Posted on Monday 19 November 2018 by Ulster Business
From London’s thriving bohemian hub and street art capital to a food, drink and nightlife must-visit... John Mulgrew explores Shoreditch and beyond
Once just the purview of the artistic and trendsetting, Shoreditch has fast become a location worthy of a trip in itself when visiting London.
Nestled in the East End of the city, Shoreditch offers up a buzzing cultural environment, lots of independent places to eat and drink, and boasts one of the city’s best markets.
Now, those in the north west always feel a little hard done by when it comes to connectivity outside Northern Ireland.
In this case though, Flybmi now connects City of Derry Airport regularly with London Stansted. From there, it’s a regular train into Liverpool Street station, and then onwards using the tube or bus across the city.
And if you’re visiting Shoreditch, it’s hard to miss Boxpark. Sitting close to the tube station, it’s an array of black-clad shipping containers, with a host of retailers and places to eat. A bite at posh chip shop Poptata helps fuel the day.
Journalists often prefer the freedom to explore a city at their own pace – picking up things along the way, without being ferried from place-to-place. But a food-focused tour from Alternative London brought out areas that might have otherwise been missed.
Shoreditch is famous for the sheer volume of graffiti and art strewn around the area, but getting an insider’s view on the changes taking place in the area – including paid-for advertising now adorning some of the spaces reserved for artists from the area, or a Banksy – really helps take in as much as possible.
Christiaan Nagel’s mushrooms, which can be found in several roof-top locations, led us to teashop T2, taking in a salt-beef bagel at Beigel Bake on Brick Lane, followed by the modern, family-run self-styled home-style Indian restaurant, Gunpowder.
The aloo chaat is a signature, with punch, depth and zing, while an almost unavoidable venison and vermicelli ‘doughnut’ is worth the visit alone.
A brief half in the grade II listed Ten Bells, which has links to Jack the Ripper, was followed by a familiar trip to Old Spitalfields Market. It has a dense, tight offering of top-end food stalls, from Asian steamed buns at Yum Bun, to Portuguese custard tarts and fruit tea at Yi Fang.
An unmissable food destination sits across from the market. St John Bread and Wine is one of Fergus Henderson’s London outlets. It’s a casual, laid back and sparse affair, which allows you to same some of the best British cooking available.
You can stop by for a very reasonably priced, and one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, such as Welsh Rarebit, devilled kidneys on toast or, my choice on this visit, blood cake and egg. Think richer, chunkier black pudding, crispened in a pan with a rich-orange hued yolk.
There are plenty of spots to socialise in and around Shoreditch, with some of London’s better beer bars included. The Craft Beer Co has a location on Old Street, while there’s a Brewdog and the Draft House, hidden in the Bower development.
Arriving back to the hotel in the evening, don’t expect dull or lifeless environment at the Hoxton. The downstairs is thriving during the day, with the usual spectrum of aluminium-clad Apple Macs, but at night, especially at the weekend, it’s very much a nightspot in the area.
But if you’re after a decent night’s sleep, there’s very little sound making its way to the bedrooms from the ground-floor buzz.
Leaving the hip surroundings of Shoreditch, and heading to the rather more touristy affair of Leicester Square, the Hotel Indigo is offers a grand view of the London skyline.
The new rooftop bar is a superb vantage point to overlook the square, and pick out the city’s most famous structures.
Then there’s the National Portrait Gallery – which sits just a short distance away from the Hotel Indigo.
During the trip there was a Michael Jackson ‘On the Wall’ exhibition – one for Jackson fans, certainly – but the gallery itself, which is free, is worth a visit for everyone else. It also hosts a ‘Friday Lates’ event – opening into the night, and with a small pop-up bar for visitors.
Not far away, the Japan Centre offers up a myriad of everything the country has to offer in regards to food and drink in particular – from freshly made miso, to a varied and wide-selection of sake, it’s a stop worth making for anyone keen on trying to replicate the flavours they’ve had while visiting the country.
Meanwhile, Shoryu Ramen – located very close to base camp at the Hoxton – offers some of the best casual noodles in the city. Starting off with cleanly flavoured salmon sashimi, followed by the garlic kick of the Dracula Tonkotsu – a heady allium-rich version of their 12-hour pork broth.
For those in and around what is one of the city’s most tourist-heavy locations, Granaio is a reasonably recent addition.
It’s a fairly familiar format – Italian classics and a wide-ranging menu, which will keep the majority of visitors content, at a reasonable price, considering the location. A beef tartare was solid, and a ribeye cooked correctly on the inside, despite a lack of charring on the outside.
The theatre obviously plays a large part in the attraction to London, but the Immersive Gatsy experience turns a chunk of a Long Lane building into an interactive re-telling of F Scott Fitzgerald’s the Great Gatsby. It’s different, but impressively choreographed, and something alternative to spending a huge wad of cash on a West End show.
A crisp sunny day before heading back on the train to Stansted offered a chance to try Hawksmoor. The steak restaurant now has nine locations in the UK, and focuses on dry-aged beef and all that comes with it.
A Sunday lunch of rich, pink rump of beef comes with a Yorkshire pudding, stunningly crunchy roasties and a roasted bulb of garlic, and shallot – leaving them soft and packed full of umami.