I can get you from one side of London to the other via the ‘back doubles’. I can take you shopping in the gentrified Bellenden Road or the long established Chelsea Green. I can even tell you which floor you might want in the major department stores. But if you really want to explore a London, explore its food, that’s where you find the history, culture and tradition.
I’d promised the Glam Londoner Lunch and after reading Bintu’s post on food tours by Eating London, this seemed a great way for us all to discover his part of town. East London has a rich and diverse history of immigration, almost all of whom have left behind a little of themselves in the architecture, spiritual buildings and of course, food. From Bagels to Balti there’s much to explore.
We met in Spitalfield’s Market on Vintage day (thursday) and whilst we sipped coffee in a market cafe, we watched the stalls slowly being unpacked for the day. Huge urns and overflowing plates of cakes adorned one stall, whilst Victorian chests of drawers and 70s furniture, waiting for repurposing, were stacked in rows by another. Nicole, an enthusiastic and very knowledgeable Aussie, greeted us with her wide smile and engaging personality, which had our group of seven chatting easily.
We set off for our first stop, a mix of bakery and restaurant cafe, with a nose to tail ethos. Where better to begin the day with a bacon sandwich? Not the everyday, slightly hard bacon or the fatty cafe offering. This was a wonderful mix of tender, perfectly home cured bacon between slices of soft, yeasty bread with a crispy old fashioned crust. This was the bacon sandwich.
Fortified, we moved on through the streets often doubling back on ourselves to have the story and the food in the right order. The Georgian houses of the Huguenots with their light airy rooms designed for weaving, the hostels and soup kitchens for the poor supported by the jews, the chapel that became a synagogue and is now a mosque, a true testament to the changing populations in this area.
As we moved from street to street, we were replenished with offerings of bread and butter pudding with smooth vanilla custard, slices of piquant British and French cheeses from experts enthusiastically sharing their knowledge. Crispy, light fish and chips that restored my faith in our national dish that is more often stale and soggy, served in a restaurant where every detail of a 40’s diner has been lovingly recreated and merged with a traditional chip shop, right down to the newspaper wrapping that is specially printed to be food friendly.
Three delicious curries waiting to be mopped up with naan bread, sweet and smoky from the tandoor oven, bagels stuffed with juicy, warm salt beef, dill pickles and mustard, almost too big to get your mouth around. In between, Nicole ensured we admired the street art and appreciated the history that was all around us.
There were glimpses of a city as it had been and of the streets as they now welcome the new influx of artists and young professionals. This is no longer an area for the newly landed immigrants, it has become very desirable and very expensive, whilst maintaining its edgy character and bursting with innovation. A final sit down with a cup of tea, of course, and a rich slice of chocolate salted caramel tart ended our tour. Three and a half hours had flown by; it was a great way to spend quality time with the Glam Londoner doing what we all love best, eating.