In a town known for inventive cuisine and a vibrant mix of cultures, London’s East End stands out as a kind of mecca for foodies and curious cooks. From outrageously good naan and curry to sublime chocolate and salted caramel tart and a near-perfect pint, the East End has it all. But where to start? Luckily, Eating London Tours’, “ East End Food Tour” delivers a well-rounded introduction to the area’s social and culinary history, current food trends and hotspots.
This 3.5-hour walking tour leads participants on a casual stroll that blends local history and food in an easy and unforced way. Stopping at numerous pubs, restaurants, and shops, the tour weaves in and out of various parts of London’s East End, an area known for it’s Indian/Bangladeshi food, and now playing host to a number of up and coming restaurants and trendy modern food experiences.
Old Spitalfields Market, the easy-to-find jumping off point for this adventure, is a large public market consisting of shops and semi-permanent stalls and carts – some food, some clothing, and a rotating (day-to-day) mix of crafts, art, clothing, and other stands. Our first stops of the day included a gastropub (that wasn’t on the usual tour, but was added at the last minute to round out the experience when one of the usual stops closed for renovations) and a boutique cheesemonger, both in and around Old Spitalfields Market.
Then, as we moved out from Old Spitalfields into the East End proper, Maddie, our guide, drew the group’s attention to an example of work by a famous street artist working in the area, and further challenged us to keep our eyes peeled for many more (Banksy, Space Invader, etc.) that would be visible throughout the tour. Having said that, just a bit further on we ogled a bronze sculpture (Ali Grant’s “A Pear and a Fig”, 2006) that testifies to the East End’s commitment to food.
Moments later we paused for our first British classic of the day (bread and butter pudding), a cream laden bread pudding that kicked the day’s eating into decadent overdrive.
After visiting a few historical points of interest, our next British classic was fish and chips with mushy peas at Poppies Fish and Chips. This local institution has a deep commitment to the authentic fish & chips experience. So much so that when local authorities banned the use of newsprint as fish wrappers (due to concerns over ink toxicity) Poppies had their own newsprint wrappers made with food safe ink.
And, what would any self-respecting Englishmen use to wash down his fish and chips? Well, a pint, of course. So we obligingly stopped for a quiet pint in, “Pride of Spitalfields” a classic pub with a “pint in someone’s living room” vibe that many think makes it one of the East End’s best pub experiences. And Lenny, the pub’s celebrity cat, would certainly agree.
Boilers now fully stoked, we stepped around the corner onto Brick Lane (referred to by many as “BanglaTown”) and got our first real glimpse of the East End’s red carpet walk of Indian/Bangladeshi cuisine. This is definitely the place to go for curious cooks and foodies in search of London’s famed curry. And, the three-course curry and naan feast we savored placed high on our list of favorites at tour’s end.
Once our group’s fever for curry in London had been tended to, we headed for the trendy side of the East End and passed a big pink, authentic Banksy installation (now kept under glass to prevent pilfering), and an outdoor market with grill stands and casual dining options based out of creatively repurposed shipping containers.
As we passed under the Old Truman Brewery Bridge Maddie warned us that we were now in the true, “hipster part of the East End”, and we should not feed the locals. Duly warned, but having not eaten in ten minutes or so (and feeling famished ourselves), we stopped for local favorite bagels, salt beef, and, oh my God, the pickles. Take this tour for the pickles if nothing else. Tart, sweet, cool, crunchy, and eaten al fresco, they are all the, “street art” I need.
But, mere minutes later, basking in dill-addled bliss, we were cautioned that the day’s dining was not done yet. Eating London Tours, it seems, likes to hold one last culinary lagniappe in reserve for the big finish.
Dessert was had at a pizza place. ” Ho hum”, you say? Au contraire. The salted chocolate caramel tart at Pizza East was number 46 on Time Out London’s 2015 list of, “The 100 Best Dishes in London”. And, to my mind, it’s worth the praise and every tasty, not too decadent calorie, making it the perfect ending to a gloriously tasty and informative day.
Overall, the “East End Food Tour” from Eating London Tours offers a nicely balanced sampling of the East End. It is a fair bit of walking, but not too much if you are even moderately fit, and there are regular stops for food and questions, etc. While the tour is a fairly set format, there is plenty of room for participant preference and changes on the fly based on weather, crowds, and unexpected closings/openings, etc. In short, it’s organized enough to deliver a lot of information and food in a short time, but spontaneous enough to make it feel like it’s your own tour.
Text and photos by Glenn D. Kaufmann
Eating London Tours
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