With a European mini-break or day at a seaside still off the cards, we’re taking you on a walking tour of your new local high street.
On April 12, non-essential shops – though we would contend this designation – reopened. Fanfare and applause wasn’t the only order of the day however as many mourned the loss of beloved stores, both old and new, that closed their doors this past year.
Without the infrastructure to transition to online retail or a delivery service, many simply couldn’t pay the rent. A net total of 9,877 retail chain outlets and 1,442 independent retail, restaurant and leisure premises shut up for good in England, Wales and Scotland in 2020. Each and every one will be deeply missed.
But there has been a glimmer of hope behind the clouds of this terrible storm. As rents plummeted and many found themselves on furlough with long, empty afternoons in which to daydream, some entrepreneurs have used this opportunity to take the leap. There were 31,405 openings of independent units in the UK in 2020, many of which, it seems, were inspired by the nation’s overpowering impulse to bake their way through lockdown.
So, with nothing but a cup of tea to line our stomachs, we set out to explore – and sample – the new ventures that have opened their doors along the Roman.
Churros for breakfast? After months of lockdown, we are so ready to indulge in our sweetest desires. Filled with caramel and accompanied by white chocolate and nutella dips, these doughy drops more than hit the spot, though we’ll be returning for a slice of Ferrero Rocher cheesecake.
Owner Khuram Farooq tells us how they were off to a bit of a shaky start, having first opened at 585 Roman Road in 2019. After just six months, they had to close for refurbishment, ‘then covid hit, and everything got pushed along again.’
Their relocation to 622 Roman Road feels glossy and sleek, with a luxe dark grey interior giving the wide range of desserts a decadent feel.
While deliveries form a big part of the business, Farooq has been enjoying meeting customers this opening week. ‘It’s been good fun he says,’ jumping at the chance to plate up freshly dipped chocolate strawberries. We’re impressed by DZRT’s ten percent discount for locals, but be warned, you’ll be hard pushed to leave with just one sumptuous treat.
Passing through the hustle and bustle of Roman Road market, we stop to try on some faux fur coats. A pastel-green teddy bear number is tempting, but with the sun coming out it’s time for a sit down outside the pastel pink Bakery Room.
This vivacious new patisserie shop is run by the same team as Mile End’s The Pizza Room and The Coffee Room, and opened at the beginning of the second lockdown in November 2020.
All of Pamela Trioni’s Italian and French inspired patisserie delights are made inhouse, including zingy tarte au citron, and home comfort classics such as banoffee cakes, cookies, brownies, and more.
We opt for a savory focaccia, salty and packed with rosemary and olives. It’s a minibreak to Sicily in every bite.
Continuing westwards down The Roman, we pass a busy Fiesta Cafe, then cross the road to avoid the inevitable queue outside G Kelly’s – alas we’ll have to save their apple crumble for another day.
We pop our heads to see how it’s going at Mama Mae’s, where some cupcakes tempt us to continue the moorish snacking cycle of sweet-savory-sweet, having only recently finished the last bite of focaccia.
David Amoateng, who has single-handedly run his bespoke cake shop for just over a year, tells us that,as restrictions are being loosened, people are starting to celebrate again. This means more orders of birthday, new baby and anniversary cakes for him to whip up in the back room.
The tiny room is flooded with light; we can’t wait to come back in summer to sit at the little tables nestled into the cosy space. By then, Amoatang hopes to be offering baking classes to adults and children, and we can’t imagine a lovelier space to practice our piping skills.
Emerging back into the sunshine, we stroll past Cafe East, their muted pink-grey facade and hanging baskets a comforting, unchanged sight. In contrast to Cafe East’s traditional frontage, we spot a new shop front on the opposite side of the road, clad in deep brown wood with moss coloured paint work.
Peering through the storefront, we gaze at rows of vintage eye-wear, from garishly bright 60’s sunglasses to delicate, perfectly oval, gold rimmed spectacles. Starting off as a stall in Spitalfields market, this is Klasik’s first store. The elusive owner decided a more permanent spot was required to serve his loyal customers.
As well as frames, Klasik offers a prescription lenses service. Simply choose your vintage frame – painstakingly restored by hand, supply your prescription, pick up your one-of-a-kind specs, and you’re ready to join the ranks of artisanal hipsters. Beanie hat and oat-milk latte not included.
