Whenever I need to fortify myself with breakfast before setting out into the East End streets to pursue the mudlarks, bunny girls, diamond thieves, trannies and costermongers that form the subjects of my daily interviews, I go to Leila’s on Calvert Avenue in Shoreditch for its celebrated ham and eggs cooked with a pinch of sage.
No one can really say they have been to Spitalfields unless they have shaken the hand of the legendary Paul Gardner, fourth-generation paper bag seller at Spitalfields’ oldest family business, Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen at 149 Commercial Street, which has been trading since 1870. You can go in and say hello to Paul, and ask him to show you his great-grandfather’s account books.
For a vision of the East End a century ago, pop over to the Bishopsgate Institute (bishopsgate.org.uk), almost opposite Liverpool Street Station. It’s a Victorian temple of culture where the magnificent dioramas of Spitalfields and models recreating Petticoat Lane Market have been restored and installed in the library, to be viewed free of charge during opening hours.
Roberto & Mirella Fiori’s Mister City Sandwich Bar just round the corner on Artillery Lane, is a popular institution in Spitalfields, where every order is made up freshly, with keener prices and higher quality than the takeaway chains that surround it. It’s perfect for coffee and a sandwich on the run.
My top shopping destination in this area is Des & Lorraine’s junk shop, on Bacon Street, just off Brick Lane. It’s a genuine unreconstructed unapologetic East End junk shop, where true wonders are still to be found. Ask Des to show you the mermaid brought back from the South Seas by a sailor in the 19th century. I also recommend a trip to Andrew Coram at 86 Commercial Street, and Townhouse Antiques at 5 Fournier Street, townhousewindow.com) among the gracious tottering 18th-century mansions of Spitalfields. Both are old-school dealers, where you may rely upon discovering charismatic curiosities. The Townhouse even sells cakes from historic recipes.
Brick Lane is famous for its curry houses, yet the array of possibilities and the enthusiasm of the touts can be be confusing, so I suggest you go to Sweet & Spicy (sweetandspicylondon.co.uk). This is an unpretentious cafe-style operation that opened in 1969 to serve workers in local garment factories, and I am proud to count myself among its regulars. Two can dine for under ?20, and proprietor Omar Butt, an ex-wrestler, is always present to ensure everything is tip-top.
To round off your day nicely, visit the secluded Spitalfields Bar in the basement of the Hawksmoor steakhouse (020-7426 4856, thehawksmoor.com) where mixologist Rogerio Galvao makes delicious caipirinhas that, I am reliably informed, are the best this side of Copacabana.
• The Gentle Author’s blog is at spitalfieldslife.com