No longer slumming it in Whitechapel
If you’re done with the delights of central London and bored of the usual tourist trappings, Whitechapel may be just what you need. Tucked behind the shiny buildings of Liverpool Street and Aldgate, is a neighbourhood which is much, much more than the grisly Jack the Ripper tours would have you believe.
Part of the Victorian-era slums, the suburb was inhabited by the poor and destitute and notorious for its unsanitary and squalid living conditions. Home to ‘noxious’ industries and the docklands which needed cheap labour, the area attracted the working-class and immigrants fleeing political unrest and religious persecution.
Today’s Whitechapel is vibrant and creative but still relatively poor. Somehow it’s managed to avoid the gentrified fate of nearby Shoreditch. Go if you want to experience a London that is fast disappearing and still embodies the east end spirit.
Want to see art but don’t want to get an elbow in your rib Tate Gallery-esque experience? Try
the Whitechapel Art Gallery, showcasing 20th-century and contemporary art. Open since 1901, it has exhibited the work of big-hitters such as Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Frida Kahlo as well as lesser known and emerging artists.
Fancy something else for your eyeballs? Take in a film at the lovely, independent Genesis cinema. Significantly cheaper and more charming than your Odeon and other high-street establishments, there’s a proper bar upstairs serving cocktails where we’d be happy to kick-back and spend the evening and a kitchen specialising in pies, if you want to remind yourself you’re in the east end. Seating is another plus – if you book to see a film in studio 5, get ready to loaf about on a sofa feeling decadent.
Where to eat
Whitechapel’s restaurant scene reflects its ethnic melting pot. There are plenty of cheap eats with a mind-boggling array of cuisines on offer. You could find yourself as many a tourist does on Brick Lane, but head further afield to find some more interesting spots and neighbourhood favourites.
Have a meat craving? Efes is something of an institution for locals and for good reason. Big, busy and bright, this restaurant serves up excellent Turkish food in an unpretentious setting. Perhaps best known for its well seasoned, perfectly cooked kebabs, it’s worth trying the tasty stews as well. Portions are generous, service is fast and friendly and it’s a BYO.
There are three Efe restaurants, we went to the one on Whitechapel Road.
Don’t be fooled entering Bari Bari. This humble looking restaurant does delicious food at a very reasonable price. The spicy beef rolls and seafood pancakes are stand-outs.
Where to drink
Take advantage of happy hour at the Arbor hotel. Yes, it’s a hotel lobby. No, it’s not particularly hip or trendsetting. But, it is perfectly pleasant and good to grab a drink if you’re watching those pennies. (plus they give you free popcorn to much while you sip your cocktails)
Apples and Pears is just a hop, skip away, does yummy cocktails and staff are keen to please. Drinks on the ‘specials’ board are a very reasonable £6, other cocktails are £8-10.
Something a bit more adventurous
Those seeking a something a little more active should wonder down Raven Row (off Cavell St, just north of the hospital) Here you will find a large building covered in pebble dash panels. This strange building is home to WhistlePunks Axe Throwing school. For a fee they will help you unleash your inner Viking and take pot shots at wooden targets using some very dangerous looking axes. A session includes training and then you are entered into a tournament along with the others in your group.
It can get competitive but keep you cool and your challengers might buy you a victory pint round the corner at the chiq Urban bar. A great place to grab some American craft beer AFTER an exhilarating afternoon of axe throwing. (obviously not before, you’re throwing AXES!)