East London might as well be Narnia. It seems so far off and inaccessible, yet I’m always hearing how very trendy it is and yearning to be transported to this magical land of hipsters where everything cool seems to happen.
So this Saturday I donned my hipster uniform (rolled-up jorts and low top Jack Purcells) and journeyed east in search of off-beat Cockney fun. I arrived in Hackney somewhat dazed and daunted; so many strange characters swarmed around me – a woman in a bikini eating chicken out of a box as she hurried down the sidewalk, a stylish dude in a sassy full-length Grover shag fur coat, and strollers – lots of lots of strollers. Apparently, I’d been beamed into a hidden hipster breeding ground where young Londoners come to hatch their brood.
I squeezed past the buggies and highchairs in Lardo for brunch. Industrial chic Italian food in the urban hotspot Arthaus building. The baked egg skillet was scorched in a glittering dome oven and served hot enough to incinerate the roof of my mouth. The bloody marys were delicious but – holy, salt! – garnished with your yearly recommended sodium intake. To be fair, the cured meats and pizzas looked amazing and I certainly finished every bite of my breakfast; appetite sated, we headed off to lovely Dalston.
Baked Eggs | cannellini beans, spinach & feta
And by lovely, I mean a graffitied gravel lot – and site of the Barbican-commissioned “Dalston House” installation by Leandro Erlich. Exploring themes of architecture, urbanism, and perception, the interactive exhibition gives visitors a tactile experience and optical illusion using a specially designed Victorian terraced house facade. Have a look:
As we retreated back west, we passed through Camden on a pilgrimage for a word-of-mouth Japanese restaurant recomendation. Asakusa in Mornington Crescent is a relatively underground favorite for authentic sushi – despite its dingy outer appearance, it was jam-packed with reservations inside. Faded Tokyo kitsch cheers the otherwise passe dining room, and a matronly bespectacled woman calls out orders and “Hai!” from behind a counter covered in little cat figurines and stacks of Japanese newspapers.
Meneki-neko (beckoning cats)
Accomplished – and very busy – sushi chef
A fine bottle of junmai sake
It was a looooong wait for the sushi, but we had been warned. When it finally came, the delay was entirely forgiven because it was superb – fresh as could be, it dissolved on the tongue. The tempura and chicken katsu that followed were further triumphs. Dessert just put the whole meal into the top percentile of Japanese dining.
Mochi | Green tea ice cream
Red bean mochi
This was a prolonged and drowsy dinner, which we waited for and lingered over for three hours – but with plenty of sake at hand, we hardly minded.
As I drifted down the underground tunnels, through the wardrobe so to speak, I was so gratified by my cross-city trip. I was a little woozy, but glad to be home – safe from the sad, traitorous Mr. Tumnus’ of London. Thankful as I was for the adventure, I had left him behind half-heartedly – knowing he was too weak and helpless from being sucked into the evil, frightening depths of Narnia. Life isn’t too far from a fairytale sometimes.