It is the best of markets, it is the worst of markets. Since the 2003 renovation and total overhaul of the much loved Spitalfields Market, it’s a leaner, cleaner, Norman Foster-designed affair, bulked out with slightly soulless boutiques and missing the majority of its displaced stallholders.
It now offers a different shopping experience, but by no means a bad one. With the feel of a mall-with-market, it is now neatly cleaved in two by a slick of chain restaurants like Canteen and The Real Greek. On one side lies an arcade of smart shops and eateries bordered with orderly market stalls (Spitalfields), and on the other, a cross section of stalls crammed into Old Spitalfields, the last remaining portion of the original market.
A pitch here is expensive, meaning that Sunday stalls are fairly safe bets: gastro-nibbles, wittily sloganed baby T-shirts and leather bags. Sunday is also when the market becomes a melting pot of young designers; with achingly cool handmade clothes, vintage accessories and jewellery, it’s like a Topshop Oxford Circus for indie hipsters. If you want to avoid the crowds and come across some more idiosyncratic finds, then forget the popular Sunday market and come on a Thursday – this is where you’ll find heaps of vintage fashion, a great selection of antiques and space to breath and browse around this quite spectacular development.
A downside: the market’s ATMs, which notoriously run dry or sport queues of epic proportions. Bring cash!
The market itself during peak time (Sundays 2-4pm – it can be a bit of a bunfight); the borrower-sized dress stalls run by fashion students (sizes rarely stray above the miniature, which can be embarrassing if you’re trying things on in plain view of a packed market and have overdone it at the brownie stall).
To refuel, you could do worse than stop off at Tracey Emin’s local, The Golden Heart (110 Commercial St), which is small, cosy and absolutely teeming with market exiles on a Sunday. A few doors down is The Ten Bells (84 Commercial St), a capacious old boozer with a young crowd, which neighbours Hawksmoor’s distinctive Christ Church Spitalfields.
Spitalfields’ top stalls
This is a small stall which sells men’s shirts and ties in Liberty-print fabrics for around £30 – about six times less than you’ll pay for one at the store itself.
This Spitalfields mainstay has been keeping Eastenders in distinctive retro specs for the past eight years. The regularly updated stock is a mixture of pristine vintage frames from the likes of Dior and Oliver Goldsmith, as well as ’70s NHS frames (which suddenly look desirable rather than trauma-inducing). Bring your prescription, and Klasik will fit lenses to your specs of choice and post them back to you in a week.
Old Spitalfields, Sun (www.klasik.org).
This vintage stall specialises in designer seconds in excellent nick for £50 to £700. A highlight is the well-edited selection of shoes; we saw a range of ’70s Ferragamo and tasselled women’s Chanel brogues for around £60.
Old Spitalfields, Thur, Fri, Sun.
Spitalfields Market, Brushfield St, E1 6DT (7377 1496/www.visitspitalfields.com/). Liverpool St tube/rail.Open General 9.30am-5pm Thur, Fri, Sun. Antiques 8.30am-4.30pm Thur. Food 10am-5pm Fri-Sun. Fashion 9.30am-5pm Fri. Records & books 10am-4pm 1st & 3rd Fri of the month
Read more about Spitalfields Market
Redevelopment has seen this East End stalwart combine the refurbished 1887 covered market with a modern shopping precinct. Around the edge, enthusiastic stallholders sell grub from just about every corner of the world. Sunday is busiest; browsing options include creations by up-and-coming designers, vintage clobber, crafts, jewellery, books and sheepskin rugs.