“A very different destination now awaits those who take the Docklands Light Railway out to Stratford in East London near where next year’s Olympic Games are to be held,” writes Global Correspondent Paul Lewis.
“The closing stages of the rail journey offer a fine view of the emerging games site, with the main stadium pretty much completed, an aquatic sports center in place, and a weirdly shaped steel public viewing tower rising up alongside them. This is the gift of Lakshmi Mittal, the billionaire Indian-born steel tycoon, who controls much of Britain’s steel industry, and thus is a monument to his business success.
“It also follows historical precedent. The Eiffel Tower was originally built as a showcase for the French steel industry at the Paris Great Exposition of 1900. When the eyes of the world turn their way, steel masters like to draw attention to themselves.
“But since September, the rail journey to Stratford has had a new conclusion. This was the month when the Australian company, Westfields, which already owns an immense shopping mall in West London, opened another shopping center over three times as big (in fact the largest in Europe) right at the end of the railway line. There are escalators without steps to take you up or down, useful for wheelchairs or baby carriages.
“For the seriously addicted shopper, Stratford is now paradise–four stories with acres of boutiques under one roof complete with the little resting stations equipped with comfortable sofas and wing-back arm chairs that are a Westfields signature. There is a children’s play area in the part of the mall where you find shops like Mothercare selling children’s clothes and toys. Every brand name in the clothing business is represented here but much more as well. It reflects East End meets Westfield.
“Foyles, the famous Soho bookshop, has a branch, while an area of the mall called the Eastern Market groups shops selling exclusive breads and food products from many regions of the world including India, Spain, and Lebanon as well as a micro-brewery offering, amongst other tipples, a beer specially brewed to refresh the Maharajah of Poona after polo matches.
“Another feature of the Stratford mall is its wide assortment of ethnic restaurants, some with waiters, others without. They offer ‘Street Food from India’ and ‘Street Food from Vietnam,’ so-so Chinese dishes like Peking Duck (modest amounts of meat served on stale pancakes), Malaysian cooking (Nasi Goreng appeals to non-Malay Muslims because it meets their dietary rules but is less than wonderful), Italian, Latin American, Japanese, and West Indian cooking but, curiously, no French eatery I could find, though there is a branch of the South African roast chicken chain, Nandos.
“The food I tried was mediocre; a much better bet is street food offerings at the ancient covered market across the river in Greenwich.
“There is also a multi-screen cinema and a comfortable room for prayer and meditation where you can ask for help overcoming your shopping addiction, or deciding how much to spend.”