Tell another Londoner you live in Leytonstone and watch them give you a quizzical look. They’ll have heard of it, probably – in East London somewhere, right? – but can’t say more. Admittedly, there are good reasons why it’s slipped off their grid. For one, Leytonstone is stuck out in darkest zone 3. For another, it’s overshadowed by more buzzed-about neighbours, a nowhereland between Walthamstow (cooler), Leyton (grittier), Wanstead (middle classier) and Forest Gate (none of the above, but still somehow better). Leytonstone, let it be said, is unremarkable. At first glance it’s yet another residential burb, with row after identikit row of terraced houses, some schools, some shops, a few parks and two separate branches of Costa Coffee. But in la-la-London-land, where even broom cupboards spark a buy-to-let bidding war, it also happens to be (relatively speaking) affordable. And if you look a little closer, there are more than a few reasons to linger awhile.
Who’s lived there?
Little Leytonstone has birthed its fair share of Famous People, from David Bailey to David Beckham, Damon Albarn to Derek Jacobi. Exit the tube station and you’ll see mosaics paying homage to another local boy made great, Alfred Hitchcock. I should add that none of the above luminaries live there now. Possibly the rents are too high.
Where’s the hub?
That would be Leytonstone High Road, an ancient pre-Roman pathway. The road itself has been resurfaced since, but it’s still pretty snarly in the traffic department – all idling engines and wheezing buses. As far as shopping goes, though, it has you covered. There are the high street staples (Boots, Matalan), the smaller independent-y ones (posh florists, antiquers), and the obligatory scattering of pound shops and 99p stores. Oh, and the High Road isn’t half long. Be advised, too, that the closer you get to Maryland and Stratford, the greater the amount of urban grot.
Fashion? Turn to the left
The style set will look in vain to find a single decent clothier in Leytonstone. It’s not London’s best-dressed postcode. But who cares when you’re this close to ‘Westfield Stratford City’ – hip, haute and only two stops away on the Central line, it supplies your every sartorial want.
What’s the skinny on the supermarkets?
An aircraft hangar-sized Tesco hulks just off the High Road, and it’s open 24 hours (though everyone seems to go on Saturday morning – an unedifying experience). If simply thinking about Tesco makes you go cold inside, don’t worry. There’s also an Iceland.
Is it cool?
Leytonstone is studiedly uncool. Compared to Walthamstow, or even Leyton, the hipster count is low. But what it lacks in artisanal hummus, it more than makes up for in fried chicken. There are outlets just everywhere. And supreme among them is USA Chicken and Pizza, opposite the station (I like this one just for its name, admittedly).
Where else to eat?
If you prefer your chicken un-fried, there are plenty of other places to sup, some delicious, some not. Heading up the ‘delicious’ category is Petchsayam Thai, which dishes up zingy, droolsome curries that fill your stomach without emptying your wallet.
Any worthy watering holes?
The Walnut Tree (a Wetherspoons) does the job, but the pick of the bunch is the Red Lion. It re-opened recently, and very glad Leytonstone was to see it again. It’s warm, convivial and pours a top-notch pint of ale. Local old boy Damon Albarn sometimes drops by; last year he had the entire pub belting out a proper East End knees-up rendition of ‘Parklife.’ It was the single most exciting thing that’s ever happened in Leytonstone (and I wasn’t there). Also, when the last cup has been drained, KFC is just over the road.
This is, comfortably, Leytonstone’s strongest suit. The green, green trees of Epping Forest rustle nearby, and you’re close to Wanstead Flats: think woodland, football pitches and tickly, thigh-high grass. Joggers pant around the perimeter, kids lob frisbees, dogs catch them, and the surly traffic of the High Road seems a world away (though it’s only ten minutes).
In an ideal world, where in Leytonstone would I live?
Aim yourself at the Bushwood area, which nudges up against Wanstead Flats. Pretty, prosperous and shaded by old trees, it makes local estate agents break down and weep for joy.
What if I need to leave suddenly?
In this most unlikely event, you’re in luck. Leytonstone is blessed with splendid connections. The Central line can have you in the City in just sixteen minutes, and the Overground from Leytonstone High Road arcs east to Barking and west to Gospel Oak.
Finally, what is the difference (if any) between Leytonstone and Leyton?
Leytonstone is around a mile further north-east. It’s considered a tad leafier. The eponymous ‘stone’ is a restored 18th century obelisk that stands at the site of a Roman milestone (but north as it is of the psychic barrier of the Green Man roundabout, it might be closer to Snaresbrook). Both Leyton and Leytonstone are scythed in two, for the record, by the angry A12.