Monday, December 24, 2012

East End sights

Mural on Grimsby Street
Even on a normal Sunday, Brick Lane and Spitalfields Market in East London are buzzing, but on a busy holiday Sunday things are really hopping.

The rain had let up; it was grey but the skies were holding.  We had a reservation for Sunday roast at the noted Hawksmoor restaurant near Spitalfields Market, but we wanted to see the sights first.

Grey skies, but no rain so far
We got off the 388 bus at Bethnal Green Road and Brick Lane, and walked down the narrow street, choked with vendors and customers. In the 17th century, this neighborhood attracted Hugenot refugees from France, fleeing religious persecution to work in the silk-weaving industry.

Brick Lane Indian restaurants
 Later waves of immigrants included Ashkenazi Jews, followed by Bangladeshis - all working in the textile industry.  In the 1980s and 1990s, the cheap rents brought artists and fashionistas - and the neighborhood is now a fascinating mixture of all these cultures.

Salt beef and bagels
The venerable old Beigel Bake - a traditional shop from the days of Brick Lane's Jewish history - was busy with shoppers. We peeked in the window to watch them slicing salt beef - which is a cured beef similar to American corned beef or pastrami.

It was tempting, but we knew we had a big meal ahead of us, so we resisted. We continued down the street, past the vintage shops and hipster fashion.

Beneath the railway, the open-air food stands were set up, including Mr. Spicy, selling curried goat and jerk chicken.

We ducked into the junk shop and looked at some old chairs, architectural salvage from Victorian buildings,  and browsed through a box of vinyl LPs. 

The Brick Lane Bookshop is a nice place to check out guides and books about the history of the East End.

Brick Lane Bookshop
In the 17th century, Joseph Truman opened the Black Eagle Brewery on Brick Lane. Today, the buildings now house retail shops, event venues, and market buildings.

We peeked into one market space and were once again tempted by delicious food. Here stalls with Vietnamese, Burmese, Moroccan, Cuban, Indonesian and Mexican food displayed their offerings. Just click to "embiggen" the photos of all this deliciousness - and then admire us for being strong and resisting!

Sri Lankan food

Vietnamese food
Moroccan food
 Another market space housed vendors selling fashion and hand crafted items. I bought a pair of sturdy brogans to better negotiate the wet and rough London streets.

[The Man I Love] had a nice cup of hot mulled cider while I tried them on.

The Spitalfields Market has been here since 1638 when King Charles I authorized sales of fish, fowl and food to be sold here. The historic buildings date from 1887.  We first visited here in 1998 or so, and it was funky and shabby.

A renovation since then has slicked the place up - now, in addition to stalls of budding fashion designers and cheap T-shirt sellers, there are retail shops for MAC cosmetics, Doc Martens shoes, and fancy souvenir stores for the tourists. It's all fun, though, and worth taking some time to browse.

We arrived at Hawksmoor in plenty of time for our lunch - our appetites whetted by all the delicious scents and sights from Brick Lane.

It was a substantial Sunday Roast for both Max and [The Man I Love]. Rare roast beef, potatoes roasted in duck fat, Yorkshire pudding and vegetables. This is serious stuff, but my guys were up for the task.

I opted instead for a crab salad and a side of macaroni and cheese - but I got to taste a bite of their Sunday Roast.

We did a little Christmas shopping afterwards, and then ducked into a pub.

The Ten Bells is a famous joint, perhaps over-promoting its connection to the notorious East End villain Jack the Ripper. Victims Mary Kelly and Annie Chapman are linked to the pub, supposedly plying their trade on the pavement outside.

[The Man I Love] at the Ten Bells beneath the tile mural
It's not a fancy place - an echoing space unadorned except for the tilework on the walls. A 19th century tile mural of Spitalfields silk weavers is countered by a contemporary painted mural of East End artsy denizens.

The contemporary mural
We enjoyed an ale and a glass of cider while we watched the wind and rain blow in. Brr! There's nothing cozier than being in a warm pub on a cold and rainy day, watching other people braving the weather through the windows.

View from the upper level of the 388 bus
Full of food, mellow and having finished our Christmas shopping, we hopped the bus back to Bethnal Green and home.  Hope you're having just as wonderful a Christmas eve!


Deborah said...

As I was reading this, I wondered if you were in the area I visited way back in spring 1992. When I saw the picture of the pub, I immediately thought it reminded me of the pub we visited while on a tour of Jack the Ripper murder sites. Sure enough! It seems much fancier now than it was back then.

Looks like you're having a wonderful time! (Oh, and I love those boots...)

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

I'm playing blog catch-up today...

I was going to commend you for having the fortitude to pass up all that amazing looking food until I saw the GIANT yorkshire pudding on that plate. Wow.

Really, you should consider being a travel and food writer. These posts are wonderful.