Please sir, can I have more!
Even though we were in Oliver Twist’s territory, these words were definitely not uttered on our Eating London Food Tour! From one gourmet stop to another, Nicole from Eating London led us through the back streets of this fascinating area of London that she now calls home, all the time weaving historic anecdotes and local gossip into her stories.
The East End was once an area of crime and neglect but it has undergone a complete change and it is now worth visiting not just for the food!
The morning started at the historic Spitalfields covered market, a huge area filled with stalls selling vintage clothing, tee shirts and memorabilia. The produce market has since moved to the New Spitalfields market but hidden in the corner of this older area is a fabulous cheese shop called Androuet.
Two brothers, Leo and Alex have taken over their father’s business that he started in France in 1909. They pride themselves on stocking seasonal cheeses most of which are made by small artisanal producers and aged in their own maturing rooms.
We are introduced to three cheeses: Waterloo, a cheese similar to brie which is made in Berkshire by the Wigmore Family. This unpasteurised cows milk cheese has an intense and creamy flavour with a light oily film over over it. As unpasteurised cheese is not allowed to be imported or processed in Australia, it was a treat for us. The second cheese was a Westcombe Cheddar from Somerset. I love a good English cheddar and this one did not disappoint! It had a sharp, earthy flavour, the result of ageing for eighteen months in a cheese cave. Finally we try Stichilton, another unpasteurised blue cheese that was made in Nottinghamshire. Delicious!
This, however, was not our first stop. We had started the day at St John’s Bread and Wine where we were introduced to their famous bacon sandwich. The bacon from Bretts Farm, is cured in salt and sugar for two weeks and, together with their grilled bread and a dash of secret ketchup, make this sandwich pretty special. Of course if you’re a bit late for breakfast, the lunch and dinner menu which changes daily, looked a treat.
From there we headed to The English Restaurant, a very olde world shop that dates back to the 16th century. It is the oldest house in Spitalfields and over the decades has been a Jewish bakery and a nut factory. The pews and wood lining the shop were salvaged from the local church, Christchurch, that was destroyed by water in the 17th century.
The English Restaurant is well known for their bread and butter pudding! Bread and butter pudding dates back to the 12th century, a time when nothing was wasted, not even the left over scraps and crusts of bread which were then soaked in milk and used to make the pudding. Kay still makes hers the old fashioned way using bread but there’s a twist…banana is added and together with the delicious rum custard, it is certainly a winner!
From here, we walk through the streets which lead past a car park made famous as the place where one of Jack the Ripper’s victims was found, past streets that made up the red light light area when prostitutes outnumbered locals and past the beautiful facade of the Jewish poor house that was built in 1902 where needy people were fed bread and stew. At the time it closed in 1992, 1500 people were still being fed daily.
Our next two stops also happen to be in Time Out’s list of Top 100 Tastes to try in London.
The first, Poppies, arguably the maker of the cities best fish and chips, certainly wins my vote for the best fish…the lightly battered cod is delicious!
But what would fish and chips be without pea mash…so this is how it is served!
Poppy has been serving fish and chips for many years even though he has only been in this shop for 4 years. Entering the shop is like stepping back into a diner in the fiftys. The waitresses are in red bellhop uniforms, a juke box takes pride of place in a corner and the walls are decorated with memorabilia that remind Poppy of his life including a collection of toy soldiers, war time posters, borders of rhyming cockney slang and pictures of famous people who have eaten here.
Our Jekyll and Hyde..guide…tells us of the especially printed newspaper. The only problem is that 20 tonne was the minimum order so you’ll never miss out on having your takeaway fish and chips served in newspaper for many generations to come!
Also on Time Out’s list are the bagels from Beigal Bake in Brick Lane
Sammy is the king of the beigals…he spells them in Yiddish. He has been making old fashioned boiled beigals since 1937. The most popular are those served with salted beef though there are many other fillings to choose from. The shop is open 24 hours a day and we’re told that queues form down the street from early in the morning.
3000 bagels a day are served here! This last snippet of information was told to us by Paul Gardner who sells paper bags to Sammy for his bagels. They look after each other here!
Paul’s paper bag shop is like no other. The shop is an institution in the street, so much so that when the rents in the area were increased a petition went round asking that his not be raised as they didn’t want to lose a village icon. Just as well Paul knows where everything is as there is no way you could find anything here. The bags seem to be taking over the shop!
Brick Lane is probably the best known street in the area. It has a fascinating background. Brick and tile manufacture started here in the 15th century giving rise to the area’s name. Brewing followed in the early 17th century with the Truman family establishing a brewery. Around this time the French Huguenots bought their weaving skills to the East End and in the 19th century the Irish and the Jews settled here. Now, the Bengali people call the area home.
Brick Lane is famous for its curry houses. Believe it or not, curry is the national dish of England. There are over 15,000 curry houses in England…more than Delhi and Mumbai!
Every curry house in Brick Lane claims to be the best but Nicole has done her homework, tasted them all, and we head to Aladin to try 3 different curries…a vegetarian bhuna, lamb pathia and the chef’s speciality, a chicken marsala all served with hot naan straight from the tandoor oven. Delicious….and not too spicy though if you do love a hot curry, this can be arranged for you!
There’s also some fascinating street art in this area..so much that it is worth a separate tour but here a few we saw!
What’s a food tour be without a stop at an old English pub and it just so happens that Nicole’s local is on our route! The Pride of Spitalfields is a free house which means they are not aligned to a specific brewery. The local brewery, Trumans, which ran from 1606 to 1989 has just had a new beer made under their name which the pub is trialling. We try this along with a cider that won the best British cider award in 2012.
Our final stop on the tour was one I had been looking forward to! Pizza East, a well know pizza house run by the team from Soho House, have created a great business that flows easily from breakfast to lunch to dinner and then becomes a cocktail lounge in the evening. We’ll have to see this part of it on another trip, but their chocolate salted caramel tart was the perfect finish to our tour, along with that fine British custom…a cup of tea!
Nicole’s enthusiasm and careful planning of the many delicious food stops makes this one of the best food tours I have taken. Next time you’re in London, I recommend you join her to explore this wonderful area of the city through its food.
Where have you taken a food tour?
Eating London Food Tours
Food tours for up to 12 people depart daily except Sunday at 10am and last 3.5 hours.
The cost is GBP59 per adult
Please see their web site for further information and bookings.
Our thanks to Eating London for their complementary tour.