You guys know me. One look at this blog and three things immediately come to mind:
I love food.
I love walking (thank heavens, otherwise I would easily weight 972 pounds by now).
And I love London.
Combine these three things and I will love you forever.
It is therefore with great excitement -and my eating pants- that I hopped on the tube towards Spitalfields Market on a balmy Saturday morning, ready for what I knew was going to be an amazing experience: the Eating London food tour. Cuisine is one of the key component of history, and the East End’s varied heritage provides an incredible backdrop for a food tour. From the Jews, the French, the Hindi and now, well, the hipsters, let’s see what’s in the East End’s tummy with Nicole’s, Eating London’s spirited founder and guide.
Scrumptious bites await, with a side of history, culture, street art and architecture.
St. John Bread & Wine
Because as the French say, “Everything is good in the pig!” (dans le cochon, tout est bon!), it only seems fitting to go to a restaurant that specializes in bacon sandwiches to start the tour. 10AM is as good a time as any to devour a gigantic bacon patty, right?
The Old Spot Bacon Sandwich is nothing short of legendary in the city – in fact, my mouth is watering just reminiscing my experience. Slices of perfectly cooked yet tender old spot bacon -that was brined for a super long time in order to keep the flavors- stashed between two slices of fresh, lightly grilled bread with a side of ketchup… honestly, it’s just too much to handle. Your life will never be the same after eating this. I plan on visiting St. John’s Bread & Wine every time I’m in the city now. I do not kid about my bacon.
The English Restaurant
This family-owned restaurant is located in a 17th century heritage building just across Spitalfields Market. If it weren’t for car horns and cellphones, it would have felt as though I’d traveled back in time and entered a Dickensian-era pub, thanks to a perfectly recreated decor and classic British dishes (made from locally-sourced ingredients, because I believe overnight delivery wasn’t a thing in the 18th century). Pictured here is a quintessential English dessert that should not be underrated: the bread and butter pudding.
Because Shoreditch wasn’t always the thriving area it now is, penniless factory workers came up with this recipe as a way to use stale bread in a nutritious yet inexpensive way.
As a Canadian transplant in France, I like to think I know a thing or two about cheeses. But leave it to expert cheese monger Geoffrey Nivard to surprise me with gourmet English cheeses and even crumbles of blue cheese, which I normally detest.
Yet another proof that the English cuisine isn’t nearly as outdated or unimaginative as some people would like us to believe.
One wouldn’t dare speak about London’s culinary heritage without mentioning the famous fish & chips! And no other shop does this fine dish as well as Poppie’s, an award-winning, vintage-looking restaurant which is supplied by locally-sourced ingredients and sustainable fish. You might even be lucky enough to bump into Pat Newland, the man behind the chain and sole possessor of the family’s secret batter recipe.
Bonus points if you can translate the Cockney rhyming slang phrases on the walls.
Pride of Spitalfields
A food and drink tour of the East End that doesn’t include at least one stop in one of the city’s numerous pubs would be a travesty; luckily, it’s not the case here. Nicole took us to her local, the Pride of Spitalfields.
What’s a local, you ask?
Ah, I see you haven’t been in London for long. Don’t worry, it took me a while to figure out too (for a time I thought that “Local” was actually the name of the place). The local is basically where Londoners spend the better part of their free time drinking, catching up with friends and unwinding. In other words, it’s the closest pub to any Londoner’s apartment. And this particular local offers a very authentic glimpse of the pub life, thanks to a fireplace, floral carpets, a piano and peculiar owners. Oh, and of course, delicious ciders and ales.
If you come in at a quiet time, you may even get to see Lenny, the pub’s cat. Although very cute, he is quite impolite, and he will NOT give up his seat for you. But if you sit next to him, he will purr very loudly. Typical cat fashion!
Now, a food tour of the East End wouldn’t be one without a curry pit stop, right? Most the the tour takes places around Brick Lane, so it only makes sense that Nicole would take us to her favorite curryhouse in the area, Aladin. Brick Lane is pretty much the Disneyland for all things curry in these parts; and while there are some bad apples in the basket, the fact that Aladin has been open for 25 years says something, and I’m happy to confirm that everything I ate was beyond delicious.
I even heard several people on the tour saying they were planning on coming back later during their trip to get the full menu!
Remember how I said that the East End has been called home by half a dozen communities over the last centuries? Well, one of these is the Jewish community. Their influence can be seen both in the architecture of some buildings and in, of course, this bagel shop. What could possibly be more Jewish than a good old bagel filled with melt-in-your-mouth salt beef, hot English mustard and a sweet gherkin?
Beigel Bake has sort of become a victim of its reputation – there are consistantly long queues for anyone wanting to get their hands on that bad boy photographed above but thanks to Nicole’s privileged relationship with Mr Sammy, the head baker, Eating London’s participants can simply walk past it. Yay!
Because food tours should always end with a salted caramel chocolate pie! I particularly loved Pizza East in trendy Shoreditch not only because of its industrial decor (the restaurant is located in a converted tea warehouse, how English!) but for its freshly made food using top quality locally sourced ingredients. That’s a promise I can stand by! I plan on visiting their other branch in Notting Hill when I’m in London next because if their pie is any indication, this is going to be one hell of a memorable meal.
As I chatted with a friend of mine (hello Michael!) who knew I had been on the tour earlier that day, he asked if I had eaten anything else since – to which I hastily replied, of course not! Participants get amazing bang for their buck on this tour, as copious amounts of food are ingested. But not only that – architecture lessons are given, historic trivia is pointed out whenever pertinent and friendly bonds are created between participants, three elements that, to me, are essential to getting to know London better.
But I will say this: better wear your eating pants and plan a loooong walk for the afternoon following the tour to burn off those calories.
- What: Eating London food tour
- Where: East End – Shoreditch – Brick Lane
- How much: £65
My two cents: If you only have enough money for a single paid activity in London, pick this one. Not all food tours are born equal but the ones led by Nicole are absolutely worth that somewhat hefty pricetag. Several meals + savvy leader in an underrated London neighbhourgood + good times.