Wandering muse

As I walked down to Brick Lane with my portfolio on my back, heavy with words and responsibilities. I arrived at the Kahalia Cafe and made eyes with a wandering muse. Sitting underneath the skylight with her laptop, I remembered writing about her in 2012, how she sang so beautifully alongside a bearded minstrel in London Fields.

She became a passing bohemian fancy of mine back then, with her rose petal clippings and strung bow guitar. I’ve noticed her sing a few times in local flower markets, and looking back what made her so attractive was the serene purity of her voice.

After spotting her in the coffee shop, I recalled watching her at Broadway Market with her cello partner one lazy autumnal morning. There was something tangible in the air that day, the weight and tenderness of her voice was beautifully controlled.

Her spirit was free and she appeared (maybe somewhat naively) to live an innately gifted life, one far removed from the bearded entrepreneurs and fat posh mummies sitting next to me. Someone free from the ugly necessities and masks we must wear just to survive.

Alas, I kept on tapping away in the distance, knowing that someone – someone wonderfully talented can survive and prosper by making beautiful things.

London Ziferblat

Ziferblat Clocks

Having lived in East London for six years, I can’t think of a more vivid and evocative snapshot of millennial life than Ziferblat. In this utopian Shoreditch cafe everything is free apart from time. De-consuming is the future and there is no better place to start than a reclaimed flat in Old Street.

You can bring your own sandwiches or last night’s pasta, enter the kitchen and drink unlimited cups of tea or coffee. The Russian coffeehouse has a rickety old piano, chess set and bookshelves full of donated literature. It’s a place for sharing just like you do online.

Costing only 5p a minute, £3.00 an hour, you receive a miniature clock on arrival and fill your name and time on a card. Essentially it’s a local community centre where people come to chat, make friends and pass away a lazy Sunday IRL.


With its flowery wallpaper and random assortment of 20th century chairs, Ziferblat is like a romantic cousin of the sixties. Did twentysomethings in the 1960s hanker for bygone eras too? Or did they live in the glorious present like the startup man wired into his Macbook Pro sitting next to me.  

Skinny with a meticulously trimmed beard and slim-fit cream jumper, the angry freelancer clearly means business. I do my best not to disturb him even though I needn’t worry. His headphones are proving so absorbing I barely register a wink of indignation.

The bearded entrepreneur is writing about music’s future on Google Drive. Everyone else around me is listening to the vinyl crackle of Neil Young. He looks incongruously focused, but he captures the essence of Shoreditch’s business drive.

For all its charm and utopian spirit don’t expect to find anything new at this co-working place. It’s the twenty-first century and everything has been done already. What you should be asking is whether Ziferblat is more rewarding than what has gone on before?

I can spend hours here and unlike in Starbucks, you end striking up conversations with people sitting next to you. It’s the living room I cannot afford to have.

Ziferblat Winter

Living in a glorified world of connectivity, the pay-for-your-time movement is an opportunity to join a new world order. We must stop buying things we don’t need. And remember you have a right to be here, but at some point you must leave.

Just make sure you stay long enough to have a good time.

Ziferblat London
388 Old Street,
E1 6JE

Angel’s Delights

Situated inside a gritty 70’s warehouse that has been kindly acquired by Noble House Properties, Angel’s Delights is not going to be around for long. Serving Jamaican dishes inside a toilet-sized cafe, no one should expect to pay for their jerk chicken on a chip and pin device.

East London’s changing population rises to the surface on the towpath – angry cyclists, female joggers, junkies, estate teenagers with fishing rods and ugly blonde twins carrying bags of cider from Tesco. Many of them stop by at Angel’s to purchase a Jamaican takeaway. Time is not on their side.

Bulldozers are due to arrive in August and they will soon be constructing ‘beautifully designed 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments with the finest contemporary specification’.

A stone’s throw away from the East London line, the white arc of progress has only further gentrified a once shady and violent area. With economic progress comes bourgeois cafes and homogeneous flats that have no relationship with the twentieth century.

