Tag Archives: East London

A Spitalfields Institution: Upstairs at the Ten Bells

Old Spitalfields Market is one of London’s oldest covered commercial markets; it’s been around since the 1600s. Each day it brings together traders selling fashion, food, antiques, and crafts. A surge of boutiques, shops and restaurants have bubbled up in the vicinity, regenerating this part of East London.

The Ten Bells sits right opposite the arched entrance to Spitalfields Market on Commercial Street. But it has a sinister history all its own. It dates back to 1666 and was the local watering hole of Jack the Ripper in the 1800s. Two of his victims used to frequent this old Victorian boozer, one of which was spotted drinking here just hours before her mutilated body was found around the corner. Not exactly the most romantic date night in London back in the day…

Ten Bells Chalk Board Menu

Ten Bells Outside

But fast forward 127 years, and people are still dying to get in. The upstairs restaurant is all the rage – classic East London gritty. You climb up the creaky battered staircase, beneath a very apt sign reading Live East, Die Young, and into a dining room lit with Tracy Emin neon and homoerotic photography.

Upstairs at 10 Bells Neon

Upstairs at Ten Bells Staircase

No thanks. I'd much prefer to Live West, Die Old.

No thanks. I’d much prefer to Live West, Die Old.

Ten Bells Upstairs

The menu is eclectic modern British. Predictable ingredients, but done in a cool, clever way.

Wood Pigeon tortellini

Wood Pigeon ravioli, crushed swede, consommé

Laugh Drink

Potato Gnocchi, Brown Shrimp, Crab, Girolles

Potato Gnocchi, Cornish Crab, Brown Shrimp

Ginger Glazed Cashew Ribs

Ginger Glazed Ribs, cashew nuts, pickled ginger

Yorkshire Rhubarb, Buttermilk Mousse with White Chocolate and Matcha Green Tea Crumb

Yorkshire Rhubarb, Buttermilk Mousse with White Chocolate and Matcha Green Tea Crumb

Ten Bells Dessert

Tummies full, we dashed fearlessly out onto the mean grungy streets of East London, the eerie glow of a Dickensian moon lighting the foggy night sky.

Ten Bells Silly Face

Spitalfields Moon

Christ Church, Spitalfields

Christ Church, Spitalfields

Outside

Spitalfields Fairy Goth Mother

Ten Bells Ed London Spitalfields

Ten Bells Telephone Booth

It was a thrill to visit the dismal, macabre heart of London’s yesteryear. It proves there are still places where the grimness of history yet clings, even if only in spirit, in the drear-cloaked night.

East London Silliness

My gal pal was in town and invited me out to East London for a party. I was keen to go, but not in one straight shot. I have to ease my way east – so I suggested we meet for a cocktail on the fringe of civilization – King’s Cross. Drink, Shop & Do is the perfect place for people with short attention spans, like me. Started by two hip London girls, this place combines a number of my favorite things – cocktails, shopping, and having a laugh with friends. They also host crafty activity events, where you can get creative making flower headbands, or vintage style corsages, or origami bouquets. The perfect atmosphere to get silly!

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It’s an eclectic little place – and they make an extra-frothy espresso martini!6 7 8

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12You can even shop here – candy, housewares, letterpress stationery… I couldn’t resist this witty little souvenir on the way out. 14

And the girls couldn’t resist this hunky tomcat…

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We jumped in a cab and headed further east. I’m always a little skeptical of anything happening so close to the financial district at nighttime, but sometimes you gotta take a gamble. I’m glad I did, because our next stop was a pleasant surprise.

Life on Old Street is a Japanese restaurant with an afterhours bar downstairs. It’s got that minimalist East Asian vibe, a pair of DJs, and a disco ball – which automatically upped its cool factor. Plus, the bar serves sake – so it didn’t take long for us to start having fun!

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There’s always someplace new to discover in London – and this applies to anywhere in the world. You just need to get out there and take the gamble. Because, sometimes, it definitely pays off.

East London

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.

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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.

Lardo

Lardo

Lardo

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Lardo4ArtHaus

Baked Eggs | cannellini beans, spinach & feta

Baked Eggs | cannellini beans, spinach & feta

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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:

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Barb

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Barb7Very cool.

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.

Asakusa

Meneki-neko (beckoning cats)

Meneki-neko (beckoning cats)

Accomplished - and very busy - sushi chef

Accomplished – and very busy – sushi chef

Japanese pickles

Japanese pickles

A fine bottle of junmai sake

A fine bottle of junmai sake

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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.

Yellowtail sashimi

Yellowtail sashimi

Katsu chicken

Katsu chicken

Mochi | Green tea ice cream

Mochi | Green tea ice cream

Red bean mochi

Red bean mochi

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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.