Want to venture further than the ExCeL Centre? East London is full of treasures – and horrors – most of them within a 20-minute journey on the Docklands Light Railway. We guide you around the coolest areas (and the less salubrious), and showcases the fantastic restaurants and pubs that are on ExCeL’s doorstep …
Three places to VISIT
This lively suburb where time starts is also the location of some of London’s most spectacular architecture. A tiring climb up to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park is well worth the effort for the stunning view: in the foreground is the elegant National Maritime Museum, while the glass towers of Canary Wharf gleam in the distance. The covered market is a joy, full of home-made costume jewellery, unusual paintings, and tasty street food. Downsides? The famous Cutty Sark clipper ship is closed for restoration following a fire in 2007, and the restaurants are generally overpriced and of dubious quality, bar the odd notable exception (see the entry for Mogul on page 26).
Snaffle a seat at the front of an eastbound DLR train to Bank and you won’t be able to help pretend that you’re the driver. The idea of hanging around the City might not seem too enticing, but step off the main thoroughfares and there are intriguing little streets with lively old pubs, as well as plaques and statues to the great and the good who made their fortunes here. Nearby are St Paul’s Cathedral, Fleet Street and the Gherkin (officially 30 St Mary Axe), all of which are worth a quick visit. Ten minutes away by taxi is Brick Lane, London’s famous curry district, where you’ll also find 24-hour bagel shops. But don’t miss out on a chilli-fired banquet.
As a temple to Mammon, it doesn’t get much better than Canary Wharf. Its skyscrapers dominate the East London skyline, though they are neatly tucked away from the capital’s historic centre. There are two impressive malls, full of designer shops and upmarket cafes. If the weather is sunny, West India Quay is always buzzing with a row of waterfront bars with outdoor seating. Visit the free Museum of
London Docklands to find out about the area’s rich history. Early birds might want to check out Billingsgate Market, which has the largest selection of fish in the UK and is open from 5-8.30am, Tuesday to Saturday.
Three places to AVOID
You might be tempted to venture to the heart of the 2012 Olympic Games. Don’t. It’s hoped the games will regenerate this down-at-heel area, but the impact won’t be felt for a good year yet, when the massive Westfield shopping centre opens. Stand-offs are not uncommon when the pubs shut, while the existing shopping mall is one of the Big Smoke’s great architectural disasters. If you are drawn to see the place before it is transformed, the King Edward VII – or King Eddie’s to the locals – is a grade II-listed pub that defies the ugliness of this area of East London.
A bustling, predominantly fruit ’n’ veg market along the high street and the hugely popular, incredibly good value food at the German sausage van (‘The Sausage Man’), do not disguise the fact that Lewisham is rather rough around the edges. On a balmy day, this concrete monstrosity is a sweaty horror, with the guards at the desperately limp shopping centre always on the lookout for the latest gang to have nicked a pair of trainers.
If fast food chicken outlets are your thing, then Canning Town is your place. If you want to experience a niggling worry that your wallet is going to be pinched, then Canning Town is your place. If you want a grotesque flyover, then, you’ve guessed it, Canning Town is your place. For anything even remotely attractive, entertaining or uplifting, Canning Town most definitely is not your place. Lewisham and Stratford have redeeming features; Canning Town does not.
Three great RESTAURANTS
El Faro, Crossharbour
Stepping off the DLR at Crossharbour station on the dull Isle of Dogs isn’t to be recommended, unless you make the short walk to El Faro. This is one of London’s best tapas restaurants and the food is truly delicious. If it’s sunny, try to get a table on the deck out back overlooking Millwall Inner Dock and enjoy a Spanish dry sherry or a bottle from the restaurant’s vast wine selection. El Faro tends to push its roasted suckling pig, but the stars of the show are the rich, crumbly black pudding and, if they have them on special, the huge, lobster-like king prawns.
Mogul won’t let you down if you’re after a tasty curry. Grab a fresh fruit juice at the nearby market, then convince your waiter to get you a table downstairs for a moodier, less clinical dining experience than on the restaurant’s ground floor. The service is quick and friendly, and the unusually dry, delicately spiced murgh jalfrezi is a delight. Elsewhere in Greenwich, the Kum Luang Thai Restaurant opposite Cutty Sark station is usually packed for good reason.
The Narrow, Limehouse
The Narrow has stunning views across the Thames and a menu that will leave you salivating. And so it should, given that it’s the brainchild of Gordon Ramsay. It also on Narrow Street, the London address of notaries such as the actor Sir Ian McKellen and the former foreign secretary Lord Owen. Further up the street is The Grapes, an 18th-century pub with a lovely little seafood restaurant upstairs.
Three great PUBS
The Dog and Bell, Deptford
Deptford, the Wild West of south-east London, has become popular with Americans since the New York Times last year praised the area for its ‘edge’. Travellers must be devastated when they reach this uninspiring, grimy corner, but this tremendous boozer is just the place to drown any sorrows. Looking every inch a fortress for locals, the Dog and Bell has one of the best beer menus in London, full of wonderful Belgian ales, while the staff and regulars are welcoming.
The Greenwich Union, Greenwich
The Meantime Brewery is now one of the UK’s best known beer producers; its chocolate, coffee and raspberry bottles are now common in pubs and off-licences. The Greenwich Union on Royal Hill is the brewery’s first tied pub. Always crammed, aim to get a seat in the beer garden when the sun is shining. But if Meantime isn’t for you – and some people are sad that the beer has lost some of its appeal since becoming known beyond Greenwich – the bar stocks many other fabulous ales, including American favourites such as Anchor Steam. Just don’t expect to get a Foster’s.
The Gun, Blackwall
Part-pub, part-restaurant, The Gun is a Canary Wharf institution, even though it’s a good 15-minute walk from the tall towers. The restaurant is quite expensive, so the bar food is a better option. The listed, riverside building provides a great view of the Lord Rogers-designed Millennium Dome (now O2 Arena). It might take you a while to find The Gun, but once you get there you won’t want to leave. IT