The Streets: Kingsland Road and Shoreditch High Street
Shoreditch still has pockets of authenticity finds our man pounding the street but much of the edgy and quirky is now a pale, corporate imitation of what it was
Article by Andrew Steel Photograph by Tom Eversley
The reputation of Shoreditch and Hoxton precedes itself, even to a man raised in the heathen-and-terrier bosom of Yorkshire. An eighties needle capital, turned from post-Thatcherism squalor into hipster central, the narrative crafted around the area just north of London’s financial district is that of art born of frustration, the formative ground in which Damian Hirst helped to spearhead the Young British Artists movement. Since 1996 and New Labour, Shoreditch has been renown as a “happening” hub, where trends meet trash – because even with the rise of gentrification, Shoreditch remains tired in a sense.
If the segue of Kingsland Road into Shoreditch High Street, across Hackney Road in the shadow of St Leonard’s Church is perhaps deigned as the epicentre of the transition between the superb of the past and the superb of the future, it is apparent in both southern and eastern trajectories. From the north, shy of the river, down Kingsland Road, lies perhaps Shoreditch’s most enduring multi-cultural and ethnically where a Vietnamese community have created a little pocket of South-East Asian flavour amongst the dilapidated top end of the A10. For fans of this culture and cuisine, fewer authentic experiences exist within the boundaries of the M25.
Moving towards Liverpool Street Station, the “hipster vibe” perhaps most associated with the area is at its peak prevalence. Much of the general building structure here still gives the impression of a neighbourhood gone badly to seed and only starting to find its feet once more. Yet, beneath the chipped veneer lies high-price residency, bars and coffee houses, alongside a few eateries. Some deliver quality products amongst the numerous converted post offices and railway stations – but at a premium price for their artisan, often uncomfortable approach. Whether this is appealing is to the individual’s personal discretion; but similar experiences can be garnered further south down the High Street, towards Bishopsgate, in more luxurious, corporate settings for a similar price.
Indeed, heading into the financial edge of the city, tie-dye tights and t-shirts give way to burnished business suits; Shoreditch’s most southern borders remain a different planet. Head east of the A10 and the future of Shoreditch’s gentrification becomes apparent; the arrival of commercial chain brands and restaurants, eager to associate with the trendsetting around them, and ultimately pushing out others. At Spitalfields Market, still renowned for its independent retailers, the split is readily apparent; 50 percent singular brands, 50 percent recognisable names that can be found in any corner of high-end high-street Britain. Twenty years on from its cultural reinvention, Shoreditch appears to be in the process of change once again; though whether this is self-reinvention of self-cannibalisation remains a pertinent to your taste for hipster life.
Visit if: you’re wanting to try some genuine, well-considered Vietnamese culture and food, towards the north of Kingsland Road.
Don’t visit if: you’re not prepared to pay at premium London prices.