Category Archives: Outdoors

The greening of Dalston

Amid the cranes and dusty footpaths and tower blocks, with their balconies cleverly rebranded as ‘winter gardens’, pockets of leafy green are sprouting at Dalston Junction.

First up is Farm:Shop. When this first appeared I thought it was a hydroponics shop. But once they added a bit of signage I discovered it’s a cafe, workspace and arts venue. There’s an aquaponic fish farm out the front, where they are growing (breeding? spawning?) tilapia & prawns – apparently a supper is planned for later in the summer when they’ll all be eaten – a polytunnel out the back, chickens on the roof and quite possibly the most attractive staff you’ll encounter in East London – glowing examples of the term ‘rude with health’.

Then, just across the road, we have the Eastern Curve Garden. This has been here for a while, but it’s now looking more established, and this summer there are a series of events planned, including tango classes and a Family Fun Day this Saturday (July 9) with free entry. The Hackney Borough of Sanctuary Group are also holding a Garden Party on July 15 (next Friday) with food baked in the garden’s clay oven.

And Ashwin Street, just off Kingsland Road, has a newly planted perennial border. Home to the new Arcola Theatre & Cafe Oto, it also has a rooftop garden, which I’m yet to visit.


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Spring at the Columbia Road Flower Market

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Hackney embraces the Tories… not

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Even Graham Road has its charms on a snowy evening…

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Ed’s Shed in De Beauvoir Town by David Adjaye











If you’ve visited The Idea Store in Whitechapel or the Dirty House and Rivington Place (here’s my review) in Shoreditch, then you’ll be familiar with the work of David Adjaye. And in 2007 he designed this private home for photographer Ed Reeve 

A sunken cube clad with stained cedar, it was partly prefabricated so the builders were apparently on site for only one week. And, one a bright Sunday morning during London Open House he opened it to the public. I admire the simplicity of it, and that decking looks like a lovely spot on a summery day, but as I write this – surrounded by books, notebooks, magazine clippings, teacups and an overflowing bin – I know I never could, and indeed never will live in a house like this…. I mean, where does Ed put all his crap? 

















And, as a fine example of the many characters of East  London, just around the corner from Ed’s Shed is the home of William Lyttle, aka The Mole Man, who – for reasons known only to himself – has spent the last forty years digging a 60ft network of tunnels around his huge, dilapidated Georgian mansion.

It is now covered in scaffolding and Mr Lyttle has been placed in a hotel while the tunnels are filled – apparently structural engineers had warned the council that a double-decker bus could go through the road if they didn’t deal with the situation. 


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A walk to the Vietnamese cafes, Kingsland Road

vietThe Vietnamese restaurants along Kingsland Road are legendary. And somehow, the competition means they all – at least of the seven or so I have tried – are excellent and honestly priced. Usually, for big groups, my choice would be Tay Do or its sister restaurant across the road (both have big, dead lobsters on the walls). 

Until the recession began, we had a Vietnamese-Aussie friend who would order for us and all we had to do was sit down, watch her in action and then wait for the most delectable dishes to arrive – green papaya salad, steamed fish with ginger, pork chops, chilli salt squid and something called shaker beef, which is small cubes of chewy beef, marinated in some delicious sauce, then quickly cooked rare and served with a bowl of salt and lemon slices. God, I’m getting hungry just thinking about it and it’s only 11am.

Anyway, in her absence we muddle through, but the magic has gone. And then, just recently I rediscovered Loong Kee, which I used to go to years ago. It’s right up the quiet end of Kingsland Road and just next door to the lovely Geffrye Museum (read about my recent visit here).

P1020795Loong Kee’s speciality is banh cuon, or steamed rice flour rolls, which arrive stuffed with either a beef or prawn filling and have a sweet sauce to pour over them. This is a slightly calmer restaurant, and it’s particularly nice on Sunday afternoons when you see families having long lunches and dishes of all sorts of seafood and meat arriving. Everything comes with lots of fresh coriander and chilli and they also serve freshly squeezed juices.

Actually, sorry, but I’m going to interrupt this blog to go there for an early lunch. Life is short, the the sun is shining and my belly is rumbling. To be continued.

Right, back now. That was well worth the walk. Vermicelli noodles with beef and lemongrass and a fresh juice. I also stopped by Oxfam (for more on this wonderful place, read here) and found three new books – Lucky by Alice Sebold, Caravan Thieves by Gerard Woodward and In My Skin by Kate Jennings, a Melbourne writer – it’s a book about her experience of working as a prostitute to support a heroin habit and it’s brilliant, I read it before but lent it to someone and never got it back, usual story, so now I’ve got another copy. Sounds depressing and somewhat tired, but isn’t. Which reminds me, I am thinking up a manifesto for book buying, which is an minefield these days.

 I also noted a few things on my walk:

Winter is here, but not in a bad way. The trees are bare and the ground is covered with leaves, dogs are wearing little coats and I may have finally discovered the perfect black faux fur jacket number 3 (I gave my first one to a friend when in my cups and then left its replacement on a bus).

Hidden Art is on December 5-6, a chance to sniff around the many artists’ studios that are dotted around the East End & do some Christmas shopping in a relaxed environment rather than the pit of hell that is Oxford Street in December.

Columbia Road is opening its shops late on Wednesday nights in December. 

And my local bus stop has disappeared. Just gone. Where there was a shelter with a display telling you when the next bus was due there is now just pavement. Bastards. Just in time for winter, too. I blame Boris.

Plus, the 38 bendy buses, where you could get on right at the back, are getting ditched this weekend. Back to double deckers. So no more of that drama of the bus stopping and about twenty transport cops getting on and busting fare dodgers. It was always rather exciting, except when you were unlucky enough to be next to the yellow validator thing and half the bus lunged towards it to zap their Oyster and you nearly got crushed by the stampede, of course.  See this article in The Londonist for details. 

Loong Kee, 134 Kingsland Road Tel: 020 7729 8344

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Mysterious windows on Bethnal Green Road


It’s damn near impossible to make it to the end of Bethnal Green Road without stopping for a snack. Even the fried chicken shops sell curries and shish kebabs, and the smell is so delicious I usually succumb just before Brick Lane. Having said that, I am yet to try Gourmet San, the Szechuan restaurant that turned down an Observer review saying, ‘No thanks. We don’t need any extra custom. Almost all our clientele are Chinese, and they don’t read the Observer.’ Here’s the review anyway….. it’s definitely high on my to-eat list, although the stuff they ordered – pigs’ trotters, sliced beef tongue and tripe – sounded slightly intimidating to my tame Western palate. 

So this time I almost made it to Brick Lane before being halted in my tracks by a five-quid thali deal at Maida (also reviewed by the Observer). The service was friendly – they brought me tap water without being asked, and the food was good for a quick lunch – two small silver pots of vegetarian curry, some yogurt, dhal, pita, rice and chutney. Apparently it’s got lamb chops to rival Tayyabs, but we’ve been hearing this for a while now, haven’t we?

Anyway, what really intrigued me was the view from my table, of four windows hung with greying lace curtains, a few red-geraniums on the ledge and no view of what or who was within. It didn’t look abandoned, but it did look strangely out of time, and I’m still wondering about it.

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