First published on 13 Mar 2012. Updated on 13 Mar 2012.
For the good part of the last decade, Shoreditch and sister suburb Dalston have undergone an incredible transformation. Even before the Overgound Line opened in 2009, Shoreditch was coming into its own and out of a shell that was simply circled around nightlife. Here is a side of London that for a long time was dodgy, run down and in some aspects, down-right dangerous.
Now, Shoreditch is a hive of boutiques, hidden bars, cafes, shops and designer hotels, and would you believe, apartments that can cost more to rent than those of the equivalent price in Notting Hill. One boutique to have recently opened in Shoreditch is Mawi, under the same name as British jewellery designer Mawi. She’s a designer who's doing big things - as well as her own range, which is showcased at Harrods, the very popular Disney Couture commissioned her to design a range in 2011.
Mawi, whose had a design studio in Dalston for over a decade, gives Time Out the inside word on where to eat, drink and, importantly, shop in one of London’s most exciting ‘hoods.
Eating and drinking
One of the biggest transformations East London saw over the last decade was the arrival of great restaurants and bars. One of the leaders, even though it has been seriously exclusive, has been Shoreditch House. “Shoreditch House is a private members club situated in the heart of trendy Shoreditch and a short walk from Liverpool Street and Old Street,” Mawi says. “Converted from an old biscuit factory the exterior and immediate surroundings have retained a gritty urban feel whilst inside it is stylized yet informal and relaxed. Here you will find young trendy fashion and media types rubbing shoulder with artists, musicians and bankers. There is plenty to keep you occupied from spa treatments at the Cowshed to swimming, lazing on the sun loungers or eating and drinking in one of the restaurants and bars. It is an escape from the hustle and bustle of Shoreditch and the view from the rooftop is spectacular,” she says. Memberships aside, downstairs at Shoreditch House is Pizza East, where you’ll find an urban Italian restaurant that’s highlighted by its range of seriously good pizzas (make ours a San Daniele, please waiter), range of Italian wines (grab a Montepulciano – a grape variety that’s just started to take Australia by storm – and the best drinker here is the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo) and great crowd that’s missing any dose of pretentiousness. Ebor St, Shoreditch, E1 6AW (+44 20 7739 5040, tube: Shoreditch High St).
Right next to Mawi’s boutique on Calvert Ave is a café that locals can’t stop talking about, Leila’s. “We are lucky to be right next door to this legendary café,” she says. “The coffee is great and the place has a real sense of community. The interior resembles that of being in ones kitchen and feels relaxed and informal. Their grocery shop next door sells seasonal fruits and vegetables, bread cheese, chutney, jams etc. It’s always filled with a great crowd no matter what time of day. If you are in Shoreditch this is one place not to miss. The menu is simple, limited and non- fussy so if you are looking for a big selection this is not the place for you,” Mawi says. 17 Calvert Ave, Shoreditch, E2 7JP, (+44 20 7729 9789, tube: Shoreditch High St).
For some seriously good Szechuan – and a number of London restaurants do great Szechuan – Mawi says head to My Old Place. “I first read about this place in the Guardian Weekend magazine and it had a rating of 8 1⁄2 describing it as one of the best kept secrets,” she says. “That was over 3 years ago and we have been there at least once a month since we discovered it. The food is authentic Szechuan and the clientele is mainly Chinese, while the portions are huge and prices are super reasonable. The service is average but the excellent food makes up for it. Warning – it is spicy with a real authentic Szechuan flavour so if you can’t handle a bit of heat then this is not the place for you. They also have a special menu in Chinese so if you wish to try the more exotic dishes you can request a separate menu. They don’t accept bookings so you have to turn up and wait for a table. It’s worth the wait believe me,” she says. 88-90 Middlesex St, London E1 7EZ, (+44 20 7247 2200, tube: Aldgate or Aldgate East).
A short drive up Kinglsand Rd is another great authentic, yet tucked away Asian restaurant – Vietnamese Canteen. “If you are not living in East London chances are you won’t stumble upon this place by accident,” Mawi says. “It’s tucked away in the posh residential side streets of De Bouviour five minutes away from the Vietnamese restaurants in Shoreditch. It used to serve as the community centre and is now one of the best Vietnamese restaurants this side of town. The food is amazing and it’s all hustle and bustle with a loud festive atmosphere. It’s busy throughout the week so I would advise booking in advance as the wait could be long. If you want to stop off for a pint before dinner then the Talbots Pub is right next door - convenient if you have to wait for a table,” she says. 12-14 Englefield Rd, London N1 4LS, (+44 20 7249 0877, tube: Dalston Junction).
Speaking of pubs, East London has a plethora of them and for a great pint, Mawi says head to The Nelson. “Tucked away behind Columbia Flower Market, this is a real atmospheric drinking den,” she says. “The interior is filled with objet d’art – vases, stained glasses, tea pots, cat figurines and all forms of bric-a-brac. The walls are line with paintings some of which you can buy. There is a great interesting mix of people here and the atmosphere is relaxed and non-contrived. It’s a pub with a real personality,” she says. 32 Horatio Street London E2 7SB, (+44 20 7729 5595, tube: Haggerston).
