I love going out to eat – especially if it involves discovering a new place’s food and by nature, its culture. Being new to the UK means that I don’t entirely know what ‘proper English food’ is and – good as my intentions are – I definitely have no idea where to get it, especially not in London.
Nicole, our super friendly tour guide, greeted me with a smile and a “Hullooo!” when I arrived at our meeting spot in Old Spitalfields Market. Nicole is a London transplant from Melbourne who, like me, came here for work (and a boy ). To create the tour, she spent months researching the history of east London and sampling food from different restaurants. Not a bad way to spend a few months, I’d say!
So what became of the foods of her labour? Read on and find out!
This is the sister restaurant to St. John – one of the top 50 restaurants in the world according to Restaurant Magazine – and they specialize is nose-to-tail eating, so no edible part of the animal goes uneaten.
Nicole told us that when she was looking for a breakfast stop, StJBW was her fifth meal that day. Completely stuffed, she took the bacon sandwich to go, but decided to take just one bite while it was still hot. In the end, she ate the whole thing – full stomach be damned! And that’s why she chose this particularly tasty bacon sandwich homemade ketchup.
I’m glad she did. Personally, I would have been very pleased to hoard a whole one to myself too – alas, we still had seven stops.
In what is the oldest house in east London, with 17th century wood interiors, you will find…the best banana bread pudding with vanilla and rum custard I’ve ever had. Never mind it’s the only one I’ve ever had (bonus points for innovation?). I really like banana bread and I’m down with bread pudding, but to combine the two and put rum on it? Sheer brilliance.
I was surprised Brenna wasn’t excited about this dish (doesn’t everyone like bread pudding?) but after eating it, I was preaching to the converted. Must be those salvaged church pews!
A short walk through Old Spitalfields market, to bring us back to:
What do you get when you combine the French attitude towards cheese and a family with 100+ years of fromagerie knowledge? Androuet! They source their cheese from small farm producers and age it in-house – 30% of which is from the UK.
We sampled three types: Waterloo, a type of Brie, Westcombe cheddar, and Stilton – which I learned is actually made in Nottingham, not Stilton and because it’s Protected Destination of Origin (PDO), Stilton couldn’t make it anyway.
Even though I like blue cheese, my favourite was the Waterloo. Sorry, Stilton (or, Nottingham?)! I went back to Androuet so I could parler francais and buy some Waterloo – happy times!
We went for a walk around the area, learning about Jack the Ripper, historical buildings, Artillery Lane and Henry VIII’s 54-inch waist (insert East London food joke here), as well as the waves of Jewish, Huguenot, Irish and Bangladeshi migration to the area. For details, you’ll have to get on the tour yourself!
Fifty years in the business, Poppie’s is somewhat of an institution in London. When I ask where a good place to get fish and chips is, people commonly suggest this lovely East London establishment. After finally trying it, I’m not surprised people like it.
The batter on the fish was crunchy and light, served with plenty of chips and mushy peas. I did end up going back, taking Tom and Jasmine from Chic Wanderlust along with me! I had Rock – it’s also a traditional fish, but it’s oilier and little more fishy tasting than Haddock and Cod. Still delicious!
I loved the décor: vintage posters, Cockney rhyming slang painted on the walls, a jukebox…if the servers had been wearing roller skates, I would have been in the 50s! That’s the point, Pops wants everyone to feel transported back to the post-war era.
I’ve heard a couple different accounts as to how fish and chips came to be in England – some say it originated from the Huguenots, others from the Jews. I’ve also read that fish and chips are mix of Jewish and Huguenot street food.
Whoever decided to dip fish in batter, fry it and serve it alongside chips: I salute you.
Pride of Spitalfields
A food tour in London would be incomplete without a stop to a local pub. Not the trendy gastropub fad (“You mean, scourge of the earth?”, says Tom…) sweeping international cities – we’re talking stained cushions, pool tables and the smell of stale booze that makes you feel relaxed.
Time Out London describes Pride of Spitalfieds as a “totally unfashionable boozer” that “attracts by its very lack of pretention”. I have nothing to add to that!
We sampled Truman Ale, which is great, but I fell for the Orchard Cornish cider, which I have taken to ordering instead of Aspall’s. Dear almost every pub I’ve been to here: You offer like 6 different beers, but only 2 different ciders – WHY?!
You can eat like a prince at Aladin on Brick Lane. Actually, though. Prince Charles has eaten here at some point in the 27 years the restaurant has been serving and its chef has been cooking here.
From mild to spicy, we tried the vegetable bhurna, lamb pathia, and chicken madras. Don’t be scared of the chicken madras – I’m not great with heat and it toed the line of burning my face off. My favourite was the lamb pathia – it had a lot of different layers being slightly sweet, sour, and spicy.
Okay. Am I the only person who didn’t know bagels are meant to be boiled? Damn you, North American appropriation, for teaching me nothing of the ways of proper food.
A busy establishment at 2PM and 2AM, the ladies behind the counter are brisk and you better know your order before you approach. Of all the places we visited, I’m pretty sure I’ll be sampling more of their offerings from here.
Salted beef bagel, with pickle and mustard, for the win.
Dear salted chocolate caramel tart: I was looking forward to you most. You did not disappoint.
Salted sweet things are all the rage these days. I bet it was that episode of Modern Family that started it all – you know, when Manny had a girlfriend and she tells him to put a pinch of salt in his chocolate milk which, to his mom’s chagrin, he prefers over her traditional chocolate milk.
Actually, Nicole will tell you how it all began, but you’ll have to go on the tour yourself to find out – and to check out the décor of the place. We’re not allowed to photograph the repurposed industrial warehouse’s interior.
Friend, you may have noticed that this photo is not mine. Indeed, I have no personal photos of this delicious tart because I failed to get one – twice. I actually went back to Pizza East (for pizza – yum!), lugged my camera along on a night out, ordered the salted chocolate caramel tart, and in my excitement to eat it…completely forgot to take a picture. Says it all, no?
This was a great tour, and I have to give major props to Nicole: she passed up a job with a top British fashion house so she could run this tour company. It definitely wasn’t for naught – she’s an excellent and enthusiastic guide. In the words of one of the American tour guests, “She’s just perfect for this! Such a darling!”
Also, why an East London food tour?
Nicole explained that she researched the different areas of London, “but I just wanted it to be here. East London doesn’t just have great food, it tells a story as well.”
Word. We got to learn about a lot more than just food, giving the tour a number of different dimensions – like lamb pathia
So, where is the best place for ‘proper English food,’ you ask?
None other than my manfriend’s mum’s house! Traditional English food is associated with home cooking, but that doesn’t mean what we had today isn’t authentic. London is a place where history and modern food trends have weaved their way into the traditional English culinary landscape which has created something different, but still English – and still delicious!
*If you’re thinking, “I’d love to do this tour, but I’m a vegetarian!” don’t worry about it. Eating London can accommodate you!