Traditionally the canal has possessed a feral quality, especially if you wander the towpath after dark. It’s home to wonderful variety of local wildlife, especially in the springtime, where regal swans vie for attention alongside Canada geese, grebes and water rats.

And during the breeding season, coots defend their territories by screaming, flapping their wings and pecking at intruders. Coots may well soon be only thing wild and adventurous left on the canal as luxury properties rise from the ruins of the industrial past and wipe Angel’s Delights off the map.

Angel’s Delights
Dunston Road,
E8 4EA

The Madness of Bom-Banes

There is something undeniably satisfying about being ‘in the know’. Almost everyone loves the feeling of being in possession of secret information, and whether its office gossip, pop trivia or breaking shocking news. There is a journalist within all of us that wants to keep ahead of our friends.

With boutique events guides popping up all over the internet, I followed a lead on a recent trip to East Sussex and attended a new café in Brighton. Situated in an unremarkable side street in Kemp Town, this marvellous Belgian coffee bar is unlikely to be bought out by Zizzi anytime soon. Even by Brighton’s famously bohemian standards, the madness of Bom-Banes is an offbeat delight.

Bom-Banes is run by Jane Bom-Bane and her partner Nick Pynn and their eccentric vision follows in the British music hall tradition. The upstairs dining area is liberally sprinkled with children’s drawings, spring flowers and Aesop’s tables playing 1920’s cartoons.

One of the charms of the venue is how young children turn up to do their homework and are treated with the same respect as the musicians rehearsing in the Moroccan parlour downstairs. Indeed the café possesses so many surrealist twists you would be forgiven for thinking the venue had originally been conceived in a dreamy child’s mind.

With its crazy mechanical tables, Belgian dishes and beautiful white beers, Bom-Banes is certainly not the place to go for egg and chips. In this mad bohemian café one of their most endearing qualities is how the owners and staff actually talk to you.

On living in a transaction based society that revolves around chip and pin relationships it can come as quite a shock to receive a genuinely friendly service from Jane Bom-Banes and friends.

Anyone expecting a quiet romantic dinner is advised to avoid Bom-Banes because it requires a certain kind to attend. Shy and reserved types might find Bon-Banes a bit too much when the eccentricities are in full flow. This is the price you pay for wanting to be different though. Otherwise their home made food is absolutely lovely with ostrich, salads and Mediterranean tapas available at very reasonable prices.

Even if you love the gorgeous cuisine, some people may well find Bom-Banes too garish for their tastes. However, anyone walking along the fabled road less travelled should be prepared for the unexpected.

With my untapped niche firmly in my pocket, I now possess a secret unknown to the vulgar masses. Self-satisfaction is never far away in this respect. If it’s off the beaten track, then I want to be on it.

Paradise City

The slippery side streets of Soho have entertained the capital’s residents for centuries and it remains one of the most seductive landmarks in Central London. Renowned for its trashy lingerie, drug dens and peep shows, the unofficial red light district is a honey pot of illegal activities. Despite frequent attempts to clean up its image in advance of the 2012 Olympics, the back alleyways of London’s West End retain a downtrodden appeal.

Blue tooth messages are sent to visitors walking past illegal brothels, and friendly Russian gangsters are fond of marching their customers to nearby cash points for bonuses. These are obviously not the type of establishments you check in on Facebook but anyone who goes for a “massage” at 5am probably does get what they deserve.

Although to dismiss Soho as a magnet for illegal vices would be extremely misleading. For while some men wander in search of foreplay with their trousers on, Soho is also home to some of the finest restaurants and bars in London. The relationship between sex and food is the belief that one tends to lead to another, irrespective of which comes first.

Soho luckily provides both in abundance and anyone caught stumbling along say Green Court will realise that Yalla Yalla is one of the finest cheap eats in London. The Beirut food court is notoriously difficult to find but one of the attractions of eating out in Soho is that you get lost every time and nothing ever feels the same.

