About this blog

The expat has returned from voluntary exile and finds herself with a new domain to discover: London.


Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Broadway and Brick Lane: Same letter, two very different markets

Flower stall, Broadway Market

Well, the Stepney days are over and I'm now resident in South of the river suburbia, aka Charlton. While I don't exactly miss the crazed stares from fellow passengers on the back of the 25 bus (try it for yourself and see. Or maybe not), I did get to love both my temporary flatmates and certain aspects of East London life: the markets.

Violet Cakes, Broadway Market
Near London Fields in Hackney, Broadway Market (on the street of the same name) is a Saturday street market, in action since barrow boys peddled their wares there in the 1890s. Injected with a new lease of life during the noughties, nowadays it's more of a yummy mummy paradise, with well-heeled Hackneyites and their young families browsing gourmet food stalls selling organic meat and veg, cupcakes galore and coffee to go. Made up of eighty stalls, it still feels small-scale and friendly, with plenty of lone traders selling homemade creations in addition to bigger operations such as De Gustibus artisan bread and Flour Power City Bakery, both of which also have Borough Market stalls. Particularly popular was the Merito Coffee stand - so much so that we couldn't face the long queue and opted to take a pavement seat at Gossip, one of the cafes that line the street. Gossip is a pocket-sized purveyor of food and drink, specialising in vegan delights and fancy teas. I can't say the coffee was the best I've ever had (must return to try Merito), but it was served with a custard cream and a smile. Significantly tastier was my almond polenta cupcake with strawberry icing from Violet Cakes - deciding to pass up more conventional choices such as devil's chocolate and marshmallow and take a bite of the wild (or weird) side, I was pleasantly surprised that a wheat and gluten free treat could taste so good. With a yummy nutty crunch, it thankfully tasted nothing like the savoury Italian grain either. Cake is definitely still having a moment, as Broadway Market testifies - sugar fiend shoppers will be in danger of serious cavities if they succumb too heavily to the delights of Violet and her fellow sweet-sellers Coco&Me and more. Trendy eco friendly types will love the market's ban on plastic bags and the amount of organic produce on offer, as well as the abundance of shabby chic cafes to lounge in, sipping cappuccino (or is it flat white that's 'in' nowadays?), reading The Guardian and looking cool.

90p cream cheese delights from Beigel Bake
Speaking of cool, the Sunday frenzy that is Brick Lane overshadows the low-key charm of Broadway market with its elbow-to-elbow trendies searching for vintage bargains, grabbing some cheap chow from the vying food hawkers, or simply having a beer or three. It's not one for the claustrophobic but definitely an experience. Starting at the Bethnal Green end of the long street, I began with a bagel from the famous Beigel Bake, a 24 hour take-away specialising in this type of bread. From just 20p for a plain bagel, they're a definite bargain, but be sure not to dawdle at the counter unless you want to face the wrath of the stern matrons behind it. The next stretch is awash with food stalls, selling everything from African vegan dishes to Argentinian empanadillas. Passing on through the waft of competing cooking smells, the parade of vintage stores begins, with emporiums such as Beyond Retro and Rokit peddling secondhand super-trendy threads of the sort that look enviably stylish on some but would no doubt make me look like Nora Batty on a bad day. Adding to the used goods theme are the 'independent traders' who grab their own pavement space to flog anything from handmade jewellery to old tat (broken Discman, anyone? Jumpers that look like they've had gravy spilled down the front? No?). Avoid the traffic that for some reason attempts to do battle with the tide of pedestrians and step off-street to one of the many indoor markets such as Sunday (Up)Market, a selection of stalls selling one-off clothing, jewellery, accessories, greetings cards, cakes and savouries. If you're keen to ignore the approaching end of the weekend, you might prefer to frequent one of the jam-packed bars pretending it's still Saturday night, such as 1001 or Big Chill (of festival fame). As I'm too old and untrendy for all that malarkey during the day, I'll have a cup of tea, a piece of cake and a new necklace, thank you very much. 


  1. I am with you on that one Kate! I am way to old to party on a Sunday these days! ;)
    I love Brick Lane area!

  2. Love it! Could read your writing all day Nora! ;o)

    Now I have to go visit this Market for the delightful cakes and Merito coffee!

  3. Now the bagels, I'm with you on that one, but £2.50 and more for a tiny little cupcake (prices I've actually seen on Columbia Road), no chance!

  4. Hi Kate

    Great minds think a like as I visited there last month and we managed to hit the bagels and the caribbean curry for our picnic lunch!