"It's not much but it's ours"

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Dos Hermanos have rituals. Someone once said that we have so many of them that we could apply for job share position as The Holy Father.

I am not quite sure that is fair, but we certainly do have a great many of them

Right at the top of the list is a Sunday morning perambulation around Spitalfield and Brick Lane a short hop from our humble dwelling.

When one of us is away, as Hermano Primero is today enjoying the sunshine of Andalucia, the other will carry on regardless and still take the same walk, at the same time ending up back at home a little after midday in time for the pre requisite pre lunch Manzanilla.

So, although I was toute seule today, the perigrination was never in doubt.

Brick Lane and Spitalfield ( named after the fact that it was the grounds of a Roman hospital - Hospital Fields - geddit?) are certainly on the tourist trail now, judging by the number of backpack wearers and lost souls twisting their A-Z's around to figure out which way they are going. However, it still has retained much of it's slightly grimy local charm and still offers a "must not miss" experience

Brick Lane market is a favourite of mine. Not because of what is on offer (which is nearly all crap unless you are desparately looking for a single left shoe or a multi pack of no brand shaving cream ) but just because all human life is there. From the guys selling counterfit porno DVD's which has to be the lowest part of the Porno chain, to the Eastern Europeans offering cheap tobacco on behalf of their invisible gang leaders, there is a chance to see London's underbelly in full effect.

What does surprise many is that there is also the opportunity to find very decent food. As you walk into the market you find a huge stall selling a vast array of fruits and vegetables at a "pannabal" It has taken me nearly six years of walking through here to figure that this means " a pound a bowl" . Every now and again, it is just the place to pick up unfeasibly large quantities of something or other as I did today with some tomatoes for my huevos rancheros.

In the same part of the market is Freddie's Fish Stall. A great little stand selling, cockles, welks, prawns by the pint and, best of all, Jellied eels ( eels cooked in water with parsley and then allowed to set in the jelly produced). A staple of the East end in days gone past, this is a dying art. I am sure some people will cry " good riddance" but they have probably never tried them. With a dash of vinegar, they can be rally rather nice. Not to be faced on a day when you have a hangover. That way lies madness and a certain amount of projectile vomiting.

On Brick Lane itself you have the Brick Lane Beigel bakery ( note spelling ) which IS the perfect place for a hangover cure. A salt beef with a good spread of English mustard is a great little heart starter the morning after the night before.

As you walk down Brick Lane, the atmosphere changes from the slightly seedy "tat" market to the more affluent stalls that have spread out in the wider diapsora of Spitalfield market itself. Again, some great places to pick up a snack or to do some shopping for lunch.

I mentioned Choc Star last week. Today, I found the lovely Petra spray painting a sign in front of her converted ice cream van as she tried to catch up after forgetting to move her clock forward. It would seem that many people had done the same as, even at my normal hour, there were many people scurrying around trying to get ready for the day's crowd. I promised Petra I would come back for the shot of Venezuelan Hot Chocolate to which I am rapidly becoming addicted and headed further down Brick Lane past the plethora of restaurants that form the heart of Banglatown and Taj Stores the place on Brick lane to get spices to Fournier st.

Fournier St is, to my mind, quite the lovliest street in the whole of London. A row of restored houses ( Georgian I think ) with shuttered windows which connects Brick Lane and Spitalfield market. Famously, a haunt of artists, Tracy Emin and Gilbert & George live there. The latter have no kitchen in their house and used to eat every mean at the Spitalfield Cafe until the owners retired. I wonder where they eat now and if they finish each others meals as they do each other's sentences?

A number of stalls, mainly the clothing stalls, moved from the main market during its redevelopment across the road to what has now become known as "The Upmarket" Although, unless you really do want a skinny T-shirt with the words "Funk My Buns" on it in day glo pink, there is skant reason to go there, they do have a number of food stalls including a stall specialising in Galician empenada and a sushi stall.

