I’m still torn on what the most Shoreditch thing I saw in Shoreditch this weekend just passed was: the girl on the skateboard, taking her Boston cross out for a walk; or the all-veggie branch of Pret A Manger.
I suspect that I am a decade or so too late to call this my favourite part of London, but it doesn’t bother me: from the venues, to the shops, to the street art, to the places to eat Shoreditch has everything I like. It’s also well-situated, with convenient transport links to just about everywhere I want to get to now the capital no longer boasts a Bezzer; plus there’s the no small matter of it feeling relatively safe to navigate at night as a Woman On Her Own.
I decided to stay at the citizenM because I loved my review stay in Glasgow so much; and because the “best rates” you get access to when you register as a “citizen” meant that there was only about sixty quid of a difference between that and a relatively central Travelodge. Sixty quid for that giant bed, all to myself? Let’s call it one final weekend behaving as a full-time employee of one of the world’s largest law firms! Said law firm’s head office being just around the corner, I popped in to say a quick “hiya” to some of the lovely people I usually only get to hang out with virtually before checking in, dropping my bag off and figuring out what to do about dinner.
“Nando’s or pizza?” I asked Twitter. How about steak..? came the reply from my friend Mike. Steak? On my own? Was that not a bit ballsy even for me, I pondered? Not at Flat Iron! This amazing little walk-in “craft butchery” offers a simple menu of sliced shoulder steak cooked on one of the titular flat irons, with the odd house special and a small choice of sides. Although packed, I got the “sharing table” right at the back of the restaurant to myself. Although the fact that it was by the open grill on a typically muggy central London evening might have had something to do with that, I was well looked after with plenty of water and friendly, attentive service.
While I wasn’t brave enough to order the shoulder steak medium-rare, as recommended (I’m a medium-well girl), I let myself go a little out of my comfort zone and had it cooked medium. It was a deliciously juicy, tender steak cooked in flaky salt, which I paired with a side of dripping chips and a strawberry and basil Collins. Even throwing in a salted caramel mousse for dessert, I could have done the whole thing for under £25 had I not insisted on over-tipping.
Back to the hotel while it was still daylight to take advantage of my free welcome drink for booking online. “What does this get me?” I asked, waving my token; convinced the answer would be “wine” (gross) beer (worse) or a soft drink of some description. “Whatever you want!” was the reply, which is why I found myself propping up the bar with a rum-based cocktail while I finished The Hate U Give (my book of the year so far).
Moe bonus points for citizenM: the selection of movies on the in-room, iPad-controlled media centre was bang up to date, though I decided to watch Pitch Perfect in bed while getting sassed by way of WhatsApp from Charlotte. Then, drifting off to sleep in a pile of pillows; with a decent lie-in planned before meeting Jo near King’s Cross for a long-overdue catch-up.
Drink, Shop & Do on Caledonian Road has been one of my favourite places in the world for the longest time, although I was sad to see that the quirky “shop” aspect is now less of a feature than on previous visits. No matter: I settled in at the end of the bar for a breakfast of rainbow-coloured Victoria sponge, wrapped in clouds of fluffy buttercream, while I waited for Jo to finish up at her paper-cutting workshop.
Then: hugs, a pot of peppermint tea stuffed full of mint leaves and talking nineteen to the dozen before, suitably refreshed, we headed out to Walthamstow. I had been keen to visit God’s Own Junkyard since the first time it cropped up on one of the London-based blogs I read, and Jo hadn’t made the trip out either. A visual paradise of vintage neon signs and memorabilia, designed and curated by neon artist Chris Bracey, God’s Own Junkyard is an awe-inspiring feast for the eyes. Although Bracey himself died of prostate cancer towards the end of 2014, the family-run business continues to display the work as well as hiring it out for private parties and film productions – and they also take commissions.
Bracey’s work has featured in productions as diverse as Blade Runner and Captain America, while the family are also responsible for many of the neon sex shop signs that lit up the Soho of the 1960s (one of which, I suspect, might point the way to the toilets in Drink, Shop & Do! However, most of my favourite pieces had some sort of music connection, whether it was a Top of the Pops logo or a disco ball so vast it surely rivals the one that Glasgow’s ABC claims to be the biggest in Europe.
Both of us still all caked out from the morning’s adventures, Jo and I decided against further sweet treats at adjoining The Rolling Scones cafe and instead headed back to Shoreditch, where we would have some kind of lunch-dinner (“linner”?) combo and I could take a nap – and air out my bra – before heading out to see Frank Turner.
It is a decision I will regret for the rest of my life. We ended up at Bill’s in Hoxton Square, as I still haven’t been to the chain’s Glasgow restaurant so it still felt like a holiday thing.
While my bacon cheeseburger was perfectly decent (and my cocktails were even better), I wouldn’t say it was all that spectacular – which made me a bit sad, after such amazing food the night before and that morning. Still, the company was magnificent, so I didn’t let it get me down when I walked past three amazing-looking pizza places on the way back to my hotel.
My last visit to the Roundhouse had been to see The Replacements in the company of some of my favourite people, so I felt a little lonely – especially after I got chatting to a couple from the Midlands on the tube, who couldn’t believe I had come down from Glasgow just to hear Frank Turner perform songs from his first album. Killing time between bands, I checked my phone – and discovered that none other than Rachel was in the building. Sacrifice my place at the front to scream my way through the show in the company of my now-Brighton resident original gig buddy? Fuck. Yes.
And scream we did from the back of the hall, through the good songs and the naff ones and an unexpected appearance in the set of “Thatcher Fucked The Kids”. The band wore plaid shirts “just like in the old days”, and Turner talked us through the genesis of songs I’d only ever heard on the records but still knew all the words to. My legs sore, my throat raw, it turned out to be pretty easy to resist Rachel’s siren call to help her track down train booze for the journey back to Brighton – and I even got the chance to grab some pizza on my way back to the hotel.
A perfect night. A perfect trip.