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Monthly Archives: February 2017

Nairn’s London #26
The Hoop and Grapes, Aldgate

THEN: One of the most dramatic contrasts in London. Just when the City seems to be getting to its most crowded and correct, along Fenchurch Street and Leadenhall Street, the whole thing falls away. In a few yards the bowler hats have gone, the buildings – shoddy but very expressive – house second-hand goods and small-scale tailors. The streets have stalls like Tubby Isaac’s in Goulston Street, selling eels, inscribed: ‘We lead, others follow’. This is the East End with a bang, and just around the corner are some of the roughest streets in Stepney. At the other end of Aldgate East is another moving change: the split of Commercial and Whitechapel Roads – one going to the docks and the estuary, the other pointed straight at the heart of East Anglia, those long miles beyond Newmarket. It is only a traffic block now, but it could be marvellous, given town artists and not just town planners. Half way along on the south side is the Hoop and Grapes, a lovable survival of the years just after the Fire. The inside, long, low and dark, is in the old style too.

NOW: Nairn discusses Aldgate in general, but as he finished with the pub, I’ll start with it. The Hoop and Grapes is now part of the Nicholson’s chain, and bears all of the commoditised hallmarks that you’d expect – cheap pub grub and an uninspiring beer selection. But its shape still remains – with low slung ceilings and foreboding dark wood interiors. Heading outside, the dramatic contrast between city and shanty still exists. In fact, with the addition of Vinoly’s Walkie Talkie building, the effect has only been exaggerated. Stepney is now one of the more multicultural areas in East London – you’ll struggle to buy eels these days – but the market stalls remain nonetheless. And with my recent move from Old Street to Whitechapel, its an area I’m going to get to know rather well.

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Restaurant: Shoryu, Denman St
Time: Wednesday lunchtime
With: James F
Stand-out dish: Kotteri Hakata Tonkotsu
Fairly unassuming from the outside. There are benches outside, so people can queue up to get a table. No need for us to sit on them however, as we were immediately sat in an entirely empty (second) room. As you’re shown to your seat, a gong is hit by a waiter. I’m not too sure what the significance is, but it certainly felt like the session had begun. The restaurant is a mixture of woods and black vinyl. Its got a whiff of business about it, rather than pleasure. Perhaps that’s why we both opted for green tea (mine cold, his hot) – despite it being the first of Feb, with a complete Dry January behind us. No matter, the focus here was the food. The pork belly shoryu buns were delicious, but a little over-mayo’d. And the tonkotsu was fabulous – tasty and filling. The pork was succulent and fatty, exactly what I was craving. And we were in and out in an efficient hour. Nice.

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#13. The Geffrye Museum
An oasis hidden in plain sight, amongst all the vietnamese restaurants and art shops of the Kingsland Road. For two centuries, these 18th century almshouses provided homes for poor Ironmonger Co pensioners. But since 1914 its been the home of a museum. The Geffrye Museum explores the development of the home from the 1600s to present day. Its white windows and green ivy cut nicely against the dark brick facade, and the terraced U-shape it forms provides a leafy courtyard to laze about in. But if you’re at all green fingered, forget the front courtyard, its the gardens at the back that you should gravitate to – period gardens from the 17th century on, and a traditional english herb garden full of medicinal and culinary plants. The buildings are all grade-I listed, but the museum is fundraising for a £15m extension that will see it open up and grow its exhibition spaces.

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