Attending restaurants in Soho is a bit like going to the theatre, where customers find themselves auditioning to play the lead role in a make believe world. Foreign themed restaurants are fond of describing themselves as ‘authentic’ but the word is misleading. A murky back alleyway in Soho is nowhere near the Middle East and while the rural taste of Lebanon at Yalla Yalla has never been in doubt. There is nothing remotely authentic about Soho.

Whether its old men drinking in 1940s pubs, PR darlings sipping cappuccinos or film journalists scribbling inside darkened rooms; the Soho peep show continues to entrance and deceive its audience. Constantly on the run and never dull, the side streets are awash with sexual favours and androgynous ecstasy. Soho meanwhile remains as slippery as ever and will put on magic shows for its audiences longer after 2012. Whether the law authorities will continue to permit such activities remains to be seen.

Broadway Market

Street markets are always colourful and inviting to outsiders. Whether it’s old ladies buying fruit and vegetables, teenagers pouring through vintage stalls or polo shirted lads wolfing down burgers. Everyone loves buying their food and clothes in the great outdoors. Markets reflect their customers and things get a little E2 on a Saturday as Yindies from all over London march along the Regent’s Canal towards Broadway Market.

Amongst the motorbikes, geese and submerged corpses in the canal is an Olympic fuelled gentrification process. With the unseen demolition of old landmarks raising memories like rubble. They are reflective of an era increasingly comfortable building unaffordable luxury homes. Erased from history these ruins will swiftly become aspirational flats with bicycle decorated balconies and parking spaces. No doubt they will become the ideal homes for middle-class refugees on their weekly pilgrimage to Broadway Market.

After being neglected for decades, the market was revived in 2004 and now has over 80 stalls running from the Regent’s Canal down to London Fields. People arriving from the towpath will immediately feel the iconic presence of F.Cooke’s Pie and Mash shop. The old mash store has been trading in the same premises since 1900 and serves traditional pie, mash, liquor and jellied eels to a new generation of Londoners. Back then a ‘jellied eel’ from Frank Cooke would be a good deal to most but the old Cockney dialect has since migrated eastwards to Essex.

A new demographic has taken hold and the social paradox is that while Broadway Market is a vintage mecca for East London fashionistas. They rarely mix or come into contact with the local working class community in the nearby housing schemes. Occasionally this spills into violence and last year’s ‘Bloods and Crisps‘ gang fight led to a 27-year-old hipster being shot in the back. While there are spaces that ache in the uninhabited air, London Fields continues to blossom as traders descends on Broadway Market to sell everything from sunflowers, oysters and spicy Ghanian dishes.

As food goes there is nowhere better in East London to satisfy your ailing taste buds. Broadway Market is awash with food stalls selling German sausages, wild beef and tangerine pots of hummus. If you do tire of eating from all corners of the world then vintage wares are not too far away. Extremely stylish women in their late twenties are regularly seen flocking past carrying recycled bags full of beautiful dresses, hats and last week’s copy of The Observer.

Attractive young women buying vintage French knickers is always going be a popular activity on Broadway Market. However, they are often ridiculously expensive and prices for knitted adornments are reflective of those who can afford to pay £145 a week for a room in Dalston. Unaffordable luxuries are nothing new in the capital and the London Fields hipster community are no different than their friends in Spitalfields or Portobello Market.

On buying products everyone appears to want but none of us actually need, Yindies are reflective of the materialistic values inherent in our society. Meanwhile the day passes and unseen labour begin to dissemble their iron poles, plastic covers and crates in anticipation of another pay day. Leaving behind a trail of exhaust fumes and debris for another week, there is perhaps, just something about human nature that turns everything into a routine.

My last bite

As food prices continue to rise and my salary unable to keep up with the rate of inflation, I faced a grim economic decision and made cuts to my lunch budget. While I have no intention of starving this year, I can no longer justify spending excess of £5 a day in cafes and delicatessens. At lunch time I now have to unwrap wholemeal sandwiches from a recycled Tesco bag and savour the grim banality of an economic recession. With my taste buds regressing back to the 1980s, I became nostalgic for the culinary delights of the credit boom when it was acceptable to spend well beyond your means.

