The Eating London Food Tour – Birthday Gastronomy

It has taken plenty of ‘discussions’ (and several failed attempts at hint-dropping) for me to learn that Pumpkin, for all his many skills is not good at detecting the hidden undertones of a woman’s subtext. And what a minefield that can be. If I want something, it is most energy-efficient to spell it out. No mind analytics and everyone knows where they stand. So when I spotted the Eating London food tour featured on one of my favourite blogs, Bruised Passports, the conversation went a little like this:

Me: I want to go on the East London Food Walking Tour for my birthday

Pumpkin: OK. Shall I book it?

Me: Yes.

Simple. If only I had had this epiphany 4 years ago.

Eating London Food TourI woke up sprightly the morning of the tour to the sound of gale force winds but conditions settled when we arrived at our meeting point at 10am in the heart of Spitalfields market. Group sizes are limited to 10 and we joined 5 other keen foodies and an extremely enthusiastic guide to begin our trek of East London’s culinary highlights. Notions that you’ll need a stomach the size of the Ngorongoro crater to be able to do the tour are misconceptions.

St John Bread and WineThey run a very tight ship and size out the gourmand nuggets perfectly. First stop, St John Food and Wine for what The Evening Standard rated amongst the best bacon sandwiches in London. Us Brits will understand the gravity of such an accolade in a nation where the bacon buttie is about as British as breakfast can get. Initial gasps at the enormous size of the sandwich were rapidly allayed once we realised we were only to eat a sliver.

best bacon buttie LondonI don’t know whether it was the tenderness of the Gloucester Old Spot rashers, or the perfectly charred bread with homemade ketchup (plus secret ingredient)…Perhaps it was the sheer hunger we’d had from starving ourselves in preparation, but this really hit the spot first thing on a winter morning.

I’ve lost count of how many quirky facts I learned on this tour; for starters, I had no idea that the name ‘Spitalfields’ is derived from the word hospital, as the market stands on the location of a former hospital destroyed by Henry VIII. We wandered through a myriad of streets, just a few miles from home and yet completely foreign terrain to me. This is what I love about London – there is always another little pocket waiting to be discovered.

SpitalfieldsEast London is an area of enormous regeneration and arguably the part of London most stooped in history, crime, poverty and culture. In the 1800s, there was a huge influx of Jewish people, escaping persecution and making the affordable streets of East London their home. Artefacts reminiscent of their presence are easy to spot – especially if you have a dynamic guide helping!

Jewish soup kitchenWe were shown the beautiful brick-red architecture of the old Jewish soup kitchen, where families and children would line up in conveyor belt fashion bearing their own bowls, such was their resolve to avoid being perceived as a drain on society.

Beigel Bake Brick Lane

Perhaps their greatest legacy is the renowned 24 hour Jewish Beigel Bake store on Brick Lane – a place that welcomes everyone from feisty Jewish grandmothers to hungover, impoverished students. The queues were crawling the kerb more than working girls in a red light district (at one stage, rumour has it that East London had more prostitutes than it did men).

Brick Lane salt beef bagelThe prized trophy at Beigel Bake is the salt beef bagel with gherkin but as non-beef eaters, we opted for smoked salmon and cream cheese in a perfectly chewy beigel. The limitless passion that the owner has for his business sees him working 2 x 24 hour shifts a week after decades in the business – even as a doctor, I’m not sure I did hours like that!

The English RestaurantBut the presence of the Jewish people became shadowed by the arrival of the Irish, who were fleeing the great famine. Like the Brits, they also enjoy a good bread pudding and our next stop was for just that in The English Restaurant, a family run institution in one of the oldest existing buildings in Spitalfields. Bread pudding came to life in wartime England when desperate times called for rationing of stale bread, which was then steamed and mixed with fat to form the origins of the pudding we now love. Here, they serve it with a rum-flavoured, warm, creamy custard.

Bread Pudding London

If it isn’t already apparent, multi-culturalism is woven into the very fabric of East London’s rich tapestry so our next pit stop Androuet, had a French flair – a fine fromagerie, whose origins lie in Paris. We sampled Brie, Blue Stilton and a heavenly Somerset cheddar with sweet accompaniments including caramelised nuts and raisins and were offered 10% discount on any purchases.

Androuet Cheese

Fromagerie Spitalfields Market

Spitalfields fine cheese

No visit to East London would be complete without reference to Jack the Ripper, whose heinous crimes made him an integral part of British criminal history. We were shown the car park, where the morbid discovery of his first victim’s body was made. Close by was an old shelter for the poor with separate entry doors for men and women, which was operational as recently as 1999, a stark reminder of the level of depravity that the borough of Tower Hamlets has faced.

old shelter East LondonThe most recent cultural group to have settled their roots here are the Bangladeshi community and the aromas floating around Brick Lane from their countless curry houses will have your stomachs rumbling. Loudly. Most of these are BYOB (bring your own booze) and the food is cheap as chips. (More to come shortly on chips). But as someone of Indian heritage, it takes somewhere special for me to be impressed by curry, as this is the food I’ve grown up with.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised by the quality of the chicken, vegetable and mostly of the sumptuous lamb curry at Aladin with hints of cinnamon and a rich, tantalizing sweetness. I was so caught up in it that I forgot to photograph it and its fans reportedly include none other than Prince Charles!

