An artist’s guide to East London
By Belmin Pilevneli, the visual artist and graphic designer who has been living, discovering, enjoying (and sometimes struggling) in London for over three years.
Edited by Kathryn Foley
For me, London has a Metropolitan beauty that makes you want to do more, meet more, and enjoy more regardless of your fatigue. When it comes to the East London neighbourhoods which make up my East London, Shoreditch and London Fields are the areas I’m lucky enough to call home. Anyone who’s looking for cool things to do in London should put this area on their to do list, because London is not just Zone 1. It should be experienced as a whole, and I think this area is so characteristic and unique, full of arts, good music and people who care about environment and living a healthy life. Every East London map includes Shoreditch, but add London Fields into the mix and you’ll get a real experience of this pocket of the city. It might have been labelled as ‘hipster London’, but there’s so much life here that you shouldn’t label it until you’ve explored for yourself. So here’s an artist’s guide to some of my favourite things to do in East London; I hope you fall in love with it as much as I did.
One day in East London
If you only had one day to spend in East London, you can still experience the eclectic spectrum of what life is like here. I love the fact that East London is very alternative, unique and full of surprises; it’s a kaleidoscope of cute cafes, galleries, street art that never stays the same and the pretty market full of art, design and delicious food. My perfect day of things to do in East London would begin with yoga at my favourite studio, London Fields Yoga. Then I’d head to E5 Bakery to buy a loaf of bread, and a cup of coffee. They have their own mill here, so everything is made on site from the very beginning. With my coffee in hand, taking the time to wander around Broadway Market and Columbia Road, and maybe going to the flower market when it’s open is such a special way to start my day. The produce at Columbia Road Flower Market change with the seasons, there’s always so many people and a musician playing and the market itself is surrounded by design shops and neighbourhood cafes. It’s only open on Sunday mornings, so try to visit on this day if you can. Or if the flower market isn’t open, I’d walk along the canal starting at Broadway Market, and sometimes end my walk on Brick Lane Shoreditch, where of course I go to Beigel Bake for the best bagel in town.
Once you’re on Brick Lane, you’re not far from the galleries and design stores which I love, but you could also do some Shoreditch shopping while you’re around. There are a few unique places too like Barbour and Parlour, which I would recommend checking out. It’s a cafe, but where you can get really good smoothies and pressed juices, but they’re also a barbers, and have a beauty salon just down the road. It’s possibly a bit too much, but I think it reflects Shoreditch too, and in a good way. After the afternoon spent browsing the shops, wandering galleries and rifling through vintage things in one of the markets, I’d then spend my evening listening to jazz in a hidden bar like Kansas Smitty’s. This basement bar is managed by the musicians who play there, and so there’s music every night of the week that they’re open (from Tuesday to Sunday). You could miss it, as there’s another bar above it, so most people only see the ground level bar when they’re in Broadway Market. Or my other favourite is Night Jar; this basement bar is way more popular but they also have amazing live jazz, and nearly always a pianist. But people come here for the cocktails as much as the music; everything is presented in a quirky, fun way like a seashell with smoke coming out of it!
Shopping in Shoreditch
Shoreditch is the centre of any East London map, but I don’t always like to come here to do my shopping. It’s almost become the go-to place when people think of hipster London, but there’s so much more to East London than here. I personally love it for its galleries and design shops, and there are so many in this neighbourhood. One of my favourites is Whitechapel Gallery - it’s a public contemporary art gallery so it’s free, but I love their library and bookshop. Even the building is covered with the work of an amazing artist, Rachel Whiteread, who was commissioned to create a permanent piece on the front of the building. It’s now covered with golden leaves, which are actually a type of plant which grows locally, the Hackney weed.
Mad Atelier is also a design and arts store as well as a gallery which I adore; they have a curated, contemporary style and sell really cool mirrors, furniture and home furnishings, I covet the cushions with koi carp on! For shopping in Shoreditch for clothes or other things, I always go to Broadway Market, they sell vintage clothes, vinyls and there’s a book shop which I adore called Artwords Book Shop here too. Or go to Chatsworth Road; it’s a really cool place full of design stores as well as very local, down to earth markets - not touristy at all. Hop of Hackney is here, a concept lifestyle store which was created around the nostalgia being children, whilst Darling & Gold is a lifestyle store filled with vintage pieces. Shopping in Shoreditch doesn’t only have to mean raiding through vintage clothes which might not really be your style, you can discover something here you’ll love.
Where to eat
What to eat in London always seems to be changing, with trendy London restaurants popping up what feels like every weekend, but I have my own personal favourites. In Shoreditch, I love Andina on Shoreditch High Street. This is a Peruvian place, where you eat in a tapas style, ordering lots of small plates. The dishes are not big at all, but the taste is really incredible, so you don’t need much. I love this place because it’s so original, there's an ethnic vibe and the decoration is a really cool modern take on traditional Peruvian patterns and prints. Their speciality is the ceviche, and they have amazing veggie options too. Or just down the road in Hoxton is another tapas bar that I love for its Mediterranean and North African fusion. You’ll find Spanish, Lebanese, Greek, and a little Turkish influence on the menu. It’s small but very chic, and with its open kitchen you can watch the chefs at work. Put any of these restaurants on your East London map and you’ll not be disappointed!
I love to try new dishes which I’ve not heard of or seen anywhere else, and luckily there are so many amazing restaurants in this area it would be impossible to get bored. These are a few of my favourites though. Lardo in London Fields is one of my go-to’s. It’s a neighbourhood Italian with a menu that changes daily, and is so Italian in its ethos of really good quality produce, served with simplicity. Even their simple margherita is so good. I like this place in the evening, there’s a cosy ambience with its dim lighting, the pizza oven in the background and the small plates of Italian food you can share. Very close by is Rawduck, which is a good place if you feel like a drink and some small plates. They have an eclectic menu with some really good fusion dishes, but I love the buttermilk chicken or the mussels.