Why I live in Aldgate East: furniture maker Felix Conran on his ‘endlessly entertaining’ London area

·4-min read
Market value: Felix and Greek rescue dog Apollo at stalls on Whitechapel High Street (Angus Grant)
Market value: Felix and Greek rescue dog Apollo at stalls on Whitechapel High Street (Angus Grant)

I’ve been renting my flat in Aldgate East from a friend for two years. He’d been using it as a photography studio and offered it to me at 3am one morning.

It’s in an old factory building and is a white, empty space with nice floors that I’ve been able to make an impact on. I live there with my Greek rescue dog, Apollo, and love the endlessly entertaining madness of the area.

Best eating and drinking

My sweet tooth is addicted to Breid bakery. Built under an arch on Dunbridge Street, they sell excellent coffee and mouthwatering little cakes. My go-to is a sponge topped with heavy vanilla whipped cream and raspberries.

I’m a regular at Tayyabs on Fieldgate Street; their Punjabi lamb chops are legendary. Lahore Kebab House on Umberston Street looks like a crazy canteen, but their curries are delicious. For European small plates and a great wine list, try Crispin on White’s Row.

Proper East End pub The Hungerford Arms on Commercial Road (Matt Writtle)
Proper East End pub The Hungerford Arms on Commercial Road (Matt Writtle)

The Hungerford Arms on Commercial Road is probably the worst pub in London, but it’s my favourite. It’s a proper East End hang-out; everyone in there’s a character. Someone once tried to buy my friend’s dog.

Where I work out

I’m not a gym-goer; I mainly stick to walking and running along the river and the canals. It only takes 10 minutes to get down to the banks of the Thames. You’ve got to get the timings right so you don’t end up with wet feet, but that’s wonderful. I also do yoga but at home.

To commune with nature

This isn’t a green area, but Bethnal Green Gardens is close by and lovely. I’ve been doing a spot of guerilla gardening in one of the neglected little parks near me; some grass seed that I sprinkled is starting to sprout up.

For a culture fix

Whitechapel Gallery on Whitechapel High Street is always doing something fabulous, but I also like tapping into the hipster community at trendy Benk&Bo on Gravel Lane. It’s a mid-century style co-working space that runs art shows, life drawing classes, jazz nights and a book club. Daytime solo cinema trips are my indulgence, so I adore the Genesis Cinema on Mile End Road. They screen all the big films but also a curated selection of indie movies that they love.

Hipster home: Benk&Bo co-working space hosts art shows, jazz nights and a book club (Matt Writtle)
Hipster home: Benk&Bo co-working space hosts art shows, jazz nights and a book club (Matt Writtle)

Grocery shopping

I do a lot of cooking and the superb YoYo Oriental Supermarket on Alie Street are my guys. They always have a different dessert in their fridge; I go every day to see if they’ve got the matcha mille crêpe cake. I’m also a big fan of the frozen dumplings and array of condiments.

There are two great markets here: Whitechapel Market on Whitechapel Road and Watney Market on Watney Street, further south towards Shadwell. The exotic fruit and veg are amazing — massive sticks of sugar cane and 18-inch green beans that you buy in a big floppy bundle.

Getting around

It’s awesome on this front; everywhere is either walkable or reachable on the DLR, Tube, Overground or National Rail. Billingsgate Market on Trafalgar Way, for instance, is only a 10-minute ride on the DLR.

Get to its cafe early enough — it’s open from 3am to 10am — and you can enjoy the best bacon sandwich in London, featuring freshly caught scallops. Camden and Peckham are a breeze to reach, too.

Whitechapel Art Gallery is always doing something fabulous (Matt Writtle)
Whitechapel Art Gallery is always doing something fabulous (Matt Writtle)

Dream street

Fournier Street, between Commercial Street and Brick Lane, with all its gorgeous Georgian buildings. There have been a lot of newbuilds popping up lately, but they’re not my cup of tea.

Something you only see in Aldgate East

I’m quite accident-prone, so it’s reassuring having The Royal London Hospital right next door. There is something comforting about knowing I could crawl there. I love playing detective in the hideous little park right next to it, trying to piece together everything that’s gone on overnight. I once found an extraordinary number of crabs there, with no idea where they’d all come from.

What’s the catch?

It’s dirty. There has been a lot of redevelopment recently, but it’s still lacking on the basic hygiene front.

In three words

Crazy, connected, community.

What it costs to live in Aldgate East

Buying

Average property price: £589,920

Renting

Studio apartments: £1,890 pcm on average

Two-bed apartments: £3,030 pcm on average

Source: Hamptons

Schools

St Paul’s Whitechapel Church of England primary school and Bigland Green are both rated outstanding, with several local schools rated good by Ofsted. For secondaries, the high-achieving Mulberry School for Girls is ranked as outstanding, along with nearby Swanlea School and Sixth Form.

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