Brick Lane loses its ‘Olympics gold’ moment to shine

Traders along the East End’s famous ‘Curry Mile’ are hot under the collar over what’s gone wrong down Brick Lane during the Olympics.

The ‘Curry Capital’ has turned into “a dead city,” say the restaurateurs—there are no customers, despite the status Brick Lane was given with all the Olympic razzamatazz when the 2012 organisers switched the original marathon route to the West End.

That’s how the two trade associations which run the once-lucrative tourist magnate see the effects of the 2012 Games.

Everyone’s staying in Stratford and no-one’s beating a path to the street where once passers-by would be entertained or harassed by touts in what was the spicy flavour of East End life.

They were expecting 10,000 Olympic tourists a day down ‘The Lane’ crammed with its 50 curry houses.


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Many took on extra staff for the influx—they’re having to lay them off now.

“Brick Lane is like a dead city,” said Azmal Hussain, vice chair of Brick Lane Restaurateurs Association.

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“The Olympics opportunity has been missed because of a lack of marketing.

“We were told 90,000 people would be drawn to the area by the Olympics.

“But instead, it’s the worst I’ve ever seen.”

He’s never seen it as bad in the 13 years he has run his Preem & Prithy restaurant.

So a meeting of all Brick Lane restaurateurs is being held after Ramadan to organise a deputation to Tower Hamlets council to find out just what the �120,000 promotion budget from the London 2012 organisers went on.

They blame some of the lack of trade on police and council together targeting the area looking for licensing infringements, street peddlers, touts, prostitutes and anyone with drugs.

“If people see lots of police in a street, they don’t go there,” Azmal explained. “There’s too much heavy police presence. People come for food and to enjoy the atmosphere—but when they see so many police they go away.”

Take a stroll down this narrow, winding thoroughfare through the heart of Spitalfields any lunchtime while the 2012 Games are on at Stratford, three miles away, and you not only have the pick of the 50 restaurants, but any seat you want—they’re mostly empty.

The rival Brick Lane Curry Association met Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman in the run-up to 2012.

The association’s Daraz Miah, whose Cinnamon restaurant was totally empty at luchtime last Thursday, said: “The mayor told us we should be ready the first day when 20,000 visitors would come.

“Many of us took on extra workers—I took two on myself.

“But on the day of the Opening Ceremony we were dead.

“Even the next day everywhere was empty. We have 100 seats and normally it’s packed on a Saturday.”

He blames all the warnings of traffic chaos and overcrowded public transport, coupled with the council not being serious about marketing Brick Lane as Curry Capital.

“The police and council aren’t helping,” Mr Miah added. “They’re frightening away the tourists.

“The only way we can promote ourselves is telling passers-by what we offer—but all that’s been stopped. They call it touting.

“The Olympics are a flop for us. The last two weekends have been a disaster.”

Traders also feel they missed out on a gold opportunity to be on the world stage with the Olympic Torch relay being diverted along Commercial Street instead of Brick Lane itself.

Tower Hamlets council, for its part, blames official warnings about travel disruption for scaring away tourists.

“Businesses showing an unexpected and disappointing slump haven’t been helped by messages about travel disruption that could have been more targeted,” says a council statement.

“With official warnings scaring visitors away, we have unashamedly been promoting the borough and Brick Lane, flooding hotels with information for tourists.”

Decisions about the Olympic torch route were made by London 2012 which the council said was out of its control. But the authority promised in the second and busiest Olympic week to work with Mayor Boris Johnson and TfL to promote the East End more.

That might be good news for the curry house proprietors, but a little late.

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