I’ve walked the twisty turny alleyways of Spitalfields many times. But on this day, they had a different feel for two reasons.
On this day, the papers carried the news of the real identity of Jack the Ripper. As I walked past the usual scores of Ripper tours, I imagined the tour-guides having to quickly adjust their patter to accommodate the breaking news. From DNA testing of a silk shawl, 23 year old Polish immigrant Aaron Kosminski is the culprit, for those unlikely to make it to a Ripper tour. This news made the cobbled streets more alive with gory history than usual.
And it felt more disorientating than usual because it was my first day of a new job. The first day os a new job makes everything feel foreign. Things that come as second nature suddenly feel conscious and awkward. It’s like the first step between a boat and solid ground.
Stepping into My Old Place felt like leaving an East End alleyway and entering a local’s diner in Kowloon.
Everything is brisk and practical. Wipe-clean wooden refectory tables, a kitchen full of chefs going at full tilt and extractor fans whirring. Every table heaved with brightly coloured plates of food, being devoured lustily.
Chinese lettuce and sour sauce, shredded beef and green chillis and a cold shredded potato in a spicy sauce – so delicious they were eaten before they were photographed.
The menu is as long as the Old Testament and, in some places, as enigmatic. The waiting staff don’t patronise. If you choose to order a vulgar amount of food, they’re not going to question you. In fact, I smashed my personal best for over-ordering in a Chinese restaurant.
This place is about community and humanity. You’ll eat decent authentic Chinese food backed by the din of kitchen and customers. It’s a disorientating, mixed-up kind of experience but one which, for all of that, makes you feel strangely at home.