London: Eating My Way Through the East End

For the last few years now, one of my biggest travel strategies has been food tours, which I always find check off a lot of boxes: providing you with delicious food, helping you figure out where to eat for the remainder of your trip, and just generally introducing you to an area. But in a city I was already quite familiar with – London – it was less clear to me that I really needed a food tour. As it turns out? Yep, my food tour was totally worth it.

I took the East London Tour with the aptly named Eating London Tours and absolutely loved the experience. Our guide, Emily, was super nice, bubbly, and funny, and the tour itself was so interesting. One thing I really enjoyed was that we learned about the area and its evolution over time as an enclave for various ethnic communities: the Irish, the Jewish, and today, Bangladeshis on Brick Lane. And then there was the food itself. We made eight stops (!) and so enjoyed a ton of food – and all of it really good, high quality cuisine.

After meeting at Spitalfields, we headed to St. John Bread & Wine. This restaurant has long been on my must-try list (and, indeed, I went back later in the week for a full meal), so I was super excited about this stop. Chef Fergus Henderson’s restaurant specializes in nose to tail cuisine and serves up the best bacon sandwich in the city, per the Guardian. So, naturally, that’s just what we ate. The sandwich comes “on plain white bread, not healthy bread!,” as our guide explained, and is spread with a ketchup made with apple juice. It was delicious! Everyone in our group agreed that this was one of the very best dishes of the day.

st-john-bread-wine

The logically named English Restaurant is family owned and run (the family even lives above the restaurant) and a historically protected landmark to boot (the building dates back to the 17th century). There, we sampled a very traditional treat: bread and butter pudding, made with brioche and a side of vanilla custard. We were encouraged to use our spoons to dig a hole in the middle of the pudding, thus allowing us to dump in as much custard as possible. Now that’s smart thinking!

english-restaurant

We wound our way back to Spitalfields Market for our next stop, the cheese shop Androuet. There, we sampled two cheeses: a western cheddar (made with milk from Cornwall and Dorset) and a stilton (a blue cheese with a buttery texture). While I liked the stilton, at the end of the day, a blue cheese is never going to beat a cheddar in my book.

androuet

While much of the cuisine we sampled this day was multicultural, at Poppies Fish & Chips we had a real English classic: fish and chips (duh!). Poppies was voted best fish and chips in London, and it was pretty great. I put vinegar on my chips, attempting to echo the British way, and I even ate a liberal portion of the mushy peas, which I hadn’t expected to like (they weren’t bad at all). Truthfully, I think they pack the peas with so much butter and cream that you can’t help but enjoy them.

poppies1

poppies3

poppies2

On a food tour in Britain, I’m fairly certain that a stop at the pub is mandatory. So, we headed to The Pride of Spitalfields for a pint. Our guide called this spot “an old-fashioned East End boozer,” a turn of phrase that I found both delightful and accurate. The homey pub is what’s known as a “free house” – that is, it’s not part of any chain or affiliated with any beer company. It just serves what it wants to serve, and amen to that.

Here, we tried two things. First, a “real ale,” which is unpasteurized, unfiltered, uncarbonized, and, per British tradition, served at a temperature of around 54 degrees. It was….not really a favorite with anyone in our group, but definitely seemed to be true to the British pub experience. Our second beverage, a cider, was much more popular with everyone, myself included.

pride-of-spitalfields2

pride-of-spitalfields1

A decade ago (eeek!), I visited Aladin with classmates during my summer studying abroad in London. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just visited one of the best – and some would say the best – curry spots in the city. Well, I know it now! At Aladin, we tried three curries: vegetarian, garlic chicken chili tikka masala, and lamb. All three were good, but the chicken tikka was my absolute favorite. So yummy!

aladin1

aladin3

Aladin also features a….unique mural. Anything that combines Harry Potter and Gandhi seems like a great idea in my book…

aladin2

Though we were pretty stuffed at that point, there were still two stops left. First, Beigel Bake, for some preeeeeetty amazing bagels. We got the plain bagel with salted beef and sweet gherkins and good lord was it incredible. Okay, the bagel itself is not as good as New York bagel (then again, what is?), but the salted beef was simply divine. Our guide called this the perfect hangover food – and I agree.

beigel-bake

We wrapped things up at Pizza East, where we didn’t have any pizza. Instead, we tried the restaurant’s salted caramel tart. It’s been voted one of the best dishes in London, and I can understand why. It was incredibly rich, and the crust was fantastic. What a way to wrap up!

pizza-east

After eight courses, I staggered back to my hotel room for a bit of a nap. I think I more than earned it after such an indulgent day! While I’ve become a big fan of East London lately, this tour only deepened that affection; the area is so rich in history, culture, and damn fine food. It’s not to be missed.

 

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