Whether I’m visiting a new city or looking for new ways to explore one I already know I always try to sniff out a good food tour. What better way is there to learn about the culture, history and landscape of a city than through your belly?
One of the best food tours I’ve ever been on was back home in Blighty. Covering a whooping 8 East End foodie institutions, the East End Food Tour by Eating London lets you taste some of the best British foods in London while teaching you about how they came to be there in Shoreditch too. From the famous bagels on Brick Lane to London’s best bacon sandwich, these were my tour highlights.
Beware: this post will cause food envy!
Hosting my tour was the bubbly Nicole from Eating London. Rather ironically, Nicole is from Melbourne – I had travelled from Sydney to take a tour of my old neighbourhood in London with an Aussie! Nicole is a wonderful host, though, full of enthusiasm and little-known facts, and clearly in love with this area, which she now calls home.
We began our tour at Old Spitalfields Market, a hub of commerce in the city for the last 350 years. Nicole gave us a brief overview of the area and hinted at the treats we had in store before encouraging us to follow our noses to the bacon across the road.
The bacon butties at St John Bread And Wine have been named as London’s best by the Guardian Newspaper. Each morning the Gloucester Old Spot bacon is delivered from a local organic farm and the bread is freshly baked before being slathered in butter and served with tomato sauce (with a hint of apple). It tasted exactly like a great British bacon sandwich should – I was enamoured.
Our next stop was for a poor man’s pudding. The English Restaurant resides in one of the oldest buildings in the East End, dating from the 17th century the current owners discovered numerous historic articles during renovations. The menu is focused on British classics and we were invited to sample their bread and butter pudding. Not usually a fan of such a stodgy dish I have to say this one was worth devouring. The brioche bread is soaked in brandy, cardamom and vanilla for 24 hours before being baked and served with creamy rum custard – I left my platter clean.
After pudding comes cheese so next we went to visit brothers Leo and Alex at The House Of Androuet. The young master cheese mongers had prepared 3 English cheeses for us to try as they passionately explained what makes each one unique.
Beginning to fill a little full already Nicole then took us for a walk towards Brick Lane. Pointing out buildings of interest along the way, she showed me signs and symbols I had passed many times but never seen – bollards shaped like canons, streets named after Henry 8th’s armoury, tax-evading buildings with bricked up windows. We visited old boarding houses, soup kitchens for the poor, gorgeous Georgian houses and the spot where one of Jack the Ripper’s victims met a gory end. Nicole explained about the different nationalities who have all called the East End home at different points in history – the Irish, the French, the Bangladeshi – and pointed out the contribution they each had made to the community.
Then we found ourselves outside Poppies. Throughout my time in East London I noticed there was always a perpetual queue outside Pop’s Fish and Chips but I never joined it (more fool me!). Pop’s family have been in the fish and chip business since the 50’s and his Hanbury Street restaurant recreates that rock n’ roll era. There’s a juke box in the corner, records on the wall and the takeaways are even served in the traditional style newspaper (Pop has his printed especially with an edible ink.) Recognised as the best fish and chips in the nation, the whole experience made me feel very nostalgic.
We needed a beer to wash all the food down with so on we headed to the Pride of Spitalfields. Decked out like a proper English pub, the Pride has ample ales, an over-patterned carpet and a cat who likes attention from the customers. Waiting to be sampled by us was a jug of ale by the Truman Brewery. The actual brewery closed down in the 90’s and is now host to the well known Sunday Up Market, but two fans from Hackney found the old recipe and begun brewing it once again. The Pride Of Spitalfields was one of the earliest pubs to serve the resurrected Truman’s and it made perfect sense for us to sup it on this trip down memory lane.
Of course, we couldn’t come to Brick Lane and not have a curry. The street is full of curry houses who vie for customer’s attention and tempt you indoors with offers of free wine. Aladin is regularly voted one of the best, even Prince Charles is a fan according to the picture in the window! We had 3 different curries waiting for our attention, I dunked my naan bread in all of them.
Brick Lane is famous for another culinary treat – the infamous salt beef bagel. The Beigel Bake Jewish Bakery is an East End institution. Open 24/7, locals stop at any time of the day and night for a gooey, chewy taste of their expertly baked soft bagel.
Almost reaching our appetite’s limit our group shared a few between us before needing another walk to help digestion. We wandered along the street-art-strewn back streets of Shoreditch until we arrived at the swish Pizza East on Shoreditch High Street. A part of the Soho House family this high-end pizzeria has another speciality up its sleeve – a salted caramel tart. Like a millionaire’s shortbread but much, much better this tart had my name all over it. If I hadn’t spent the morning eating I would have ordered seconds!
And then (bellies full, minds broadened) the tour was over. I sampled every British dish I had ever craved since moving to Sydney plus learnt about the communities and cultures that had created them. I’ve always loved East London for its shopping and street art but it’s the food I’m going to think about for a long time afterwards.
Thanks to Eating London and the effervescent Nicole for this delicious education. Eating London food tours start from £69 per adult and include all the yumminess mentioned in this review. Find about more about the East End Food Tour.