The London Food Tour tour commenced from the charming Old Spitelfield Market. The first stop was “St. John’s Bread and Wine” – known for having the best bacon butties (British term for “sandwiches”) in East London. Our local guide, Harry, explained how only the best of each ingredient is sourced to create it. The bacon comes from the best farms in England and is cured and smoked using only wood smoke flavor and no heat. Don’t be deceived by the simplicity of this dish. The bread is chargrilled to add to the smokiness of the bacon, which had the right amount of fat and crisp. To top it all off, a homemade ketchup made with apple sauce brings the whole dish together.
We were quite intrigued that our next stop was going to include a dessert break at one of the oldest buildings in the area which dates back to 1670. It currently houses “The English Restaurant” which was founded in 1995 and is well known for their bread and butter pudding. Harry explained how this dish was known as the “poor man’s” dessert and dates back to the 11th century when chefs looked for ways to minimize waste and use up stale bread. From this frugality the ultimate comfort food was born, and this serving did justice with the pudding arriving piping hot and baked to perfection with a moist core and caramelized exterior.
Next was a quick stop to sample some French and British Cheese at “Androuet”. The fromager, François explained the difference between British and French cheese and we went on to sample some British cheddar and a light blue cheese. The cheddar was strong and creamy, yet not overwhelming, a marked difference from the processed cheddar available in stores. Here’s an interesting fact: cheddar cheese originated in the village Cheddar in South West England. Although quite a few countries process “cheddar” cheese, the most authentic comes from four counties of south west England where traditional methods are still used.
Next stop, fish and chips, no surprises here. For this classic British dish we visited “Poppies”, a diner style restaurant. The origins of fish and chips trace back to the 16th century when Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain introduced deep fried fish. Cod is the primary choice for this dish. Our fish was served crispy from the outside while very tender on the inside but slightly lacking flavor. This was made up for by the tasty sides of tartar sauce, chunky fries, and mashed peas.
We stopped by the Pride of Spitelfields, the local bar of the area. We tasted some local brews of cider and ale. The ale was made from the old Truman recipe which was produced between 1666 and 1989. It was recently revived in 2013 after sourcing the original recipe. It tasted a little bitter yet very aromatic. As for the cider, it had a light and fruity taste and was not as heavy as most.
Out from the Pride of Spitelfields onto Brick Lane. We were greeted by Indian and Bangladeshi sweet shops, restaurants and convenience stores. Could our next stop be a curry dish? Curry is arguably the national dish of the UK. The Brits have a deep love for spicy food and have been incorporating it in their dishes since the 14th century. It is common to find dishes such as fries with curry or fish and chips with curry on many menus. The sign outside “Aladdin”, our next stop, advertised it to be the world’s best curry houses. We had three curries all distinct in rich flavors. The mutton dish in specific outshined the rest with the tenderness of the meat and the tangy masala. We did agree that these curries were one of the best we’ve had.
We recovered from the eye-watering curries at “Beigel Bake”. Their specialty, bagels! Thankfully, we did not have to wait 45 minutes in line and Harry came out with some delicious salted beef bagels. It was a very simple dish, salted beef, mustard, and a pickle on the side but it tasted so good with the meat cooked to the point of falling apart.
At this point, everyone was full but there was a final stop to be made, “Pizza East” but not for pizza. Instead a salted chocolate caramel tart arrived along with some good ole English Tea. The chocolate was slightly on the darker side and nicely complemented the layers of salted caramel and biscuit. The tea was the perfect accompaniment and a great way to end the tour.
Apart from the delicious food and drinks, we also got a great insight into the history and culture of this part of London. We learned about how the immigration from different countries over the last century changed the landscape of the area and influenced the food offerings. We also got to see a different side of London where the alternative and art scene is expanding, and so much more. We ended the London food tour with full bellies, and great stories!