On Tuesday morning it took me about 15 minutes to dry my hair. No enormous surprise, because it’d been over a year since it’d last been cut, and it had got long. Most people would simply think “I’ll ring my hairdressers and book an appointment.” But here lies my problem. When you only get your hair cut once a year, you don’t really have a regular hairdressers to go to.
I know, I know, it’s bad. I should make more of an effort. But if you spend £50 on a meal out, then you leave the restaurant with a full belly. If you spend £50 on a dress, then you skip out of the shop swinging a bag. But if you invest in a hair cut, you usually leave £50 poorer, telling yourself not to worry, it’ll “grow out soon”.
The past few times I’ve needed my hair cut, I’ve volunteered as a Toni & Guy hair model. The benefit is a free haircut. But there are downsides. Firstly, they always want to do a bob. Secondly, they take forever doing hundreds of those tiny vertical snips. The whole process takes hours, and I have a strict forty-minute-long attention span when I’m sat in a hairdresser’s chair.
On Tuesday, I had a breakthrough though. The best hairdresser experience ever, and it’s just at the end of my road. Hurwundeki is a hair salon–cum–Korean restaurant. The salon specialises in fifteen minute haircuts, and the cafe specialises in bi bim bap, so what’s not to like?
Hurwundeki is on Cambridge Heath Road, in one of the railway archways, which means that there are periodic rumbles overhead as trains trundle in from London Fields to Liverpool Street Station. The archway to one side has second-hand office furniture tumbling out of it, with a garage next to that. Across Hackney Road is a muddle of airport cab offices, snooker joints and archway gyms.
Three men sit alongside each other on a patchwork sofa in the Hurwundeki salon, waiting for their turn. It’s walk-in only, no booking system. Two guys are already in salon chairs, with barbers quickly and deftly snipping away at overgrown hair, using electric razors to sculpt sharp lines across the back of their necks.
The haircuts might be slick, but everything else is so Bohemian it verges on the surreal, particularly on this industrial East London road. The music of Serbian Romani trumpeter Boban Marković blasts from speakers. The Sanja Samba quickens and quickens, and so do the barbers– shuffling feet, and flicking wrists as scissors snip away–with the buzz of razors humming beneath the pitchy trumpet. Water drips down the damp walls, which have cracked guilt-framed oil paintings hanging on them nonetheless, and light just pushes out from the dust-encrusted chandelier light bulbs.
I chalk my name onto a blackboard which is pinned to the back of a unisex toilet door. Pink chalk for girls, blue chalk for boys. It helps distinguish the price and time defence: £9 and 15 minutes for men; £14 and 19 minutes for women. No matter–it’s still a snip in comparison to the £71 trim you’d pay at a W1 Vidal Sassoon.
It was indeed Vidal Sassoon where Hurwundeki owner Ki Lee first trained. He graduated in 2000, was charging near-£100 for a haircut, and having “a lot of fun, and then a lot of trouble” in the fashion industry. But then Lee lost everything. So he decided to convert his once-fashion-studio into Hurwundeki, and start rattling off haircuts quick and cheap instead.
His business plan clearly works. I rarely walk past without seeing someone in the salon chair, and the cafe is always buzzing too. It follows the same ethos as the hairdressers: quick and cheap. Mandu Dumplings are £4.50, Jeon Korean pancakes are £4.90 and a steaming bowl of bi bim bap with a raw egg is £7.90.
After a lovely lady has very efficiently and very neatly lopped off several inches of hair, I sit down at a table, and order the japache glass noodle salad (£5.90). It comes with beef and vegetables. The noodles are sticky and full of flavour. And slivers of chilli breathe warmth into the dish – perfect for a nippy autumnal day. Half an hour after arriving, I have spent £20. My stomach is full, and my hair is four inches shorter. A productive lunch break.
Hurwundeki Cafe & Korean Restaurant & Hair Salon
NO APPOINTMENT REQUIRED
298 – 299 Cambridge Heath Road London E2 9HA
Mon-Fri: 10am-10pm Sat: 10am-10pm Sun: Closed