It’s hard to believe that in the 16th century, Brick Lane was but a humble country path bordered by brick-firing workshops.
It’s really built up over the years.
Historically, it was one of the most deprived areas on the outskirts of London, with huge families crammed into tiny terraced houses – but also one of the most spirited, with a thriving philanthropic movement establishing everything from free schools and libraries to soup kitchens feeding 6,000 mouths a day. And in the 18th century it began weaving its unique tapestry of migrant cultures, with the arrival of Huguenot refugees (French Protestants who literally were weavers), followed by hundreds of Irish people driven over by the Potato Famine of the 19th century; Jewish families escaping persecution in the early 20th century; finally growing into the cultural hub of London’s Bangladeshi community.
It’s this rich, multicultural heritage that gives Brick Lane or ‘Banglatown’ its vibrant character today, and a walk down the narrow, cobbled street will take you past some of the capital’s finest curry houses interspersed with Jewish beigel shops, street food markets, vintage stores and cafés.
You can generally follow your nose (quite literally), but if you’re after a little guidance, we’ve put together our pick of the best places to eat & drink and things to do in Brick Lane for your perusal.
WHERE TO EAT IN BRICK LANE
You don’t need us to tell you that beigels are delicious. You do need us to tell you that this is – in our experience – the best on the street. Serving up salt beef or salmon and cream cheese sandwiched between freshly baked dough, and all with change from a fiver, this classic bakery has been a local favourite since 1976. And they’ve stayed open pretty much continuously since – it’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Details: 159 Brick Lane, E1 6SB | Open 24-7
The Famous Curry Bazaar
If its fame hasn’t quite reached you yet, rest assured that TFCB lives up to its name – cheery staff and good value meals are the order of the day, with a 50% off ‘food happy hour’ between 12-5pm on weekdays. Come the evenings, their set menu will net you a starter, main, naan and beer for under £20 – and it’s all lip-smacking, delicious grub.
Details: 77 Brick Lane, E1 6QL | Open daily 12pm-12am (1am Fri & Sat)
Bengal Village is a favourite of the broadsheet restaurant critics, and for good reason – top dishes here include tender slow-cooked garka lamb, scorched seekh kebabs and the Bangladeshi fish specialities. Smart, spacious dining rooms and long tables make it a perfect spot for groups.
Details: 75 Brick Lane, E1 6QL | Open daily 12-11.30pm
Sure, Mexican food might not be the first thing you think of when you think Brick Lane, but this casual spot from the Wahaca founders offers just enough intrigue to tease you away. Taking over a brutish, industrial part of the Old Truman Brewery, it serves Mexican-via-California dishes like buttermilk chicken tacos; burger-styled ‘tortas’ filled with shredded pork and pink pickled onions; creamy feta sweetcorn; and more. READ MORE
Details: The Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, E1 6QL | Open Mon-Wed 12-10.30pm, Thur-Sat 12-11pm, Sun 12-10pm
Opened by the team behind The Famous Curry Bazaar, The Monsoon is another excellent, quintessential Brick Lane curry house. Fragrant Bangladeshi dishes mopped up with hot, crispy naans and washed down with mango lassi combined with late hours, BYOB and an eternally convivial atmosphere make it one of the essential spots on the strip.
Details: 78 Brick Lane, E1 6RL | Open Sun-Tues 12pm-1am, Wed-Sat 12pm-2.30am
Prepare to have all your wishes granted at this long-standing curry house, so long as those dreams involve smashed, spiced potato coated in breadcrumbs and fried; flaky, buttery roti; flavoursome tandoori chicken; and four floors of neon-pink lit dining. And frankly, why wouldn’t they.
Details: 132 Brick Lane, E1 6RU | Open Mon-Thurs 12pm-12am, Fri & Sat 12pm-1am, Sun 12-10.30pm
Dastardly handsome industrial interiors. Chefs doubled over the wood-burning smoker, retrieving charred hunks of 15-hour smoked brisket. Said brisket available to take away, whole, in its very own gift box. There are very few areas in which Smokestak could improve. Just go. READ MORE
Details: 35 Sclater Street, E1 6LB | Weekdays 12-3pm, 5.30-11pm, Sat 12-11pm, Sun 12-9.30pm
Fresh from a reboot with art deco windows, racing green leather booths and olde worlde maps, the original Hawksmoor is back at the top of the pile. Refined without being fussy, warm without being casual, it’s still one of the best spots for steak in the city. Ginger Pig-reared, dictionary-thick and accompanied by all the trimmings (triple-cooked chips, buttered English greens and bone marrow gravy), they provide the perfect start to an evening that ends in the bar downstairs, with a couple of Marmalade Cocktails. READ MORE
Details: 157a Commercial Street, E1 6BJ | Open daily for lunch and dinner, all day Sundays 12-9pm
We don’t have a bad word to say about this place. It serves up an all-vegan menu made with produce from sustainable, not-for-profit and ethically run suppliers. It’s London’s first ‘Happy Café’, part of an initiative to encourage positive activism. And it has a pay-it-forward scheme that allows you to donate a meal to someone in need. They do, however, have an adorable hidden back courtyard which catches the sun. And as we all know, everybody hates those.
