Our Future's Orange: Shoreditch High Street

This is part three of our preview of the East London Line, profiling many of the stops along the new route, ahead of its opening in May.
Brutalist Shoreditch High Street station
The Albion

Marcos & Trump, Columbia Road

Agnes B, Spitalfields

A squirrel, off Redchurch Street

Brockley residents need never be further than this from a coffee house

Columbia Road flower market

Gaslight - Columbia Road
Ben: Who’s Wings?
Alan: They’re only the band the Beatles could have been.
- I’m Alan Partridge

The new Shoreditch High Street station has been built on the site of Bishopsgate Goods Yard, next to Bethnal Green Road. A brutalist concrete box, the station is designed to be built-over, in the expectation that the yard will be redeveloped. Its location on the eastern edge of the Square Mile, near the Broadgate estate, means that it’s likely to be a key destination for many Brockley commuters.

More importantly, it will plonk you down in one of London’s most exciting locations, within easy reach of Brick Lane, Spitalfields Market, Great Eastern Street, Redchurch Street and Columbia Road.

The area is what we’ve always wanted Camden to be, but isn’t: Crowded but charming, grotty and glamourous in equal measure, unremittingly urban but also human in scale. Whichever direction you walk in, you’ll find great shops, restaurants, bars and markets, filled with stuff you might actually want to buy. It's buzzy, but you can still move around, with plenty to explore around any turn.

We spent Valentine’s Day wandering around the area, ostensibly to buy some flowers but more importantly, to complete our compulsive mission to preview each of the new East London Line’s destinations. We headed off down Redchurch Street, home to boutiques like Caravan, the Conran hotel and restaurant the Boundary and the Albion (the former has a stunning roof-top restaurant) and the artist-run gallery Studio 1.1. Sandwiched between Redchurch Street and Bethnal Green Road is Shoreditch House, the private members club twinned with Soho House.

Redchurch intersects with Brick Lane, which has far more to offer than Indian restaurants of variable quality. The Brick House covered food market has a smaller range than – say – Borough Market, but offers among the stalls range from spaghetti pie to cupcakes and hog roast. The giant Truman Brewery, Vibe Bar, 93 Feet East and Casa Blue are among the eclectic venues that mingle with street markets at the weekend.

Head south and west and you’ll reach Spitalfields, which now rubs up against the City and a new mixed development that has inserted chains like Wagamamas and Las Iguanas into what until recently functioned as a grand flea market. Undoubtedly, Spitalfields has lost some of its character, thanks to a project , which was fiercely resisted on the grounds that it would cost the market precisely that. However, what remains is pretty successful on its own terms and the best of the historic architecture has been preserved. One of Hawksmoor's greatest creations, Christ Church, is just next door.

The market is not especially interesting, but there are some great shops like Agnes B, cafes like the Market Coffee House and restaurants like Canteen. The old market blends pretty well in to the new development, which caters to the city workers’ lunchtime break. Some quieter, pedestrian-friendly spots allow you to pause for breath as you walk around. The independent traders seem to have spread to the margins and back up and off Brick Lane.
The highlight of the area, however, is Columbia Road. The wonderful (and good value) flower market aside, it is an amazing slice of Victorian street life, built in the 1860s to cater for the Jesus Hospital Estate and once home to a thriving wood trade. Today, it’s home to artists like Rob Ryan and a range of furniture and gardening shops.

Tucked away just off Columbia Road are courtyards filled with fabric and craft shops, delis and even an antique shop on Ezra Road run by Degustation proprietor, Augustin, who also does a nice line in warm cider on cold days. It’s a beautiful and beautifully-preserved neighbourhood that still feels like a community.

We’re not going to suggest that its success is all about the lamp posts (pictured) but Columbia Road is one of the best examples in London of how an attention to detail can be transformative. Set against a backdrop of looming modern edifices, the street offers up the kind of contrast that London does brilliantly. In fewer than 100 days, it's going to feel like our local flower market.

More East London Line destinations: