Breaking news: Big Ben, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace and Harrods are in a time-out. They’re sitting in the naughty corner for having hogged the tourism spotlight for too long; it’s time for their gardens, views and (clock)faces to leave the centre of postcards to someone else for a change.
Enter Walthamstow: an exciting district in East London and the official London Borough of Culture 2019.
Not ringing the same bell as ‘Shoreditch’ or ‘Camden’? Fret not. I hadn’t heard of it either upon arriving to jolly old LDN this month, but the brilliant Visit London team soon got me up to speed. Jo and I were the luckiest of ducks to be able to spend a weekend with the crew – a bonafide girl gang prepped with a killer itinerary (that we’re recommending you outright steal) and an infectious enthusiasm for this bustling borough. Here’s our day of discovery:
Walthamstow gave us a warm welcome – literally, with some fresh sourdough bread served straight from the oven at Today Bread. This cozy, organic, community-focused bakery is the delicious brainchild of Alexandre, a Swiss expat who worked as a graphic designer before fulfilling his doughy destiny. What started as a side passion – having plonked an oven in the spare room of his home to hone his skills after work each day – has now become a local institution, frequented by nearby residents and visitors 7 days a week.
Alex runs the place – which acts as a bakery and café, and also continues doing the hands-on baking himself. When he told us his shifts often start at 2 a.m., I felt the haunting chill of someone who’s just seen the clown from ‘It’ beckoning them from the sewer. But Alex insisted that he loved coming in early. He told us, with a sparkle in his eyes that can only come from the thrill of some well-kneaded dough, “I put the music on and just go for it.”
As for the bread itself, let’s just say for that a gal who moved to France primarily for a.) the baguettes and b.) the pastries, I was très impressed by the sourdough slices that boasted texture, lightness, and the ideal balance of crunchy crust and soft bread.
The experience proved to be a validation of Alexandre’s motivating sentiment: that bread is a tool for sharing; introducing ourselves as we broke bread and gobbled down dollops of jam formed the perfect way to start a weekend with friends – new and old.
Onto the William Morris Gallery next, a museum dedicated to – you guessed it – William Morris, the prolific figure of British arts, crafts and textiles. Friendly Morris expert James greeted us and launched straight into a quick tour of the building’s two floors, providing the stories behind each of Morris’s famous tapestries, patterns, furniture items, poetry and stain glass works. There’s also a room dedicated to his socialist activism, and a gorgeous garden spiralling out of a grand outdoor staircase. The museum is situated in Morris’s former home, and its big windows and decadent ceilings provide an immersive look into the life and mind of a master of many things.
Entry is free (!!!!!) so admiring every sunny window, Persian-influenced rug and old letter is only a hop, skip and big red bus away.
Next up was a delightful wander through Walthamstow Village, which showcased quaint cobblestone alleys, homes that date back to the 1500s and a charming countryside feel. Awaiting us at the end of the walk was Froth and Rind – a cheese shop to end all cheese shops, which also doubles as a destination for British craft beer. The toasties (grilled cheese sandwiches) on offer included combinations such as Serrano Ham and Raclette (I ordered this one, v. v. good) and names such as ‘Roger Cheddarer’ (L O L.)
Emphasis here is on supporting local businesses, with British cheese – particularly from cheesemakers throughout London and its surroundings – making up 80% of sourced produce.
And Froth and Rind’s origin story is just as cheesy. Co-founders Fraser and Mark, fed up with their days spent working in digital and branding, just happened to be walking past the shopfront one day when they saw the landlord putting up a ‘for sale’ sign. I guess you could say the Gouda Gods were smiling kindly on them……. *holds for applause.*
With people this nice and cheese this good, run, don’t walk (while you still can; once you’re finished you’ll be rolling outta there in a Lactose Coma.)
One of the first declarations uttered by Rob, our host/teacher/sommelier extraordinaire at Pillars Brewery, was “We beer people, we’re not snobs.. unlike wine people.”
As much as I love wine, I love a bit of sass even more, so this was a strong start to a memorable afternoon with masters in all things beer. We were treated to a 2-hour class, constantly served glasses of ale, lager and that third type of beer none of us had ever heard of (it’s called lambic and it’s all about the hops, thanks very much) along with platters of food to “match,” “compliment” or “contrast” whatever we were swirling, sniffing and sipping. Following Rob’s regular orders of “get your noses in, girls,” we smelled each offering and declared which flavours we were “getting.” Highlights included “blood,” “metal” and “old gravy that’s gone off.” Can’t wait to be invited back!!