Forging onwards, we can’t help but stop for a brief second to admire the Zealand Road mural of rolling hills and NHS placards, in a dream-like palette of primary brights.
Next, we cross from Bow into Globe Town, taking a detour off the Roman, turning right, down the towpath and onto Regent’s Canal. We’ve caught wind of a baby pink oasis, trimmed with chandeliers and gold accents.
Entering Blu Ivy, we wish we’d dressed-up for the occasion. The perfect setting for a baby-shower or even wedding party – we kid you not – this is a room dripping in glam. Crystals dangle over-head, silk flowers cascade down the walls, and we resist the urge to stroke the velvet upholstery.
Over the dinkiest pink espresso, owner Yeter Korkinaz describes her more understated background. Korkinaz’s family ran a supermarket on Roman Road, Fresh Whole Foods, which has since closed. Trained as a financial adviser, Korkinaz always wanted to open a cafe, and this is her dream made reality – with added sparkle. She plans to expand their menu from coffee, bakes and brunch, to a full lunch and dinner menu, all with added pzazz.
Perfectly placed to dip out of your Saturday loop of Victoria Park, Blu Ivy will surely pose some competition to the Pavillion Cafe.
Having rejoined the Roman – it’s good to be back – we pass the Cranbrook Estate, and debate the origins of the statue of the Blind Beggar and his Dog. According to Tudor legend, after being blinded at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, English knight Simon de Montford took to the streets of Bethnal Green to beg for alms. The rugged texture of the bronze reminds us of the cracked surface of a well-baked cookie; snacks are calling.
Like the school children who will certainly be pouring out of Morpeth school with fresh donuts and slushies on their minds, we titter at Big Beans, newly opened on Globe Town Square. Whereas Tagine was ‘Morrocan with a sprinkle of English,’ its replacement is ‘English with a side of Morrocan,’ explains owner Billal Saadani. You’ll still find Tagine’s fruity meaty mains and top-value sandwiches, but now with added English seaside of milkshakes, doughnuts and school cake.
So why the name? ‘He’s the big bean ‘round here,’ laughs manager Stacey Isitt. Isitt and Saadani make a cheeky duo, and we instantly feel that warm East End charm as they banter over the donut machine. Who needs Southend-on-Sea when you’ve got freshly fried donuts with cinnamon sugar right here?
And if that wasn’t enough, you’ll even find Beigel Shop bagels – from the original Brick Lane store, delivered fresh every morning, with salt beef and mustard of course.
‘Whatever you want, Big Beans’ got it,’ quips Isitt, and we can’t help but agree.
At the intersection of Globe Road and the Roman, we see another transformation. The card shop is no more,and in its place is Vita Pure. Thankfully it hasn’t changed hands, rather the owners have decided to shift from stationary to organic and natural produce. With Globe Town referred to as the wellbeing mecca of the East End, this fits in nicely.
All this exploring has been exhausting, so it’s time for a cold one. A few thirsty strides from Vita Pure, up Globe Road, Bottle Job is calling. Our eyes are drawn to the gold outlined historic plane flying towards us in the window, giving a vintage masculine vibe to the rich blue storefront. Bottle Job takes its name from a Cockney rhyming slang expression used to mean ‘coward’, which owner Alex Dehayen recalls as his grandfather’s affectionate nickname for him.
While a bottle of East London Gin – brewed just up the road at Bow Wharf – is tempting, we opt for a can of IPA instead. The perfect end to a hard day’s work.
With our bellies full, we potter away to Meath Gardens for a lie in the sun, one thought at the forefront of our minds; we hope these new additions are here to stay.
If you enjoyed this, you might like our round-up of the best pubs with outdoor seating.
Can you help us?
As a not-for-profit media organisation using journalism to strengthen communities, we have not put our digital content behind a paywall or membership scheme as we think the benefits of an independent, local publication should be available to everyone living in our area.
If a fraction of the local 40,000 residents donated two pounds a month to Roman Road LDN it would be enough for our editorial team to serve the area full time and be beholden only to the community. A pound at a time, we believe we can get there.