Well, I did say in January that one of my resolutions was to open the blog up further than my recipes and the occasional instructions and tips. I also wished to get one of my recipes into print somewhere, and I’ve been totally amazed to already have had my spring onion bhajis appear in The Telegraph.
So, in my first alternative post I’m covering the East End Food Tour I was lucky enough to go on (April 2016). I need to confess that this was a ‘prize’ of sorts from Kenwood and some wonderful people I have meet through social media (via Kenwood bringing us together and including some from Kenwood itself) over the past year were there too. Amazing how social media can enrich your life: much, much more than just exotic travel photos and funny cats. I don’t think this is something I’d have ever chosen to do myself – or perhaps normally be able to afford myself – however I’ve been totally converted. What a great idea to learn about an area.
This is a three and a half hour tour, though the guide indulged us and took a little longer. We were joined by an American family that included a wheelchair user and the tour slowed to accommodate their difficulty in getting across cobbled streets and up kerbs. Interestingly, they were over in the UK to retrace the grandmother’s heritage as she was brought up just over the ‘border’ in Essex, had married an American and hadn’t returned since. They were all having a great time, although the father was definitely living the tour through his camera. The ramble was run by Eating London Tours (more details below) and our guide was Harry. We got the impression Harry was quite new and he did confess this. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good guide, just he couldn’t yet remember everything – and there was a lot to remember. We met in Spitalfields market and the route didn’t veer more than about half a mile away although we must have done about three to four miles of walking.
I’ve given comments of each stop on the tour, then the tour experience itself followed by some of the street art and architecture we encountered.
I have only taken photos with my (very old) iPhone and so apologise for the variable quality – it was also chucking it down and very grey at times which didn’t help. I missed a few photos of certain venues or the food itself. Some of my friends have stepped in to provide these for me – I have marked these and linked to them where they feature, otherwise a few of the things we tasted are missing.
St John Bread and Wine – 94-96 Commercial Street E1 6LZ
If you’ve followed British cooking at all in the past few years, you’d have not failed to have come across a mention of the owner at least once; Chef Fergus Henderson. One of the pioneers of ‘nose-to-tail’ eating where all of the animal is used, wasting little and really thinking about the animal that has been butchered. Well, not quite as much as a vegetarian! We stopped to try his oak smoked bacon sarnie which was served in on-site baked bread (nice thick toasted doorstops) and their own homemade tomato ketchup. This was billed as the best bacon sandwich you’d ever eat. I’m not sure that it was that good, but it was pretty close!
The decor inside was beautiful – clean Victorian tiles, uncovered wooden tables and a kitchen you can see into. Very much the look I really like. This was high up on the list for the day and a great first stop. We were asked to try and guess what the unusual ‘added ingredient’ was in the St John’s homemade tomato sauce. I’m not going to spoil it and tell you, in case you do go on this tour, but one of our group is a real foodie and I’d have laid money on her guessing correctly – she did!
The English Restaurant – 50/52 Brushfield Street E1 6AG
I walked past this restaurant (which is also a pub) on the way to meet the group for this event and thought it looked gorgeous. Our second stop here seemed odd timing as we called in for bread and butter pudding, at just after 11am. No matter: this pudding was so sublime it wouldn’t have mattered what time of day it was. This was my utter favourite from the day. I have made bread and butter pudding myself several times (though not for over a year I’d guess) and thought I did a fairly good job, but this is something else. Buttery soft in the middle, with a rich custard and a crispy sugar crust. It’s made me want to remake bread and butter pudding!
The interior is wonderful too – it looks like it’s always looked like that (the building is dated from around 1670), but apparently much of the interior is salvage from the nearby church during its last refurbishment. We liked this place so much some of went back after the tour finished to stay and chat over a bottle of something fizzy until we had to catch our trains.