Aladin curry house Brick LaneSuch a prevalence of Islamic people in an area calls for a local mosque and we walked past the Jamme Masjid Mosque, a fascinating building, once a Protestant Chapel, a Synagogue and now a Mosque, perfectly mirroring East London’s diverse history.

Jamme Masjid MosqueIt is an unfortunate reality that even in this day and age, in such mixed areas, racial tensions remain. This particular mural, depicting a woman of Islamic faith holding hands with a Caucasian male is a symbol of unity, racial tolerance and religious understanding.

street art against racism East LondonThe tour awoke a curiosity in street art that we didn’t even realise we had and this part of London is one of the richest places in the world for it. We delved into this new interest further during our recent trip to Buenos Aires. Watch this space for more on that in the coming weeks….

Shoreditch street art London street art scene

street painting Londonfamous graffiti

Is it time to reveal my favourite stop? Was it the salted caramel tart served with cream at the airy and super-trendy Pizza East, a restaurant housed on the premises of a former tea factory. You’ll have to read more to find out.

salted caramel tart Pizza East

East London is full of restaurants, bars and apartments, all redeveloped from former factory and brewery locations. It is an area of immense artistic value and you need shabby hair, skinny jeans, tattoos or just an eclectic sense of style to look the part here. It is considered such a hub for creativity in fact that there are an estimated 60,000 artists residing in this area alone!

Poppies fish and chipsIt should be law that a British food tour must include‘fish n chips’ and Poppies was the birthday highlight for me. This chippie, recently voted the best in the country, is intriguingly retro with a Milkybar vending machine, a juke box and a kitsch colourful interior.

best fish and chips Londonbest London chippie

retro London chippie

When the health and safety police deemed it inappropriate to use real newspaper to wrap your fish and chips in, these guys refused to part with tradition and had their own replicas printed. The fish batter is so light that unlike most joints, you don’t see swamps of grease left on your plate and the thick chips and mushy pea sides made it my winner!

wpid-20140208_112207.jpg

(It is less of a surprise to me that one of Pumpkin’s highlights was the stop at a traditional British pub, The Pride of Spitalfields, where you’ll find traditional real ale and cider and home to Lenny the cat, who is a something of a celebrity in his own right.)

real ale East London  cider Spitalfields pub

When I set off that morning, I thought I was embarking on a foodie adventure but by the time the sun was down, I’d also had a history lesson, a foray into different cultures and an art exhibition of sorts….all whilst tasting some of Time Out’s top London dishes. This was enough to leave any birthday girl feeling smug and I am a convert to the food tour experience. What other London food highlights can you recommend? Have you been on a food tour anywhere else?

Pride of Spitalfields pub Lenny the CatKeen to join the food tour fun? Leave me a comment telling me which dish you are most tempted by and I might just send you a discount promo code 🙂

39 thoughts on “The Eating London Food Tour – Birthday Gastronomy

  1. I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed it as much as we did 🙂 Belated Happy Birthday – a birthday involving this much food is bound to be a good one 😉

    1. whywasteannualleave April 2, 2014 — 9:14 pm

      Thank you guys for making me aware of it as I really didn’t know about it till seeing it on your blog 🙂 – It was such a lovely way to spend a birthday – so different, unique, fascinating and as you say, with that much great food, it has to be one of the most fun birthday treats I’ve ever had! 🙂

  2. I’ve been thinking about doing this tour for a while but it seems so expensive! It seems like it’s worth it though from the sounds of it. A great post – glad you enjoyed the tour and your birthday celebrations! 🙂

    1. whywasteannualleave April 2, 2014 — 9:19 pm

      Thanks Ayla! The food tour was great thanks and certainly helped distract me from the ageing process 😀 At full price, it is a little pricey but if you like your food or want to try something new in London, I’d definitely recommend it. There are often promo/discount codes going and I was sent one to share with friends or family so if you ever decide to go, let me know 🙂

      1. Could you send me a promo/discount code? My wife and I are big foodies so this sounds like an amazing time!

        1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 25, 2014 — 10:31 pm

          Sure! Just send me a message via the “contact me” page so that I’ll be able to email you the promo code 🙂 The tour is great fun and all the more so if you are both keen foodies!

          1. Can you please send me the Eating London Food Tour discount / promo code?

  3. Wow, you must have been in foodie heaven after doing a big tour like that, totally my idea of doing a tour with tood as the major focus…thanks for connecting today on my blog 🙂

    1. whywasteannualleave April 3, 2014 — 10:16 pm

      Thanks for commenting Noel! It certainly was foodie heaven (though I was a lot heavier when it ended!) 😀

  4. I’d love to have you link to my weekly link party “Oh, the PLACES I’ve been!”

    – Alma, The Tablescaper

    1. whywasteannualleave April 5, 2014 — 8:54 am

      Thanks for stopping by! That sounds really interesting& really glad you liked this post! I’ll definitely check it out 🙂

  5. I love food tours! This sounds like a great one. I have found an Amazon wish list also helps with the significant other who doesn’t recognize repeated hints.

