For regular readers of my blog, you may have noticed that I love food.
As a result, I’m open to different cuisines and I love checking out new restaurants and concepts. So, if someone told you about a hairdresser set in ramshackle building, that provides amazing service at a knock down price, and serves simple but delicious Korean food, you would expect them to be describing some budget travel experience abroad.
In fact, I had this experience in East London beneath the railway arch in Cambridge Heath.
My partner and I were invited to visit HURWUNDEKI for the first time on a Saturday afternoon. He was in need of a haircut and I was in need of chicken dumplings so we made our way to Bethnal Green on foot from Holloway Road.
I hadn’t actually read very much about the place beforehand and the outside definitely doesn’t give any hints as to its reason for existence. A nearby strip club (I was going to say ‘gentlemen’s club,’ but let’s call a spade a spade – no gentlemen could be found there) and a dodgy tire shop next door set the scene for Hurwundeki, which looks as though it was once a storage or warehousing facility.
The entrance has the decaying remnants of children’s playground: rusty tricycles and a vintage rocking horse. Had there not been children playing with them, it would have been really eerie – like that scene in a movie where a playground is empty but one swing is swaying…
The saving grace – what stopped me from turning right back around – was that the place was packed. Inside, outside, no empty seats in the salon… Seriously, if you call yourself an east Londoner and you haven’t been to this place then you’re probably the only one.
If you had dreamt up the interior, you would have been slightly confused. Exposed brick and wooden rafters take distressed to another level; wood chip tables with a DIY feel; glamorous chandeliers with low lighting…and a deer head on the wall. On the right, a Korean restaurant and café; to the left, a boutique hair salon offering men and women’s haircuts for £9 and £14, respectively.
The owner, Ki Lee, can tell you a story of riches to rags and back again – he probably will if you are lucky enough to have the maestro himself cut your hair. Not so long ago he counted Pete Doherty and Kate Moss among his regulars, with other mere mortals queuing up to spend a minimum of £80 for his services. Then came the recession and a radical re-think of his business plan and the format we find today.
My partner sat down to get his hair cut. As a stoic kind of guy, he looked calm. Me? I was freaking out. I was thinking ‘If they screw this up, he will definitely blame me.’ He’s very particular about his hair (who isn’t?) and as I mentioned before, we didn’t know anything about this place. It was too late. The cape was on and the scissors were out.
Ki, in his black beret and Nike Airs, made quick work of it. His hands were fast, moving with well-practised dexterity. Fifteen minutes later, he was impressed with the attention to detail and I loved the little quiff style that came with the cut (*nudge nudge, darling) [He replies: “It’s too high maintenance.”].
Now for the food…
The food came about due to Lee’s sensitive palate and dislike of the heavy handed use of seasoning, especially MSG. He rarely eats anywhere else now and the food provides a simple but deliciously authentic taste of Korean cuisine. Not having an alcohol license means you are allowed to supply your own with no uncorking fee; but that’s a minor detail.
I drank one of the best lattés I’ve had in London here. The coffee comes from artisan roasters Nude Espresso in Brick Lane, keeping it very East London, and the latté art was prominent. A skilled barista alongside excellent chefs.
Since it was an uncharacteristically sunny day in March we took a table outside. We started with the kimchi jeon – a sort of pancake made of pickled cabbage – and chicken dumplings. They immediately disappeared from the table. I’m not really sure what happened, but I sure wish I could have had another order to verify their tastiness…
In what can only be attributed to kismet, our next course came out. I had the Bibimbap hot pot and he went with a spicy pork udon. Let’s just say we were both pleased with our own selection and jealous of the other’s.
Whether you are after some food or a haircut, both are top quality, inexpensive, and delivered with great service. There is no booking policy but if you wish to experience delicious food and miraculous haircuts you had better get there early and get your name on the chalkboard.
Hurwundeki means ‘hair’ in the dialect of Jeju – the Korean island Ki originates from – and that’s a big reason people come here. In fact, when we asked Ki what he thought contributed to the success of this salon, he answered simply: “Great haircuts, not much money.”
I’m inclined to agree – and the same goes for the food. We actually went back a few weeks after for more food and another haircut.
298-299 Arches Cambridge Heath Road
If you’re looking for a little more than a cut, then you may want to stop by Hurwundeki 30. Ki is offering highlights, low lights, and wash & styles – still at a signature affordable price – in just 30 minutes. For details, check out their Facebook page, or join my partner and I at the launch party!