A mega day out in east London for just £20? Surely not...
Can you really do a day's worth of stuff in east London for £20? Of course. It's not Mayfair, and provided you avoid single malt, Uber, steakhouses — and maybe the bit where Shoreditch meets the City — you might just be OK.
You may want to pick a glorious sunny day (unless you hate the sun). This is important, because to stick to the budget, there's probably going to be quite a lot of walking.
Right. Let's get this show on the road...
E Pellici's veggie breakfast, £7
We start in Bethnal Green at E Pellici, a local institution. The Pellici family have been serving hungry Londoners from the same spot since 1900.
We are seated at the end of a six person table, work cafeteria style. As is often the case, the place is heaving (and tiny). Some would call it 'cramped', others would call it 'cosy'. Some people trade the crush for the cold — opting to sit out front, but everybody seems to be having a good time.
Listen to the wait staff, and you'll hear Italian interspersed seamlessly with the East End dialect. Being on first name terms with lots of customers implies that they've earned themselves plenty of regulars.
We decide to save 60p and any possible 'meat remorse' by choosing the veggie option. The Pellicis really need to update their site — the prices are all wrong. We've already spent 35% of our cash. Yikes.
Weavers Fields £0
Departing with an unexpected gift of bread pudding from the Pellici guys, we decide to go and walk the entirety of Weavers Fields. This is not difficult, seeing as Weavers Fields is rather small.
Bread pudding in hand, we stop to observe two parallel games of Sunday League (one men's, one women's) and an intense bearded man standing beneath the parallel bars, threatening to do pull ups (though we never see him do one). It's nice in the wintery sun, and would be glorious in summer.
Never one for interrupting someone's workout (or game), we decide to try the Woodland Walk. 'Woodland Walk' is probably stretching it a bit, considering how tiny the park is, but points for doing the best with what you have. Takes about three minutes.
Whitechapel Market, £0
Whitechapel Market is near enough for an opportunistic trip. We head down and are sorely tempted by the extremely affordable (and entirely Asian) food in the shops just beside the street market.
In the market itself, there's not really anything worth blowing the meagre budget on, but it makes for fascinating people watching. This is clearly where much of the local Asian community buys its stuff, and the prices are rather good. Need a new leather bag of dubious provenance? 50 AAA batteries? Mystery vegetables? Look no further.
The Ragged School Museum £1 (optional donation)*
After a walk down Stepney Green, we come to the Ragged School Museum (open every Wednesday and Thursday, and between 2pm and 5pm on the first Sunday of each month), located in an old warehouse near Mile End Park.
The museum commemorates a dark time in East London's history. The area was essentially a giant slum at the beginning of the 20th century — ragged schools were charitable institutions set up to feed and educate children who were too poor for state schooling (which was not free at the time).
The museum is huge, three stories with a basement, as far as we can tell. The top is used for photo shoots — we're told a Jagger has recently been here. Our favourite part? A faithfully reproduced Victorian classroom (with original furniture), and an ancient guestbook where you can read scrawlings that go back over a century.
It's worth bearing in mind that, if you want to visit, you need to check that it's actually open when you fancy dropping by. Whitechapel Gallery is a good free cultural alternative.
*If you've the cash to spare, we suggest forking out more than a quid.
Walk beside Regent's Canal and through Mile End Park, £0
After all the brickwork and sepia tinged photos of grim, industrial landscapes, it seems fitting to try something a little more upbeat.
We follow the Regent's Canal north up through Mile End Park. New Globe Tavern Gardens provides a surprisingly impressive view of the city. Turns out that is a great spot to spot some houseboats, all of which appear to be full of houseplants and bicycles.
We follow a meandering path up Mile End park, past the Ecology Pavilion to Victoria Park.
Flat White at Pavilion, £2.70
Crossing the road that divides the two spaces, Victoria Park appears to be the larger and more popular sibling in this ill fitted familial metaphor.
Off to the Pavilion cafe for a not-inexpensive flat white. Various Sri Lankan inspired lunch dishes appear promising, but will probably shatter the £20 budget. However, it's no cost to sit by the lake and watch the world go by, coffee in hand (which is delicious, by the way).
Coffee half finished, we go to take a gander at the horticulture and architecture — there are flowerbeds, a pagoda, and something that looks like it belongs inside a Gothic cathedral where some 20-somethings are doing community service. On the way we catch the Orion Harriers doing what they do best (racing on a road).
All that sweating and people giving it their all makes us thirsty by association. Time for a pint…
Half pint at People's Park Tavern, £2.20
We track this one down based on their in-house microbrewery and highly outlandish décor. From the distance you may think that the garden is a nursery or some kind of garden centre. But it's just a really big, really cool, really cobbled together space which looks like they gave an eccentric carpenter a large check and a remit to go a bit mad. Well done.
The ambiance is as fun as we'd hoped, but you might die of thirst before you get service on a Saturday. Luckily, a half pint of their very own Single Hop at £2.20 arrives, around the time that the events from Futurama begin to transpire. It's tasty, but not particularly memorable. We head out into the garden to sip it and watch the crazy golfers.
Beer terminated, we continue westward — through a very fancy, suburban part of south Hackney. It looks just like some of the nicer parts of Clapham.
Next: to Netil Market.
Netil Market, £0
Netil Market is lively and often a bit cramped, with a good mix of street food and misc market stalls. No purchases here (the budget grows tenuous), but more opportunities for people watching and window shopping for all sorts of antiques.
One of the traders is having a private party. They've closed their stall and appears to have invited all of their friends for an excellent looking piss up. People-watching's all fine and good but we need more food choices, so we head in the direction of Broadway Market.
Katsu and chocolate at Broadway Market, £6.94
In terms of variety, Broadway Market is one of your best options for street food in east London. It can get a little dear though — so we shop around, eventually deciding on the eponymously named Katsu Wraps.
Choose what you want to order from a very brusque East Asian lady, then enjoy what is possibly the fastest order fulfilment you will ever experience. Suddenly, katsu — it can't be more than 20 seconds. And all for the satisfying round number of £5.
What about the wrap though? It's not great at the top, but once you eat your way to the bit where the chicken and sauce have collected, it is very delicious. We ask for every topping except mayo, and the katsu doesn't explode. Which is nice. And at the price, so much more hearty than the competition.
We still have a little money left — and so look for somewhere to satiate our sweet tooth while spending as little as possible. The result is a visit to Dark Sugars, who know all about excellent fair-trade chocolate, and making your wallet cry.
In retrospect we feel like this is not the best way to blow the remaining budget. The chocolate turns out to be quite delicious - but £1.94 for two tiny pieces.
SPACE: Mare Street, £0
Attempting to salvage the buyer's remorse, we go for art. Free art! SPACE have been providing space(s) for artists since 1968 — all over London (and Colchester, for some reason). This means lots of exhibitions in lots of different styles, many of which are free.
We drop in on one by an artistic duo by the name of Janne Schäfer and Kristine Agergaard ('J&K'). The installation has an artists' explanation, which — like many artist explanations — doesn't explain anything at all. Probably better to let some pictures do the talking. Anyway, it didn't cost us anything.
And the total is.... £19.84
And that's it. It's now getting dark. We're full, we've just looked at art, the budget is basically gone, and according to our phone, we've walked a little over 20km. Time to go home and rest. For tomorrow we spend another £20.