So today I’m heading east to explore London’s vibrant East End. And I’m going on an eating tour – seriously my favourite way to learn about a new area. My Eating London Food Tour started at beautiful Spitalfields Market, where we all gathered on a chilly December day, ready to take in the sights, scents and flavours of this multi-cultural part of London. Many diverse cultures have left their mark on the region and you can see this reflected in the mouth-watering variety of food in the area.
First stop, just across the road, we headed for St John. A real London institution, it’s the baby of chef Fergus Henderson and is famous for its roast bone marrow and parsley salad. The menu includes plenty of fascinating British dishes that you don’t often see, like devilled kidneys on toast, kid faggots, smoked eel and grilled sprats. For us it was breakfast time – and we tucked into the ultimate bacon sandwich. A generous helping of bacon sandwiched between two lightly toasted slices of fresh bread (with plenty of butter) was served with the restaurant’s own home-made ketchup. I love a good bacon sandwich and they don’t get better than this!
Doubling back on ourselves we headed for English Restaurant in Crispin Street for a tasty pot of bread and butter pudding served with plenty of fresh custard. All very Enid Blyton and oh-so-comforting.
And then there was cheese…plenty of it! The wonderfully named Abondance started off selling mainly French cheese and is now branching out with a wonderful array of English ones – of which there are certainly no shortage! We sampled a richly mature Cheddar and a taste-bud-tingling Stilton.
I guess if you wanted to sum up British food in one dish it would probably be fish and chips. And there are always queues outside Poppie’s which opened in 1952 and has born and bred east-end proprietor Pat ‘Pop’ Newland at the helm. All his fish is delivered by a third-generation Billingsgate fishmonger, who is also a friend. Most famous for their authentic fish and chips served traditionally in funnels of newspaper, Poppie’s also sells jellied eels, scampi, fishcakes and prawn cocktail – so there’s plenty of delicious fishiness to taste.
The East End is also home to a large part of London’s Bangladeshi community and is officially known as Banglatown. Street signs are written in English and Bangladeshi, and there are over 50 Bangladeshi Restaurants lining Brick Lane – most of them claiming to be award winning! The choice is simply mind-boggling and the patter along the street trying to convince you to “Pick me” is fun and somewhat challenging. How do you choose? Luckily our choice had been made for us and we visited Aladin for three delicious dishes in different states of spiciness.
Aladin’s walls are covered with vibrant murals depicting the incredible mix of London life and Indian culture and food.
The Jewish community also played their part here. At the turn of the 20th century about 200,000 Jewish people lived in the East End – it was a refuge for anyone fleeing religious persecution and economic destitution in Eastern Europe. While the population has significantly dwindled these days there is still a classic reminder of the Jewish heritage in Beigel Bake. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and serves soft, fresh bagels stuffed full of the most incredible salt beef and the most mustardy of mustard. This is a hearty snack if ever I saw one. Yum! I think my favourite part of a truly tasty day.
Having inhaled those incredible bagels it was time to head towards the trendier end of Shoreditch to Pizza East. It’s in a former tea warehouse and feels modern and airy and rather calm, compared with the hubbub nearby. We settled down to finish our tour with a salted chocolate caramel tart and a large cup of tea (what could be more British than that?).
I left the East End with my stomach full of tasty delights and my head full of the history of the region and other fascinating facts. There’s certainly a lot happening…love London.
The Eating London food tour of the East End took about four hours.
The price is £80 per person. For that you get seven stops all with a good-size tasting portion. Put it this way, you won’t be hungry at the end!
Groups are a comfortable size and our guide was very entertaining and informative.