Reservations 020 7247 4110, email@example.com or www.theenglishrestaurant.com/reservations.html (online booking form)
The House of Androuet – 10a Lamb Street, Old Spitalfields Market E1 6EA
This isn’t a restaurant (although it has a ‘cheese bar’ at the back) unlike the rest of the tour, it’s an artisan cheesemongers. However, it’s an absolute cheese lover’s dream and has an incredible array of choice. Beautifully laid out too; it’s easy to find cheeses by type and the staff are incredible knowledgeable and very willing to help and offer advice. Set up by two French ex-pat brothers the shop has been on the site since 1909 and has its own maturing room and a selection of wines to buy to match the cheeses.
We were given two cheeses to taste, the first a cave-aged cheddar from Somerset and a Stilton. The cheddar was absolutely gorgeous – I went back later and bought some to take home. Rich, nutty, intense yet without that eye-watering tang you can get from other vintage cheddars, it also had a really dense but smooth texture. Unlike any cheddar I’ve tasted before. I loved it. The Stilton that was passed made me raise a wry smile – as it was Long Clawson Stilton. I live in the area that’s allowed to make Stilton (Notts, Leics and Derbys) and some people we’re friends with actually live in Long Clawson itself almost next door to the manufacturers, so we’re well used to getting our mitts on this cheese – it’s in every deli and even supermarket here. I can see how it’s good enough to be put on their cheeseboard and it’s woken me up to not be so blase about being about to get this cheese easily.
No reservations, but contact the shop at 0207 247 7437 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Poppies Fish and Chips 6-8 Hanbury Street E1 6QR
Billed as the best fish and chips – quite a claim by the tour guide! This retro diner-styled fish and chip shop and restaurant was definitely busy. It was packed in there already, then they squeezed the twelve of us in. I was sat on the end of a table and couldn’t move my elbows in and out without hitting someone or something.
Still, the fish and chips were lovely. And I think it was a good stop-off for the the American family we were with. Most had said they were looking forward to fish and chips, and not having any others to compare it to I think they were very satisfied!
The fish was so very fresh and the batter was light and crisp – definitely one of the best pieces of battered fish I’ve ever had (though possibly not the actual best – it’s difficult to remember and it all depends on how hungry you are!) I normally don’t eat the batter either, but I tried some here and it was really very good and not at all greasy. The chips weren’t quite up to the same standard however: I’ve had plenty better from ordinary fish and chips shops. Not terrible, just not as nice as the fish. It was all served with a bowl of mushy peas. Can’t tell you about that – I kept well clear!
Pride of Spitalfields – 3 Heaneage Street E1 5LJ
No messin’ this is an old style pub that concentrates on serving beer and its customers. Not often now do you go into a pub and it’s still got carpet on the floor. Also there were air conditioning units above the bar that were clearly originally installed to combat cigarette smoke before the ban, then never taken out.
Don’t get me wrong: I loved it in here. It was raining outside by the time we got to the door and the wood fired stove was on making it warm and cosy and Lenny the resident cat was stretched out in front of it. It had a familiar feel, as often these unchanged, un-chained pubs have.
We tried a bitter and a cider – don’t panic for those of you (like me) who aren’t big drinkers, it’s about a quarter of a pint each. There is non-alcoholic to be had too (thankfully as the American family had three children with them!) However, if you are a drinker you’ll possibly feel a little short changed. I personally thought the bitter (a Truman) and the cider (a Sharp) weren’t that nice, but then I’m not claiming to have a good palette for beers or even to have drunk a lot to compare.
No website, but there is a Twitter account for the cute pub cat. Meow.
Aladin – 132 Brick Lane E1 6RU
Well, I’m not sure how you pick a curry house from the vast array in Brick Lane, especially as all of them looked pretty good to me.
Aladin proved to be a good choice though – spotless and welcoming and the three curries they laid out before us looked delicious. We had a mild vegetarian bhuna, a medium-hot lamb pathia and a hot chicken madras. Soaked up with a plain naan and washed down with a welcome glass of water.
The bhuna was delicious and rich with chickpeas, I confess I didn’t try the pathia (I won’t eat baby anything if I can help it – I’d have tried it if it was hoggett or mutton) and the madras was gorgeous. I’d have been happy to have been left with a plateful of that all afternoon to myself. Some in the group found the madras too hot.
