile pic, Just messing around in the SNOG frozen yogurt bus in Southbank lol
Things to see
Rich Mix is East London’s independent arts centre.
Once a vast leather factory, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road was transformed into a multi-arts venue. Stretched over five floors they have a three screen cinema showing the latest releases as well as taking part in a number of independent film festivals. There is also a multitude of flexible performance spaces where Rich mix work with both emerging and established artists.
Their aim is to be a place where the communities of the world, who are the citizens of East London and beyond, can come together to experience and make world class art and feel that it’s a place where they belong. Rich mix are committed to delivering excellent art to increasing and increasingly diverse audiences. As well as the cinema screenings, there are live music, theatre, dance, spoken word, comedy, family activities and exhibitions available on site.
Nomadic Community Gardens (NCG) is a not for profit organisation based in Shoreditch, East London. They are dedicated to transforming disused spaces into urban gardens where people can grow their own produce, create art, share skills, and discover what it means to build their own community from the bottom up. Walking around Nomadic gardens I couldn’t help but see the similarities between the gardens and Slab city in America abet on a much smaller scale. I loved the diversity of the community using and enjoying the gardens. From an old Bengali uncle watering his plants in his suit to trendy hipsters to families to new age traveler hippy types. The beautiful thing is how everyone accepts each other and gets along, it just shows you that the melting pot concept really can work when we have a common goal.
Such an amazing use of space
As well as allotments you will find cafes, a children’s playground where the center piece is a disused boat. I think one of my favourite parts was the graffiti works shops. They can be booked online in advance and cost 40 pounds. I think this is definitely on the cards the next time I am in town.
Such an amazing use of space
3. street art
The street art in the Brick Lane/Shoreditch area is breathtakingly beautiful. If you are a street art fan like myself it will be like entering graffiti paradise. The area is home to pieces by some of the best street artists including Banksy, Zabou, Roa and Citizen Keane. Personally I am very happy just wandering around on my own and discovering hiddens gems in all the nooks and crannies of the area. Top tip – the best art come off the main area and you will discover all sorts of pieces you may have other wise missed. However if you don’t feel comfortable that you can find all the art works by yourself I have provided you with links to two free walking tours above.
Now remember when I told you to be prepared for randomness and to keep your mind open to new experiences. Well below you will find a really fun random moment. Only in Brick lane can you be invited to come learn to play the drums in the back of a little white van and tbh I really thought it would be rude to say no lol.
So make sure to pop Brick lane onto your to do list grab your oyster cards and go discover this vibrant and happening part of London.
- Respect the local community – You maybe there to enjoy a day trip but Brick Lane is home to many families, respect the locals and keep the area tidy.
- Don’t drive take the train. Parking in the day is difficult to find and expensive. Take it easy and take a train or a tube. All local stations are within walking distance. Shoreditch High Street (Overground),
Old Street Station (Northern line), Liverpool Street Station (Multiple lines), Aldgate East (District and Hammersmith & City lines)
- Come off the main street for graffiti – Although there are lots of great murals and art work to see on the main street there are some real hidden gems to be found on side streets and weird little nooks and crannies.
- Be ready for the randomness- You never know what you may see or experience in Brick Lane so come with an open mind.