Funny anecdotes aside, Pillars Brewery turned me into a beer trivia expert, and more miraculously converted me from someone who hated beer to someone who appreciates both the ~craft~ of its creation AND the taste (of a select few light, fruity options; I’ve still got a way to go.) I am at least now in accordance with Rob’s conviction that it’s worth discovering high-quality breweries and becoming more knowledgeable about beer, if only to save your money from being wasted on ‘crap mainstream lager.’
Cheers to you, Pillars. Cheers to you.
Because there’s nothing better than bright lights to settle a brain spinning with beer, our next stop was God’s Own Junkyard, whose jungle of neon lights, signs and decorations engaged every sense and fulfilled every aesthetic dream. We spoke to Marc Bracey, whose grandfather founded the concept – initially for funfairs and carnivals, about stories big and bright. From creating custom works for Elton John and Kate Moss to building decor for films such as The Dark Knight, Ironman and Bladerunner (I had a real fangirl attack when I saw that set piece), God’s Own has provided some of the most recognisable and showstopping pieces for some of pop culture’s biggest players.
Bracey and his team make each piece in their nearby factory and display only a small selection in their megawatt shop and café.
As described by team member Don, the space is a “retro futureverse.” It’s a Baz-Luhrmann-esque neon cathedral, a proud family legacy, an unmissable fusion of art, culture and spunk.
Leaving a spunky neon universe to be welcomed by a darkening sky meant only one thing: it was time to move onto an experience of London nightlife.
Ah, the London tube. A hub for commuting, complaining and…. Fine dining? It might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you picture one of these quintessential carriages, but Underground Supper Club coordinator Nick uses that very fact to propose a surprising, innovative and all-around fun experience in Walthamstow.
Having previously held “supper clubs” in his own home – even setting up a grand piano and hiring a jazz band, Nick turned to the idea of a transformed tube when he sold his house and couldn’t continue his beloved tradition.
The interior of the carriage is impeccably preserved from yesteryear – with even the transport signs stuck to the walls upholding their 1960s authenticity. It can be a bit squishy sitting beside poles and under a small roof, but that’s the tube for you, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Our six-course (!!!) feast included a strong welcome Negroni, marinated cod, roasted pork, granita, a banana caramel dessert… must I go on…
Basement Gallery has only been running the Underground Supper Club since last October, so before it attracts peak-hour crowds, it’s time to… wait for it… board the train. *holds for standing ovation*
Well-fed and Walthamstow-initiated, we ended the night a quick tube ride away in Leytonstone’s Luna Lounge, an intimate bar in the heart of the borough that’s acted as a cherished community meeting place for almost a decade. We swayed and shimmied as the TJ Johnson Quartet brought live drums, sax, keys and cello to the stage, and revelled in sights of local regulars dancing and singing along, band members name-dropping them as friends said hello. I saw a lady dance happily to a groovy jazz number and the beaming smile of a man who’s been paying regular visits to Luna for 8 years. The passionate owner said his life has been kept “happy and busy” thanks to Luna. He holds the universal language of music as incredibly important, and, above all, sees Luna Lounge as the fulfilment of a lifelong dream.
If you tap your trusty Oyster cards 20 minutes out of central London to Walthamstow and end the day there feeling unsatisfied, I will eat my hat (so long as it’s seasoned with a bit of raclette.) It was such a treat to explore a city destination that nonetheless retains impressive community vibes, and meet young business owners whose passion and enthusiasm had me smiling all the way home.
Mark it on your map now, before everyone else catches the tip.
Everywhere we went in Waltham Forest
Today Bread: Open everyday, 7:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
6-10 Central Parade, 137 Hoe Street, Walthamstow E17 4RT
William Morris Gallery: Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Free entry.
Lloyd Park, Forest Road, London E17 4PP
Froth & Rind: Open Monday-Friday 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
37 Orford Road, London E17 9NL
Pillars Brewery: Taproom open Friday 5 p.m. – 11 p.m., Saturday 2 p.m. – Midnight, Sunday 2 p.m. -8 p.m.
Unit 2, Ravenswoo Industrial Estate, Walthamstow, London E17 9HQ
God’s Own Junkyard: Open to the public Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Gods Own Junk yard, Unit 12 Ravenswood Ind Estate, Shernhall Street, London E17 9HQ
Underground Supper Club: Dates vary
Walthamstow Pump Museum, book online: http://supperclub.tube/
Luna Lounge: Open Monday – Thursday, Sunday 5 p.m. – Midnight, Friday – Saturday 5 p.m. – 1 a.m.
7 Church Lane, Leytonstone, London E11 1HG