Details: 42 Hanbury Street, E1 5JL | Open Mon-Thurs 11am-8pm, Fri 11am-11pm, weekends 10am-8pm
BRICK LANE BARS
Unsurprisingly, seeing as it’s on the fringes of Shoreditch, there’s a host of spots for late-night drinking on and around Brick Lane. A few choice highlights include:
The Cocktail Trading Company
Decked out with rustic stone flooring and seductive dark woods, this creative mixology lair is Brick Lane’s spot for an unusual tipple. From a bar stocked with over 400 different bottles (including ‘extraordinarily rare’ numbers like cola liqueur and German whisky) and their on-site distillery, the barkeeps here knock up intriguing concoctions like the Bag O’ Chips… served in a crisp packet. READ MORE
Details: 68 Bethnal Green Road, London, E1 6GQ | Open daily
A beautifully renovated tavern from the team behind Spitalfields stalwart, The Culpeper. The ground floor is a pub and restaurant, with craft beers on taps, a cellar of natural wines and plenty of expertly rendered signature cocktails. Upstairs, you’ll find boutique hotel rooms and the guest-only rooftop terrace… with a hot tub. All we’re saying is, if the night lingers on you definitely have options. READ MORE
Details: 42 Osborn Street, E1 6TD | Open daily from 11am (5pm Mondays)
Well & Bucket
A crumbling drinking den and oyster house, smattered with original features, patinated mirrors and peeling wallpaper. The bar’s well stocked with interesting beers and wines, and it’s a gloriously atmospheric spot for a drink at any time of day. If you’re after something a little stronger, though, head downstairs to find their hidden cocktail bar, 5cc…
Details: 143 Bethnal Green Road, E2 7DG | Open daily from noon-late (5cc open Tues-Sat from 6pm)
Apples & Pears
Your best bet for dancing, live music, and general silliness. Occupying a brick-walled, cavernous den filled with artwork (and an outdoor space round the back), it’s an unpretentious spot serving quirky twists on classic cocktails, including a banana and chocolate-laced vodka concoction served in a glass smoking pipe. There’s acoustic music sessions by day, and by night a roster of guest DJs spin 80s and 90s classics.
Details: 26 Osborn Street, E1 6TD | Open Tues-Sun until 12am (1am Fri & Sat)
A new addition to the Old Truman Brewery complex, Werkhaus is an industrial club venue dedicated to reviving live music in East London. When there aren’t bands taking to the stage, though, they fill the space with house and techno, spun by DJs over a Funktion One sound system.
Details: 85 Brick Lane, E1 6QL | Find out what’s on here
Looking for more bars? Check out our guide to drinking spots nearby in Shoreditch & Spitalfields
THINGS TO DO IN BRICK LANE
All Star Lanes
Swap Brick Lane for bowling lanes at Shoreditch’s preeminent purveyor of retro bowling, with glossy 50s American decor; a photobooth; a diner; karaoke rooms; cocktails; and – crucially – non-sweaty shoes.
Details: 95 Brick Lane, E1 6QL | Open Mon-Thurs 12pm-12am, Fri 12pm-1am, Sat 11am-1am, Sun 11am-12am
19 Princelet Street
A crumbling old terraced house that’s variously been home to 18th century Huguenot refugees, an industrial school, a Victorian synagogue and the attic room of a mysterious disappearing man, No. 19 is now a museum dedicated to telling the story of the various migrant communities who have both struggled and thrived in Spitalfields. It’s very rarely open as it’s so fragile structurally, but you can book in advance with a group, which’ll net you a guided tour of its fascinating contents.
Details: 19 Princelet Street, E1 6QH | How to organise a visit
Founded in 1901 as one of the first free public galleries with visiting exhibitions, the Whitechapel Gallery is still one of the most treasured art spots in London. It’s housed the first major exhibitions of many now-famous artists, from David Hockney to Gilbert and George, and has frequent visits from the likes of Picasso, Kahlo, Rothko and more. A few years ago it expanded into the Passmore Edwards Library, doubling the exhibition space with vast, high-ceilinged, skylit rooms. Plus, there’s the Whitechapel Refectory – a gallery café by day and wine bar on Thursday nights, from the 10 Greek Street team.
