Brick Lane Market is growing faster than your waistline after a Bengal curry. Formerly just a trail of bric-a-brac and a smattering of fruit stalls, the now sprawling market has a buzzy new appendage every time you visit, from the fashion fare at the covered Upmarket to quirky T-shirts and jewels at the Back Yard, retro furniture at the Tea Rooms and an eclectic jumble of tat and vintage on the main thoroughfare.
The dolling up (and dulling down) of Spitalfields worked in Brick Lane’s favour, causing the more madcap and small-scale stallholders to migrate to the surrounding streets. Now Brick Lane Market is in many ways how East End veterans recall Spitalfields in its heyday: full of surprises, a bit ramshackle, very noisy and packed to the gunnels with strange smells, sights and stalls.
While you’rethere, have a look at some of the quirky shops neighbouring the market.Rough Trade East on Dray Walk is arguably London’s best independent music shop and plays host to an impressive line-up of in-store gigs.
Overzealous poppadom pimps poised outside curry houses; bikes sold by iffy-looking youths who hang out on Sclater Street – if it’s brand new, worth £500 and selling for £50, then it was stolen from the pub railings last night...
Grab a handmade gastro-burger from Moos Boosh on Dray Walk – where stallholders buy their lunch – or if you fancy a drop of London beer in an authentic East End boozer, then nip down to the Pride of Spitalfields (3 Heneage St).
Our insider: Thelma Speirs, East End fashion celebrity and designer/partner in Brick Lane’s Bernstock Speirs hat emporium (www.bernstockspeirs.com).
When should you visit Brick Lane?
‘Every Sunday. It’s best to go as early as possible for bargains; it winds down at around 5pm.’
‘Twentysevenpalms.com is a lovely, colourful stall in the UpMarket section of Brick Lane, selling cushions made from bright printed fabric. The carpet stall (actually more of a wall than a stall) sells carpets and rugs very cheap. It is located just off Brick Lane on Bacon Street. In the main part of Brick Lane, near the corner of Cheshire Street, there is an occasional stall selling wonderful old luggage and trunks. Also, Hunky Dory Vintage is a shop at 226 Brick Lane that is the best place to buy clothes and handbags.’
What should you avoid?
‘The fur protesters who don’t appreciate my ’60s mink jacket.’
‘Combine your Brick Lane experience with a trip to Franze and Evans on Redchurch Street, an Italian café with the best coffee in town, and then drink it in the beautiful surroundings of nearby Arnold Circus. After the market, head for a stiff drink at The Nelsons Head on Horatio Street. It has lovely art on the walls and a fashionable clientele.’
Brick Lane (plus Dray Walk), E1. UpMarket & Backyard market: The Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, E1 6QL (7770 6028/www.sundayupmarket.co.uk). Aldgate East tube or Liverpool St tube/rail. 10am-5pm Sun.