Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The East London Line

The all-new and improved East London Line is due to reopen later this year.  As someone who's had the pleasure these last couple of years of watching, hearing - and occasionally when they've had the really big bits of kit out, feeling through my feet - Haggerston station rise up out of the old derelict railway lines opposite my front door, I've had more reason than most to ponder the changes it will bring.  Personally, the first one that springs to mind is that the usual dawn chorus of sirens, horns and screeching brakes that gently lulls me from the warm embrace of sweet deep slumber will be enhanced by honking great trains grinding to a halt outside my bedroom window.

Starting at the top of the line, Dalston has a great community of Turkish restaurants that deserve to become more well known.  Some are already quite well known like Mangal and Testi but all of them are excellent places for cheap and casual meals of genuine quality, something that London doesn't do too well generally speaking, one of the reasons the little community of Vietnamese places more easily reached at the bottom of Kingsland Road are so packed out.

The ELL will be also be connecting Dalston's mind-boggling, jaw-dropping and frankly scary Ridley Road market with the rest of the universe.  This riotous stretch of road is mainly food stalls, much of it African and West Indian with random outposts of pretty much everything else in between.  

There's always something open 24 hours but Thursday, Friday and Saturday seem to be the main days and on Saturdays the place makes Borough Market look like an unpopular library.

Hackney seems to have more than its fair share of London's supper clubs/underground restaurants that have popped up in the last year, they all seem to be thriving still.  Dalston station and Haggerston (one stop down and still thwarting attempts to sex it up as SoDa) station make the majority of them a lot more accessible.  Water House, the uber-eco-warrior restaurant sibling of Acorn House sited on the Regent's canal, is also short walk from Haggerston station.

I don't think what really puts people off visiting all these places in darkest Hackney is getting there, I think what really torpedoes nascent visiting plans is the thought of how the hell they're going to get out of there after a night out and get home again.  When you're more likely to see Operation Trident than a cab for hire, late night bus-hunting is a pretty unappealing prospect and I think that's going to be the real value of the ELL in people's minds.

Next stop down is Hoxton nestling in the back streets behind the impressively bonkers Geffrye Museum (with its herb garden open from April - October, herb fans) right at the top end of the strip of bustling, cheap and cheerful Vietnamese restaurants that define this strip of Kingsland Road all the way down to the Old St/Hackney Rd/Shoreditch High St crossroads.  Several of them (including the super-popular Cay Tre down on Old St) have just completed total interior design makeovers, now looking a lot more upmarket.  Whether this is a general trend in anticipation of a lot more traffic once the ELL opens up, a reaction maybe to Busaba's arrival in the area or just a coincidence I've no idea but they're starting to look a lot smarter.  This part of town is hardly going to be affected much by any additional exposure although maybe Loong Kee Cafe will get some more of the attention it deserves, it's the last place on the strip past Song Que and right next to the Geffrye Museum itself and is very much one of the best of the lot to my mind but misses most of the passing trade.

Continuing south the next stop is the mammoth Shoreditch High St station, looking more like a birthing chamber for gigantic lego blocks than a train station, providing quick and easy access to Brick Lane, Spitalfields and Shoreditch another few thousand South London bodies won't make much difference to the crowds already here.

Next down is Whitechapel and Shadwell and the quality Pakistani/Punjabi restaurant enclave between them, most notably Lahore Kebab House and Tayyabs and now Needoo although there are plenty of other options that, much like the Turkish restaurants in Dalston, offer high quality meals out for fantastic value.  There have been 2 or 3 new openings of these restaurants up Commercial St in the last few months too, again whether this is coincidence or anticipation of the ELL bringing in the punters or even the Olympic redevelopment that's reshaping so much of this area, I don't know.

Continuing south and getting dangerously close to having to cross the river now, the next stop is Wapping.  I'm not sure how much the good citizens of Wapping will notice their underground station finally coming back on line, walking round large parts of it you could be forgiven for thinking most of them have someone to drive them everywhere.  The wonderful Wapping Food will no doubt be glad of service resuming though.

Bracing ourselves and heading through the famous tunnel under the river our next stop is Rotherhithe.  This is a rather different Rotherhithe to the one that the old ELL closed its doors on, it's regeneration a-go-go around here but I'll be happy to scoot down and pay a visit to the ancient, rickety old riverside Mayflower pub and its characterful restaurant upstairs. 

Heading further south from here and it all gets a bit vague for me, Canada Water is the next stop then Surrey Quays, both of which I know well enough to not particularly want to go back there, then in one direction we hit New Cross and off into Brockley, Honor Oak towards West Croydon and Crystal Palace.  God knows what you can find in that direction, it's just a big "Here Be Dragons" on my mental map.  The other direction takes us through perpetually up-and-coming Peckham and Peckham Rye (a bit like Ridley Road but not quite so Bosch) and trawling through more of South London's nether regions up to Clapham Junction.  

It'll be nice to be able to check out new places though.  From my point of view any of the places south of Whitechapel are currently such a faff that it would take something out of the ordinary to get me there.  At the very least it'll be comforting to know wherever it is, getting the hell out and back home will be quicker and easier.

Last week Balfour Beatty handed over what they've done to TfL and a limited service of 4 trains per hour between Dalston and New Cross is expected to start running on April 4th (assuming nothing goes titsup with TfL's testing between now and then, I can confirm the tannoy at Haggerston is working loud and clear) with full service of 12 trains per hour between Dalston and West Croydon/Crystal Palace not expected to happen till around the end of May.


  1. Nice piece - I know almost nothing of life beyond Whitechapel. I can see a few fun times out in the summer, eating if nothing else.

  2. Exciting! And I love the trotter shots!

    My in-laws are in New Cross and we stayed at theirs the other day and saw all the scaffolding had come down round the tube tracks. It looked exactly the same as it had before but it was still exciting :)

  3. practicallydaily - thankyou, yep should be fun assuming they don't immediately start suspending service at weekends for engineering works ;)

    meemalee - ah, I've been wondering about the existing stations! The original ones - especially Rotherhithe and Wapping on each side of the river - were all fascinating old places, you really felt like you were stepping back in time as you walked down the stairs in them, I've been hoping they've not been dicked around with too much. They used to do walking tours along the tunnel between Rotherhithe and Wapping, proper old-school Victorian rampant egomania, none of this "make the tunnel just big enough for the trains" it's got pillars and ceramics and carvings. When they finally completed it the directors of the construction company celebrated with a big black-tie banquet in the tunnel with waiters and everything! I bet Boris is kicking himself he wasn't born 150 years ago.

  4. Great post!

    As a Wapping resident, I can *assure* you I can't wait for the line to re-open. I too have felt the work, especially last summer when the ground appeared to move with disturbing regularity.

    The big win for me - and I'm sure I'm not alone - is a fast and regular connection to the Jubilee line. That, and not having to rely on the 100 bus service anymore!

  5. macpsych - thankyou. I remember the change to the Jubilee line at Canada Water being quite a nightmare on the old line - it was always packed in both directions with everyone from London Bridge or Canary Wharf, I imagine it'll be bedlam once all the new stations are up and running! Still, like you say, it'll still be better than those rail replacement buses.

  6. How did you manage to get photos in Ridley Road market? As a long time Dalston resident I've tried to blog the place before but folk got well arsey with me when I tried to take photos of their stalls.

  7. Well it was very quiet when I took these, a late Sunday afternoon and I asked the guys on the stalls first. I didn't try taking any with actual people in, maybe that was the difference and why you ended up with people getting you to delete shots off your camera!

    You could fill several posts with photos from the place though, it's amazing, maybe we should double up I'll distract them whilst you take photos.

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