Details: (At the end of Brick Lane), 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, E1 7QX | Open Tues-Sun 11am-6pm (9pm Thurs & Fri)
Vintage Shopping on Cheshire Street
On Sundays, the vintage shops lining Brick Lane spill out onto the streets, with stalls decked with vintage jackets and 80s ballgowns to silk ties and 40s braces, worn cowboy boots and dainty handbags. But you can still find a second-hand bargain or two on any other day of the week – Cheshire Street is lined with American-style thrift stores: vast warehouses of old clothes, shoes and accessories; while you’ll find cult store Rokit over on Brick Lane.
There’s very little to be said after a photo like that, but the Dark Sugars cocoa house is as good as it looks: the chocolate is sourced from founder Nyanga’s family farm in Ghana, roasted in the shop and turned into truffles with flavours like gin and lime; apricot brandy and cardamom & orange. Over in the café up the road, you can score hot chocolates topped with slowly melting shards of hand-shaved chocolate, by some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.
Details: 124-126 Brick Lane, E1 6RU | Open daily 10am-10pm
Hit The Shops
As one of the East End’s busiest streets, Brick Lane naturally has its fair share of eccentric boutiques – duck into The Bricks to see jewellers hand-making necklaces sporting anatomically correct hearts, animal skulls and bird claws; browse the shelves of the fifty year-old Brick Lane Bookshop; and peruse the 300+ loose leaf teas lining the apothecary shelves at the London Tea Exchange. Of course, if you prefer your caffeine hit in a cup of joe, Nude Espresso is just off Brick Lane and roasts all its coffee beans in-house.
The Old Truman Brewery
A huge complex of old brewing houses dating back to the 17th century, the Old Truman’s Brewery was once the biggest brewery in Europe. Since brewing closed down in 1989, it’s become a permanent home for indie businesses like the Rough Trade record store, as well as a rotating roster of events including sample sales, fashion shows, craft beer festivals, pop up exhibitions, and club nights at 93 Feet East and Café 1001. It’s also where you’ll find most of Brick Lane’s bustling food markets, including…
Brick Lane Food Hall | Taking place in the brewery’s cavernous old Boiler House every weekends, vendors here run the gamut from Polish and Malaysian to Korean and Moroccan cuisine, and there’s even an oyster and Champagne stall if you’re feeling fancy.
Details: Boiler House, 152 Brick Lane, E1 6RU | Open Saturdays 11am-6pm, Sundays 10am-5pm
A night market-slash-party with DJs, a huge warehouse dancefloor, a fairylit al fresco area and over 40 traders specialising in completely vegan dishes and drinks.
Details: 150 Brick Lane, E1 6QL | Regular dates, buy tickets HERE
Backyard Market | Specialising in crafts, the Backyard Market houses vintage clothing, jewellery, prints, grooming products, plants and more.
Details: 146 Brick Lane, E1 6RU | Saturdays 11am-6pm, Sundays 10am-5pm
Going strong for 15 years, the Sunday Upmarket is home to 140+ traders, spanning from stalls selling accessories, homeware and handcrafted items to an indoor food market with dishes from around the world.
Details: Across Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, E1 6QL | Sundays 10am-5pm
Ely’s Yard Street Food | Tucked round the back of the brewery is Ely’s Yard, a daily street food market with regular traders including the Arancini Brothers, Orange Buffalo, Mother Cluckers and Mama’s Jerk Station.
Details: Ely’s Yard | Open daily
Brick Lane Vintage Market
Vintage clothing from the 20s to the 90s are touted by a sprawling array of stalls and boutiques, open daily in its own dedicated block. There’s other vintage goods to be found, too – from homeware to vinyl.
Details: 85 Brick Lane, E1 6QL | Open Mon-Sat 11am-6pm, Sun 10am-6pm
Tea Rooms | Finally, there’s the Tea Rooms – an eclectic warren of second-hand and vintage homewares, antiques, letterpress prints, taxidermy, typewriters, handmade costume jewellery, antique china, and… ice jelly coffee.
Details: 91 Brick Lane, E1 6QL | Open Saturdays 11am-6pm and Sundays 10am-5pm
Last Updated: 12th August 2020 | Main image: Craig Nagy
Looking for a nightcap spot? Check out the Best Bars in Shoreditch and Spitalfields