Much has been said, written, sung and spray-painted about the changing face of East London.
If you ever need a poster child for this much-maligned (but occasionally convenient) gentrification, look no further than Brushfield Street in Spitalfields, which has transformed from market add-on to hipster dive strip to pseudo High Street. And through it all, the building at number 42 – now trading as Cundall & Garcia – has evolved to fill the changing needs of the people surrounding it.
Today, it’s a delicatessen; offering bankers from the neighbouring skyscrapers a slice of hearty, wholesome village-style cooking as alternative to the various takeaway chains jostling for a place in their lunchrooms. Prior to that, the 1780s four-storey house has operated as – in no particular order – a diamond cutter, boot maker, furrier, bookbinder and milliner.
In 2000, Ian and Safia Thomas took the reigns, opening a delicatessen that specialised in traditional British provisions; a unique prospect at the time. They continued to trade under A.Gold, a nod to the Hungarian milliner Amelia Gold, who had occupied the space before them.
Chef Paulo Garcia took over the shop from his good friends in 2010, changing the focus to freshly prepared sandwiches, salads and snacks for the lunch crowd, plus a small range of highquality provisions.
It was a small shift, but a necessary one to reflect the times that were, as Dylan professed, a-changing. “During [Ian and Safia’s] time I think British produce was a bit of a novelty – it played into people’s nostalgia,” Paulo says. “But things changed, and you can find most of the stuff they sold in Waitrose now, that’s why I decided to refocus the business and play to my strengths as a chef.”
While Cundall & Garcia plays up to an element of British nostalgia – the ‘A.Gold’ signage still shines – the demand has shifted to one of buying local.
As Christmas approaches, the shelves will be filled with festive provisions, most of them with a local lilt. “Our best selling products are the ones that are artisanal, produced locally.”
“All the guys who work across the street from us – the lawyers and financiers – they like the fact that it’s a village shop, that I cook everything in the kitchen upstairs, and that they know us,” Paulo says.
It is this ‘village vibe’ that serves as perhaps the only constant at No. 42 Brushfield Street throughout its 230-year history and it doesn’t sound like that will change any time soon.
“I think it’s a big part of why we’re still going,” Paulo says. “Spitalfields changed so quickly, and all the independent shops have had to leave because of the rents but we’re one of the few family-run businesses remaining – people like that sense of familiarity.”
Cundall & Garcia, 42 Brushfield Street E1 6AG