Lunches can brighten up even the most mediocre day at work. At the strike of noon, I consider lunch time in Fitzrovia to be a truly glorious affair and not just because I am not working. Fitzrovia is arguably one of the best places in London to enjoy a mid-day feast and with almost every world cuisine available, I regularly satisfy my carnal desires at the Goodge Place Food Market. Despite my modest salary, I have always strongly believed that beautiful food should not be restricted to advertising executives queuing up for crispy garlic prawns or Lebanese falafel from Hoxton Beach.

On becoming accustomed to enjoying a grand luncheon everyday, I would attend trendy cafes and rotate my meals depending on whether I fancied Japanese noodles or a Vietnamese Bánh mì sandwich. Alternatively if I was running low on funds, I would resort to a taste of real life at Greggs. Such poor eating habits became the norm towards the end of last year when I began my efficiency drive. While saving is now an economic necessity, I sometimes feel disillusioned eating wholemeal sandwiches and occasionally slip back into decadent ways.

Food is one of life’s great pleasures and one of my favourite cafes in Fitzrovia is the charming Italia Uno, which serves rustic dishes and beautiful Italian sandwiches. Such is the popularity of the cafe you will regularly see immigration-style queues in anticipation of a cold slice of prosciutto. While undoubtedly popular with local residents, the cafe’s interior is ordinary and customers should wait until after 2pm for the peak lunch crowds to disperse before entering this family run outlet.

Almost all of the regular clientele are from the Bel Paese and their sandwich menu is absolutely divine. The classic Piccante sandwich with extra sun-dried tomatoes is the undisputed favourite and at £3.80 a sandwich it is very reasonably priced. Sadly Italian sandwiches are now confined to a distant memory as my lunches are forcibly digested in front of a keyboard. Unable to turn back the clock, I now walk past the middle-aged advertising executives queuing up for Lebanese falafel and can only marvel at what unrestricted wealth can buy in this age of austerity.

Under the Bridge

After living in East London for three years, I am very familiar with its urban grime, Vietnamese restaurants and crime statistics. Undeniably pretentious and never dull, the gentrification process of one of London’s poorest and most ethnically diverse regions is a fascinating one.

While still largely working-class because of its industrial past, Shoreditch and Hoxton has been completely transformed since the 1990s. With the creative sectors establishing a foothold and middle-class students always looking for cheap rents, the East now celebrates vintage clothes stalls, street artwork and independent pop-up stores.

Amid the urban deprivation and human decay, I found myself walking along one of the oldest roads in England and discovered the Bridge Coffee House. While Hiram Bingham’s legacy is unlikely to be threatened by a new coffee shop in Dalston, I felt this unexplored venue deserved further investigation. The Bridge Coffee House is more like a vintage antique shop than a coffee parlour.

By taking their inspiration from Venetian coffee shops and lining their shelves with Italian caffè, syrup and cappuccino machines. The retro cafe is like a set from an Old Vic theatre production and their first act is an imperial vision of the 1920s.

On arrival I ordered a strawberry chocolate gatteau and began to visualise Ernest Hemingway drinking himself into a stupor at the bar. Surrounding my creation is a snapshot of 20th Century memorabilia including union jacks, trinklets and an original copper till from 1886. The proud Cypriot owner provides a warm and authentic service in stark contrast to the younger bars in nearby Shoreditch. On taking eight months to complete, the downstairs interior has been decorated with French regency chairs, vintage movie posters and Tiffany lamps.

Although as I listened to 60’s motown music, I began to question whether this vintage chic shop is any different than any other East London venture. Counter-culture shops can sometimes be as equally homogenous as the H&M wearing masses in Starbucks.

And while the upstairs decor is bordering on the ridiculous with its insanely pink chairs, I found myself seduced by the theatre downstairs. Beautiful girls drink coffee on their own in a nostalgic fantasy land that should be seen now before they receive 4 stars from Time Out.

The Bridge Coffee House
15 Kingsland Road
E2 8AA

Images used with kind permission from Tim Boddy.