September 6, 2013
East End Feasting: The Eating London Food Tour
I’ve mentioned before how my home country gets an undeservedly harsh time when it comes to the virtues of its food – perhaps inevitable when it shares a continent with the culinary giants of Italy and France. Yet, the UK has foodporn in droves, from the restaurants of Belfast to my hometown of Harrogate. Perhaps unsurprisingly though, the foodporn hub of the UK is its capital city, the multicultural metropolis that they call London. I’m not exactly familiar with London, but went there in my birthday week, and the lovely Katrina from Tour Absurd told me about an opportunity too good to pass up – a food tour of London.
The tour came courtesy of Eating London, a new venture from the people behind the hugely popular Eating Italy tours, who were kind enough to offer me the tour on a complimentary basis, with my brother and his partner receiving discounts. Before I get started, I’ll just say that I would have been happy to pay for the tour – you’ll see why when you see the pictures. The tour groups are kept small to give things a cosy feel, and our guide Nicole was personable, knowledgeable, and just generally lovely. Is your interest piqued? I hope so, or I’m doing a pretty bad job.
The tour consisted of eight stops in total, and I took photos of seven of them. Don’t ask why why I didn’t take a photo of stop number seven. Possibly to conserve my iPhone’s energy (oh, I bought an iPhone!), as the poor thing was down to 1% and died right after I snapped a pic of stop number eight’s serving. So, without further ado, here’s what went down.
Oh! And before I forget – I’m now on Instagram! You can follow me, @waegook_tom, and be regaled with lots of foodporn and duckface selfies. There. Now for the food. Really. Just look down.
1. Stop One: St. John Bread & Wine – Bacon sandwich
It’s pretty hard to go wrong with a bacon sandwich, a British classic and always among the first, if not the first, food that I request whenever I return to the UK after a long period abroad. The award-winning St. John Bread & Wine served up probably the fanciest bacon sandwich I’ve ever seen, in terms of presentation. The bacon was crisp but tender, and the bread was char-grilled, in order to extract the sugar from it – and it came lashed with some absolutely divine ketchup, although the recipe for it is apparently secret. Also, did I mention that is was bacon? Bacon! I mean, who doesn’t love bacon?
2. Stop Two: The English Restaurant – Banana Bread & Butter Pudding with Vanilla Rum Cream
I’m not really much of a dessert person. If given the choice between ordering a starter or a dessert when I’m eating out, I always opt for the starter. Yet this was quite possibly my favourite stop of the trip. A traditional British dessert, bread & butter pudding can often just feel like you’re eating a spoonful of stodge, but The English Restaurant knows how to do this English classic with a slight twist. Contained within the oldest house in Spitalfields, The English Restaurant has been a Jewish bakery, a factory, and had Roman ruins discovered beneath it – plus it attracts the likes of Hugh Grant.
3. Stop Three: Androuet – Cheeeese
Having grown up on a farm, I’ve grown up eating a whole heap of dairy, and the dairy which makes my heart burst and clog with the most joy is cheese. Known as one of the finest purveyors of cheese in the entire world, Androuet is what I imagine heaven would be like. We were given a brief talk by one of the shop’s cheese mongers, and then invited to try three different kinds of cheese, two of which were rather mild, and the third of which, a Stilton, almost knocked me off my chair.
4. Stop Four: Poppie’s – Fish and Chips
Of all the British food that I miss when I’m abroad, fish and chips perhaps inspires the most prolonged yearning in my heart. After spending almost nine months in Korea without it (that’s as long as a pregnancy), I almost wept with joy when I ate it in Sydney, one of my favourite cities in the world. The point I’m trying to make is that fish and chips holds a special place in the heart of a lot of Brits, and no food tour in any city or town in the UK would be complete without sampling some fish and chips. Poppies is the place to go, and our Eating London tour group was treated to fish, chips and mushy peas, and we were all told to put vinegar on our chips – something I’d do anyway, but the concept seemed pretty foreign to some of the non-Brits in the group. They were converted after tasting one of Poppies vinegar-soaked slices of potato-ey (shush, it’s a word) deliciousness.
5. Stop Five: Pride of Spitalfields – beer and cider
Pubs are an integral part of British society, so it’s only fitting that our Eating London tour group was taken to a local pub, the Pride of Spitalfields. Famous for its feline-in-residence, Lenny, this pub is about as British as they come, and we were all treated to a shot glass full of beer and cider. I’m not much of a beer drinker, but I do love my cider (the alcoholic kind, not fancy apple juice), and can attest to its magnificence.
6. Stop Six: Aladin – Curry
Brick Lane, the heart of London’s Bengali community, is synonymous with curry, and with more than a fair few curry houses to choose from, it can be hard to discern the average from the amazing. Nicole took us to Aladin, where we sampled three different curries – a mild vegetarian option, a slightly spicier meaty option, and a very spicy Madras, with plenty of naan bread to sop it all up. Brick Lane was the place I was looking forward to the most, and Aladin certainly didn’t disappoint.
7. Stop Seven: Beigel Bake – Bagels
Sure, it might be more of a New York thing, but that doesn’t mean that London doesn’t know how to serve up a brilliant bagel. I inexplicably didn’t take a photo of this stop, possibly because I was so full at this point, possibly because I was saving my last few ions of phone battery to snap a photo of the grand finale. The bagel that I had was crammed full of beef that practically melted when I chewed in to it, and I’d have been quite happy if I’d have been given a whopping big chunk of the meat on its own. A twenty-four hour eatery, all the bagels are baked fresh in store, and locals line-up for their fix of doughy delight after a night out partying.
8. Stop Eight: Pizza East – Salted Caramel Tart
Another greatly anticipated stop, the grand finale took us to Pizza East for, no, not pizza, but salted caramel tart. I hadn’t tried salted caramel before and was a little dubious about how the two flavours would mix, but they complimented each other beautifully, and the chocolate in the tart was baked to perfection. I managed to somehow force every last morsel down me – the cover photo for this post is the salted caramel tart pre-devouring. Lots of oms and lots of noms.
After Pizza East, it was time to say goodbye to Nicole and the rest of the tour group, and waddle off. Eating London is a fairly new company, and I’d love it if you helped them out if you make it down to London and fancy exploring the city through its food. Nicole told the group, “I wanted each mouthful to represent a journey of some kind. A story,” and it’s this passion and outlook that gave me such a memorable afternoon – and eradicated my need to eat another meal for the rest of the day. You can visit the Eating London website, or follow them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
So there you have it, folks! Now, I want to hear from you! Does the Eating London Food Tour look like something you’d be interested in? Which of these foods looks the tastiest to you? Will you follow me on Instagram, pretty please? Let us know in the comments below, or shout out on Facebook or Twitter.