Bookings: aladinbricklane.net/booking.html or 0207 247 8210
Beigel Bake – 159 Brick Lane E1 6SB
I was getting full now, even though at each location we’d only tasted a small amount at a time. This place is apparently a 50+ year-old institution and the queue was out the door when we got there as if to confirm that. Happily out of two bagel shops within a few feet of each other this one was chosen for the tour – I say happily because in the window of the other bakery was a massive display of technicolour bagels. A psychedelic mound of baked goods the like of which I have never seen nor want to again – there must be a ton of artificial colouring in there.
Unfortunately for me when our guide asked if anyone didn’t like mustard he didn’t hear me and the bagels came slathered in the stuff so I didn’t try one. I love mustard in food, just not on it – hope that makes sense!? No, I don’t like horseradish either. Eurgh.
Those that ate the salted beef and pickle-stuffed bagels (beigels) were making a lot of ‘mmmm’ noises and, coupled with the long queue of customers, I guess that means they were lovely. Harry clearly loves them as he walked off with several stuffed in his coat pockets!
Actually I confess I was pleased I had a break as I was getting full and we had just been informed the last stop was dessert…
Pizza East – 56 Shoreditch High Street E1 6JJ
Harry explained what we were all thinking when we rocked up outside a pizza restaurant – odd to not be eating pizza but eating dessert here. He explained that on Trip Adviser the salted caramel and dark chocolate ganache tart we were going to sampled was No. 3 on the list of best desserts in the capital. That, I’m afraid, raised our expectations a bit high!
This is a fantastic converted warehouse with huge bench tables and reclaimed seats – it looks amazing and the attention to detail is clear. The tart itself didn’t impress me as much – maybe I was expecting a lot from it?
The caramel tasted great but was really toffee – I was worried about my teeth and it was hard to cut in to. The chocolate ganache layer on top was really bitter. I know it’s supposed to be a dark chocolate, but some are bitter and some are more rich with a nice fruity tang to them – it needed the latter. The tart really divided the group: I’d say those of us who were bakers or confessed to having a sweet tooth weren’t so keen on it as others. It did look beautiful those and was clearly well made: the pastry was thin and crisp and the ganache so smooth. Just not for me taste-wise and because it was so hard to get through.
Photo courtesy of Sarah Thorley t: @anglesay42 and anglesey42.blogspot.co.uk/
Bookings for Shoreditch restaurant www.pizzaeast.com/shoreditch
Eating London – the tour company
What a great few hours – I did think before I went that I was disappointed in it only being three and a half hours. However, by the end it was clear this was enough: there’s a lot of walking, chatting, eating and a whistle-stop guide to some of the East End history. Any longer and you might either burst from food or just have too much to take in.
Throughout the tour Harry explained the history of the ethnic immigrant groups that moved in, then subsequently out of the area and who have left their culinary mark: the Hugenots, Jewish and Bangladeshi’s as well as the English food weaved throughout it all.
This part of London is now richly decorated in wonderful street art.
Belgian artist Roa’s work (he draws large scale black and white animals endemic to the area (I like his work as his style is not dissimilar to my own sketching technique)
Invader – no one knows much about this artist apparently, but they leave mosiacs or paintings of space invaders. Awesome
Ronzo, from Germany leaves 3D monster sculptures across London. We all loved the dinosaur as it we thought it was like a prehistoric pet cartoon dog. Ronzo’s work is brilliant and full of humour
Jonesy – various rumours are around about Jonesy, from him being quite young to almost retirement age. His work is usually bronze castings attached somewhere high up so only those who care to look around them properly will notice (unless they’re pointed out of course). Exquisite work – I suspect this is the work of a real artisan with year’s of practice and possibly the money and studio space to indulge in producing some free art for public spaces. They really are treasures
Several other street art we saw that I haven’t been able to put a name to:
Only a few houses and points of architecture were noted:
The Jewish soup kitchen on Brune Street
The Hugenot houses on which are often the backdrop for period films and TV programmes (especially No. 4 which has been purposely kept in its ‘natural’ state) on Princelet Street.
Gun street, Artillery Lane – where Henry VIII built military practice areas