Sunday, 12 August 2007

Ginger's Guide to London Streets #5: Brushfield Street (E1)

Another report from my foray into E1, and this time it's quite a biggie, compared with the streets I've looked at so far.

Brushfield Street (left, with a view of Christ Church, Spitalfields, on the end of Fournier Street) runs along the south side of Spitalfields Market, a place that people keep telling me I'd love. Unfortunately I still have yet to investigate it fully as, by the time I found myself in the vicinity, it was pretty much closed up for the day.

I started off with a spot of people watching, sitting outside the lovely
Patisserie Valerie, whose work I was familiar from a cafe on Russell Street in Covent Garden, which doesn't, despite what t'internet would have you believe, actually go by the name 'Patisserie Valerie', but I'm darned if I can remember what it does call itself. They stock some of their cakes, anyway, and very nice they are too.

Whilst I'm often quite content playing the 'happy loner', eating alone at places where you're served is one of those things that does make me feel a bit uncomfortable. But I'd just been to a wedding, so was uncharacteristically smartly dressed, and it was a sunny day, so I pulled up a seat at a table outside, ordered something to eat, and pretended to be someone else. This unusual air of sophistication was somewhat shattered by my interspersing the people watching with re-reading 'Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince', but hey ho. I can't be looking too mature, can I?

Anyway, feeling nicely fueled I then took a stroll and discovered a wonderful array of shops. One
was bearing a "Save Our Small Shops" campaign sticker which is a nice sentiment, although net-wise it seems to have fizzled out, and even when it was launched there was skepticism as to whether it was too late. I am, however, pleased to report, that Brushfield Street is a place where the small indie shop seems to be thriving.

Brushfield Street seems pretty good for cafes. As well as Patisserie Valerie (yes, there are a few of them in London but they can hardly be described as a chain) there were a number of others:
The Daily Grind has been recommended to me; I was tempted to get a cup of tea in the Market Coffee House (to people watch from the other side of the road) but they were just closing; and there was also the disturbingly named 'S&M cafe' which, upon closer inspection, thankfully revealed itself to be specialists in sausage and mash. Add to that a chocolatier, and many a happy hour of munching could be had on this street alone.

The lovely thing about the East End is the combination of the old and new side by side. Thus, the contemporary shops could be found alongside indications of trade from a previous era: the
London Fruit Exchange and the London Wool Exchange once had premises here which were built in 1929, although that's pretty new by East End standards.

The one place that really had me fascinated, though, was "Verde & Company Ltd." (below), which didn't look as though it was in current use, but may have just been closed for the day. It appeared to have had various commercial manifestations over the years. The shop signage declares it to be a Fruit Importers, and a ghost sign suggests that it was
up for sale in 1931. The window proclaims it to be "Pierre Marcolini - Chocolatier". (And yes, that is my reflection in the window - I told you I was ginger). Other websites, meanwhile, classify it as a 'delicatessen', a 'take away food shop', and an Italian Grocer's. As for the Scottish flag and theatrical cardboard cutouts in the window, I have no idea what that was all about. I think I'm just going to have to go back sometime during trading hours and investigate for myself!


Matt said...

It's certainly a fascinating area. If I remember rightly there's a poor house on the street parallel that was set up for Jews around 1900. Well worth a look.

Unfortunately the Spitalfields area has changed a lot for the worse because of the new development landed on top of it. Many of the cafes you mention are city money venture capital strat-ups!

Ginger said...

How do you know these things?! They all looked fairly innocent small businesses, but I'm willing to be proved wrong. I guess regardless of who is behind them, it was nice to not see another street of the same old chains.

What was the area like before the development? This was my first time in that neck of the woods.

Matt said...

Sorry, that was meant to read start-ups! I know this from chauffeuring for a retail venture capital consultancy for four years, based here in London.

Having recently been to Spittalfields I spotted these chains straight away although some will be testing the waters before looking to possible expansion. There's nothing particularly wrong with this of course but some are better than others!

Before the 'city' tardis was dropped on top of Spittalfields it was a lovely sleepy sort of place, with mainly individual businesses, five-a-side football courts and even a few old WWII aged Citroens sitting around for sale!

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