Back in the main market, Bubba was getting ready for the day's business. Bubba's Arkansas Cafe has been going for years since Bubba moved from the US to East London. Arguably the best BBQ in London, he has built up a very regular clientele including the US embassy who have him cater their 4th July Cookout.

Also doing brisk business in the market was The Square Pie Company, an Australian chain selling a range of meat pies. Inexplicably, it is always packed even though the pies are actively grim. Tourists, eh?

The redevelopment of the Old Market came in for a lot of criticism. Unduly, I think as it was done with a surprising amount of sensitivity and has created a very lovely and welcoming public space which is also filled with eating options. Giraffe caters primarily to families with its organic offerings of burgers etc, Patisserie Valerie is, despite its chain proveneance, worth stopping into if only for the gelato and, Canteen offering very robust food in communal bench seating style. The "new" part of the market has already become well established and was, by the time I got there, packed to the gunwhales with shoppers.

Directly across from the new market is my favourite shop of all. Housed in a former French Millener's, A Gold is a goldmine. It sells "traditiona British food" and stocks everything from Gloucester Old Spot pork Pies to Gobstoppers, Mint Humbugs to bottles of Fentiman's Ginger ale ( upon which I am sipping as I type this ) a real treasure trove of good eating and another "must not miss" stop on the tour.

I would normally head back home from here via the crowded forecourt of Liverpool St Station. However, I could not leave without my hot chocolate, so headed back to Brick Lane via Commercial St past the St John Bread & Wine ( the sibling branch to the legendary Clerkenwell restaurant ) and The Ten Bells ( the notorious pub where the victims of for certain and Jack The Ripper himself , it is claimed, drank themselves into a gin induced stupor ) Just as Petra had the good stuff coming to its peak. £1.60's worth of chocolate with chilli and spices later, I sauntered home to that Manzanilla and an early lunch.

It was pretty well documented on the food boards when I posted on them more regulary, that I love London, Every last bit of it. Hell, even South of the River in The Swamps. But, this part of town has, since I moved here six years ago, become my true passion. As I said, all human life is here from richest ( the average cost of a one bedroom flat is about £200,000, I think ) to the poorest ( Tower Hamlets is one of the poorest areas in Europe ) and all parts in between. However, whatever your budget, you can find things to do, see and, most importantly for me, eat. I have just touched on the surface here and have probably left out as many places as I have mentioned. So, if you are a Londoner and have not been here, you don't know what you are missing. If you are planning to visit London and have not factored in a Sunday in Spitalfield and Brick Lane, you need to think again or you cannot truly say you have been to London
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Blogger Sandra Levine said...

Wonderful pictures, evocative prose.

Sunday, March 26, 2006 5:10:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 2 said...

Thank you, Sandra


Sunday, March 26, 2006 5:22:00 pm  
Anonymous Leo said...

I used to live in lovely Bethnal Green, and this was more or less my exact Sunday routine for several years. Moved to Chicago a few years ago. Also a great city, but there is nothing here that can compare to a lazy Sunday wondering around Brick Lane and Spitalfields. London truly is, in my humble opinion, the greatest city in the world.

Feeling pleasantly homesick now. Thank you.

Monday, March 27, 2006 5:10:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 2 said...

Please to have brought back some happy memories, Leo

Monday, March 27, 2006 7:04:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

& I had a traumatic move to Leicestershire about 5 years ago having always lived around the corner from Brick Lane. I hope you saw the BBC2 programme A Night on Brick Lane last weekend? It brought back all my nostalgia in waves and we're headed back for beigels imminently now! It also reminded me that, however gentrified anywhere gets, I still love what is the slightly tatty side of the place. It would have also told you where those houses on Fournier Street orginated from!

Sunday, April 02, 2006 3:26:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S. They are Georgian, built for the French Huguenot master silk-weavers and mercers. The houses of Fournier Street were fitted out with fine wooden panelling and elaborate joinery such as carved staircases, fireplaces and highly detailed door-cases by the master craftsmen of the day.

Sunday, April 02, 2006 3:57:00 pm  

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