Three times I have ventured East to Bethnal Green, and each time I have uncovered a new little favourite in this corner of London. These visits at various times in the English sunshine just prove that you don’t have to go abroad to discover something new and delicious. The reason I first ventured here was to visit one of London’s Pie & Mash shops which scream traditional City working man’s grub. The handful of these establishments left in the ever-expanding capital truly capture the essence of a time that is long forgotten by many, and are really worth a visit! With this in mind I set off to have brunch with some friends; however we quickly established that it was probably too early for pie, mash and jellied eels!
Instead I dragged the little group down the road, along a deserted side street lined with warehouses, through an unmarked door and up some back stairs, to another place where I have wanted to go for brunch ever since arriving in London… a back alley sweat shop…
Keep your hat on, what was once a clothing sweat shop has now been transformed into the stylish ‘Bistrotheque‘. The rails of clothes and factory lines of workers have made way for elegant waiters and delicious brunch classics accompanied by jazz renditions of favourites fluttering out of the baby grand in the corner. The factory windows and interiors still remain to create a breezy loft ambiance that perfectly compliments the stylish but casual clientele. We all ordered differently, allowing us to taste a variety of the offerings. My favourites were my Spanish-influenced chorizo and fried potatoes, and Charlotte’s blueberry pancakes with creme fraîche. I was allowed a taste but wanted more and was subject to that awful thing that is food envy.
Our trip back to the tube was more a gentle amble, keeping our eyes peeled for other discoveries. Sophie spotted a sign pointing us towards Italian produce, which we obviously followed. What we found was an art gallery with a centre piece displaying olive oils, huge blocks of parmesan, bottles of prosecco and various meats. We were lucky enough to catch the Italian procurer Andrea Sassi, who brings the produce over from his hometown of Reggio nell’Emilia and sells impeccable quality of truly authentic products at prices that are far from extortionate. An innovative way of connecting two passions of food and art, 4 Cose has created something really special and intimate.
Last weekend I finally got to revisit an instant favourite business that I had the pleasure of coming across at Street Feast a few months back. Their fun and friendly attitude coupled with the simple, no frills Taiwanese food offering make BAO (translated as BUN) a sure winner. Little pillowy pockets of steamed milk bun filled with sweet, slow-cooked pork and topped with peanut shavings; buttermilk fried popcorn chicken in paper bags; and a colourful veggie slaw.
The home to this little shack is a school playground which transforms weekly into the lively Netil Market. Vintage clothing, record and book stalls sit alongside thriving food businesses that surround a small area of wooden benches where purchases can be enjoyed and new acquaintances met. Charlie and I enjoyed our little buns on a bench in the sunshine surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the stalls and food lovers. A couple sat near to us observed our appreciation and we got chatting to the self-confessed burger addict. Having tried pretty much every burger in town, she said that Lucky Chip behind us in the market is the best. We couldn’t quite hack the 40 minute queue, but we’ll take her word for it and make a bee-line on the next visit! Thank you La Fromagerie lady :-)
Well worth a visit for all of the above reasons and also to the monthly late night art gallery openings on Vyner Street, Bethnal Green is a thriving place full of interesting folk and independent businesses. We’ll be back!