As many of you know, I spent my childhood school years in Newcastle in the North of England. When I was around 12 years old and hanging out at our local tennis club a lot, I met Gail Bryson and we became fast friends. Over the years our mutual interests evolved into art, museums, dogs, traveling and collaborating on work projects. From high school, Gail went on to study Textiles at The Edinburgh College of Art and I studied Fashion at Kingston University. We both found ourselves living in London after college, and when I moved out to California and launched DIANI, it was a no-brainer that Gail would design all of our branding. Over the years, Gail has worked with Jamie Oliver, John Lewis, The Nest, The Conran Shop and many other design companies, as well as designing her own screen prints and textiles. Gail currently lives in Dalston, East London with her black lab, Olive, and this week, she's taking over the blog with her city guide to East London, sharing her favorite places to eat, drink, shop and play... so, here's where Gail takes over:
"One of the things I love about East London is that it's a mix of communities and people, and Hackney is renowned for being a melting pot of cultures and people. The area I live in has a big Turkish population with fantastic food shops and restaurants. And despite being an inner city suburb, it's surprisingly green with lots of parks and marshland which are great for running, cycling, dog walking, and swimming, which I also love to do. It's also a great spot for independent shops and markets.
BEST CAFÉS AND BAKERIES
I’m lucky that the area boasts a wealth of cafés and bakeries which is good for my love of cake – whether I'm craving a scone or need a loaf of fresh bread after a swim. Jolene is the very best for pastries. They use seasonal flavors and ingredients and change up what's on offer regularly, which gives me a good reason to come back. In addition to being a bakery, they are also a restaurant and have a natural wine cellar. The interior has an industrial feel which is softened by fresh flowers and candle light. They have a few branches dotted around East London, so look out for them and their signature rust-colored exterior if you are in the area.
My favorite post-swim spot is E5 Bakehouse. It's famous for its house-baked bread, which is based on traditional techniques using natural ingredients and locally sourced organic flour. They also have a popular onsite bakery school. The Dusty Knuckle Bakery is another great bakery and café tucked around the back of a big studio block in a disused carpark.
Mare Street Market is an indoor market that houses a florist, a barber, antiques, a café, bar and dining room. The perfect refreshment stop after a mooch around Broadway Market and Neil Market, which are right next door. Saturday is the day to visit this area when all the markets are on.
This small, but tasty bakery in East London is owned by California-native, Claire Ptak. She’s a food writer, stylist, recipe developer and consultant, and also made the wedding cake for Meghan and Harry. At Violet Cakes, the prune scones are a favorite of mine. On a recent walk with my dog, Olive, we stopped in and they had sold out of prune scones, but it gave me the excuse to try something different - a rhubarb and polenta cake, (see photo above) which was equally delicious!
A fermenting kitchen and wine bar as well as a small intimate restaurant, Little Duck Picklery in Dalston is where Caroline and Jeffrey spent their wedding anniversary last summer (with me in tow). Jars of pickles, fizzing kombucha and vinegars line the windows and a rotating menu filled with simple, flavorful dishes keeps regulars coming back for more.
Next to the canal in Hackney, just off Broadway Market, sits a quaint little restaurant that you might miss if you blink. Café Cecilia serves a variety of foods with Italian and Irish influence, courtesy of the chef’s Irish ancestry. The menu changes regularly, but locals like myself love the sage and anchovy fritti, which seems to be a staple.
FAVORITE THINGS TO DO
A Sunday morning stroll around Columbia Road Market is one of my favorite weekend pastimes. I've been visiting the market since I lived in East London and it hasn’t changed. A great place for a Sunday mooch and to pick up a big bunch of flowers or plants to brighten up the week.
The best Saturday market is Broadway Market in Hackney, North London. The street is part of the old "Porter's Path" and has been used since Roman times as a cart-track bringing in food supplies to London. Today it houses vendors selling a mix of things from flowers, cheese and food, to vintage clothes and an array of small independent craftmakers.
The shops around the market are great too, and if you need a coffee pick me up, Climpson & Sons and Pavilion serve up with the goods. There's a basket stall I love as well as vintage clothes stands. I also enjoy a visit to Wilder Botanics, which sells natural and organic beauty and herbal products.
If you love swimming like me, East London has a few great options. The London Fields Lido is a heated open air pool located near Broadway Market and E5 Bakehouse (for that post-swim breakfast). If you prefer a colder dip, the West Reservoir is the place to visit.
Along the canal from Broadway Market to Islington, stop for lunch on the way at Towpath Café and enjoy a delicious meal and canal-side views. It's currently closed for a winter hibernation, but locals and visitors alike await its reopening in the spring. In the meantime, check out their cookbook Towpath: Recipes and Stories.
Although I live in the center of London, I love that I can easily escape to the Walthamstow and Hackney Marshes and feel like I'm in the country. I spend a lot of time no matter the season walking or running with my dog around this part of Hackney. I especially love the winter mornings when you get incredible sunrises. You can also walk all the way along the river by the marshes to the Stratford, which is where the 2012 Olympics were held.
WHERE TO SHOP
As a lover of textiles, the color and pattern selection really appeals to me at The Mercantile London. This shop has a friendly, relaxed feeling and the owner, Debra is very helpful and has great style (she also shares my birthday). She always has a great selection of clothes and I make sure to pop in to see what’s new when I visit the antique market on a Thursday morning.
The Old Spitalfields Market has an antique market every Thursday and it's a great place to pick up some vintage treasures. I recently bought a set of vintage plates with a blue thistle print on them as they remind me of my mum, who was originally from Scotland.
For homewares, Straw London on Columbia Road specializes in unique baskets and homeware products. They sell a mix of baskets, terracotta ceramics, candles, dried flowers, linens and handmade cards. If you like to cook or entertain, Kitchen Provisions is the ideal shop and specializes in Japanese knives. They also have a new and bigger branch in Coals Drop Yard, Kings Cross.
FAVORITE BARS AND PUBS
The Prince George is a traditional Victorian pub and a Hackney institution. It has been a firm favorite since I've lived in the area. It's a good friendly mix of old locals and the new younger crowd and has a great jukebox and beer garden for summer drinks.
Newcomer Wines is an unconventional wine importer that specializes in "the new old world" and sourcing wines from Austria, among other countries. The garden in the back is a good spot in summer, but the indoor bar is just as cozy and intimate in the winter. One of the newer neighborhood wine shops and bars is Dan's. It's dog-friendly, which I love, and features unique wines from small producers sourced from Natty Boy wine shop.
Apart from a couple of years moving around and getting settled when I first moved to London, and a brief stint living in New York, I've spent most of my adult life living in East London and it's changed a lot over the years. When I first bought my flat, which is on a wide leafy, Victorian street, all I wanted was somewhere to get a good coffee and now I'm spoiled for choice!
I hope you find yourself in this part of London and that you get to enjoy some of these culturally rich treasures. It's a very special place and I've enjoyed paying homage here on Caroline's blog."
Thank you, Gail. I always love spending time with you in your hood and no one knows the hot spots quite like you. You've got me itching for another visit. And to see more of the work that Gail does, check out her website here. And give her a follow on Instagram @gailbryson.
Sending lots of love,
This was really fun to put together, thanks for asking me to do it Caroline. If anyone is visiting London and wants some tips I’m happy to help. (And Jeffrey looking forward to a couple of snifters in the Prince George soon!)
I love spending time in that part of the world… can’t wait to get back! (especially to the Prince George)