But before indulging in a pint at The Nelson, Mawi says absolutely check out the Columbia Flower Market. “It’s the best way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon,” she says. “Be sure not to miss this market if you are visiting London. It’s one of the best experiences. Hundreds of flower stalls selling the best selection of flora and fauna at wholesale prices. Lined with the most beautiful display of seasonal flowers it is hard to walk away empty handed. The street is lined with boutiques, vintage stores, gifts shops, cafes and pubs and a great place to meet up with friends for Sunday lunch at the Royal Oak or in one of the many eateries nearby. It is crowded especially on a sunny day and is great for people watching.
“It closes around 2.30pm so be sure to get there in the morning if you want the full experience,” she says. Columbia Rd, London E2 7RG, (+44 20 7613 0876, tube: Hoxton).
For some vintage threads, Mawi says stop by Storm In A Teacup. “The recently opened Storm in a Tea Cup is a new addition to the ever growing list of new places in East London,” she says. “The brainchild of stylist Joe Miller and his model girlfriend Claudia Raba the boutiques stocks carefully selected and edited designer clothes as well as vintage. It’s a little further away for the Shoreditch postcode and is tucked amongst residential property and one could easily miss the place if you were not in the know. Well worth the visit for someone looking for somewhere that’s a bit off the beaten track. 366 Kingsland Rd, London E8 4DA, (+44 20 8127 5471, tube: Haggerston).
If you need a spot of pampering to break up all that shopping Mawi knows just the place - Wah Nails, where you can get the perfect fashion-forward mani-pedi. “Wah Nails opened a few years ago in my neighborhood of Dalston and it has been the most talked about nail salon,” she says. “These girls are true artists and understand their craft. They can re-create and paint anything you want including your favorite prints from the runway or a painting you like by your favourite artist. The brainchild of Sharmadean Reid, who’s also the editor of WahNails.com, and it’s the place to go to if you want the best in nail art. Wah are also responsible for the hottest catwalk looks. So successful has the venture been that Reid has started to franchise Wah… so watch this space,” she says. 420 Kingsland Rd, Hackney, London, E8 4AA, (+44 20 7812 9889, tube: Dalston Junction).
A visit to Shoreditch wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Mawi’s shop. Over the last decade, her jewellery has become world-renowned and now there’s the chance to but a number of pieces from her latest collections year-round (previously you had to find them in a boutique or at Harrods, where she is still stocked). Her store opening was the toast of Shoreditch mid-last year and there you’ll find some stunning necklaces, rings and bracelets and discover why the British fashion industry considers her to be one of their treasures. 11 Calvert Ave, Shoreditch, London, E2 7JP, (+44 20 7923 1414, tube: Shoreditch High St).
Where to stay
Just a short hop from Shoreditch, the Hotel Indigo London-Tower Hill might be under the management of the booming InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) but it certainly doesn’t have a big brand feel. IHG’s boutique brand, Indigo is all about hip style and a lifestyle experience without the big dollars. The rooms at the Tower Hill property are cosy, yet spacious and stylish (think wooden floors, beds with posts and shagpile rugs. 142 Minories, London, EC3N 1LS, (+44 8432 0870007, tube: Aldgate).
A station closer to the Thames, the Novotel London Tower Bridge is Time Out’s favourite Novotel in Europe thanks not just because of its location near Tower Bridge and the multi-line Tower Hill Station, but the designed lobby, large rooms (some with views) and bar for a quick Boddingtons before you head out. 10 Pepys St, London, EC3N 2NR, (+44 20 7265 6000, tube: Tower Hill). At both properties you are still close to the city’s Theatre District, which means not just a plethora of shows to choose from, but you’re in good walking distance from many of the city’s top shops and attractions.
If you want to play in Shoreditch and experience another side of London when it comes to hotels, then book a room at the Rydges Kensington London hotel, Time Out’s bang-for-buck hotel in the capital. A recent five million pound renovation has given the hotel a completely new feel that’s well above its average 100 pound price tag. Located in Kensington, you’re across the street from the Gloucester Road tube and that means two stops to Notting Hill Gate, three to Green Park and about a 40-minute scream through the tunnels to Shoreditch. 61 Gloucester Rd, London, SW7 4PE, (+44 20 7584 8100, tube: Gloucester Rd).
How to get there
Cathay Pacific flies daily from Melbourne to London via Hong Kong. Cathay offers award-winning service across entire aircraft, especially in the new Business Class cabin, which is being progressively rolled out across the fleet. The new seats and layout of the Business Class cabin offers a spacious and relaxing journey, while the food on board is on par with the best in the air (think slow cooked duck with Chinese cabbage, washed down with a glass of the 2009 Mountadam Vineyard Eden Valley Riesling). This year, Cathay is rolling-out a new Premium Economy class cabin that, Time Out understands, will give existing product in the market a run for its money. Book early and you’ll find some good Business and Premium Economy deals in the market and you’ll be able to avoid a 24-hour flight down the back of the bus.
Another good option is to take a stopover in Hong Kong on the way to London. Two hotels Time Out recommends are the W Hong Kong and Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong. Both are conveniently located above Kowloon Station, which is on the airport line, and the W is highlighted by its tech-savvy oversized rooms, lobby bar and rooftop pool, while next door at the Ritz, you’re staying up in the clouds (literally), as the hotel is almost 500 metres up in the air. Make sure you take a trip to the Ozone bar atop the hotel, which amazingly has an outdoor section and is becoming increasingly well known for its classic cocktails, especially Martinis.
When flying to London from Melbourne, Time Out also recommends considering British Airways, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Etihad.