    1. whywasteannualleave April 5, 2014 — 6:23 pm

      Thanks for commenting Katherine – I was new to the food tour phenomenon until this one but am now wondering whether to try a few that I’ve read about in Slovenia…and an Amazon wish list is a great idea – I’ll definitely give that a try! 🙂

  6. I did this too and it was a lot of fun! Great photos!

  7. Bacon sandwiches, fish and chips, and caramel pizza. East London food history. Street art. Sounds like a fun breakfast/brunch/lunch foodie tour in London – and what a nice birthday treat!

    1. whywasteannualleave April 15, 2014 — 8:58 pm

      Thanks guys 🙂 It was a great way to spend a birthday (and I was completely stuffed by the end) but mostly, I was so surprised as to how much history, culture and food of that area I had never known about despite living in London so many years – if you come to London, it’s worth going on it 🙂

  8. This tour sounds fantastic!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) April 21, 2014 — 10:00 pm

      Thanks Emma – it was great! The food itself was top notch but it was that combined with all the history, street art and culture mixed in that made it such an interesting afternoon! I highly recommend it! 🙂

  9. This sounds so incredible. We will be in London in October and would like to take the tour. Any chance the voucher code is still available?

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 17, 2014 — 9:50 pm

      I highly recommend it! Yes the discount should still be available – just drop me an email through the “contact me” page on the site and I’ll give you more details 🙂

      1. Hi there, could I possibly get the voucher code from you? I’m really keen to do the food tour. Thank you so much.

  10. Love food tours as a way to get some insight when visiting different cities/countries. So headed to London next month and hope to book into Eat London tour, so any type of discount or promo code would be most appreciated. My easy front runner fave dish looks to be the bacon sandwich!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) September 8, 2014 — 9:57 pm

      Sure no problem! Hope you enjoy it and the bacon sandwich certainly hit the spot for both of us, arriving at the food tour hungry first thing in the morning!

  11. Planning to do this tour while visiting London the end of October. My teenage children are really looking forward to the bacon sandwich. Me and my husband thinks the curries look great!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) October 9, 2014 — 3:17 pm

      The lamb curry was really one of my favourites and if you’re in London on holiday, then you really can’t get much more British than a good hearty bacon sandwich! Hope you have a great time Kathleen and be sure to come hungry 🙂

  12. I am in London now from the States and plan to book Eating London’s tour for later this week. I have been here for 4 days and have yet to try fish and chips because I want to make sure it’s prepared the right way! So I’m very excited to try it on the tour and of course the bacon sandwich sounds wonderful.

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) November 2, 2014 — 8:34 pm

      I loved the fish and chips there Brent so I hope you’ll find out that it was worth the wait! Thanks so much for the comment – if you wanted the discount message, send me a message through the contact me page and I might be able to hellp 🙂

  13. Great post! We took full advantage of this company’s Eating Rome tour in November of 2014 and it was phenomenal! I’m anxious to try the Eating London Tour when we go in March so would love to have a promo/discount code if you have one available to share. We’ve eaten at Beigel Bake before and love the bagels but you have to eat them right away, they’re not at their best the next day. My mouth is watering just thinking about the bacon sandwich and we’re looking forward to trying a curry at Aladin’s. Thanks again for sharing your walking feast. Foodie tours are the best!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) February 8, 2015 — 8:38 am

      I’d love to try the Rome tour if I ever return one day! The lamb curry at Aladin was absolutely fantastic & I’m totally converted to the idea of foodie tours too! Just drop me an email through the “contact me” page & then I can email you re codes etc ☺

  14. The Eating London tour sounds amazing! Would love to try the bagel with beef and pickle!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) March 15, 2015 — 9:17 am

      That was the one thing I didn’t try as I had the salmon one! Hope you enjoy it though 🙂

  15. I followed the link here from your review of the Marrakech food tour. We love dropping down to London for the day and discovering new parts of it. This tour would be a fantastic idea for our next visit. Any dining experience that starts with a Bacon sandwich has to be a winner. I love cheese so that would get my vote, but my wife would disagree and say it has to be the Salted Caramel Tart. I guess there’s only way to settle the argument. We are going to have to do this!

    And if there’s a secret code to be had, then bonus time… 😉

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 21, 2015 — 5:52 pm

      Thank you so much for stopping by and reading this post. They’ve really got the right idea by starting the day off with the bacon sandwich and if your wife likes salted caramel, she will not be disappointed with the tart! It’s such a fun way to spend a day in London especially if you’re a bit of a foodie and I learned so much about my own city that I never knew! I’d be more than happy to send you the code – just drop me a message via my “contact me” page and I’ll email it to you! ☺

  16. Hi there, I really enjoyed the review.. I have read a few now and I am looking forward to my trip to London in July! I will definitely take peoples advice and skip breakfast that morning! 😉
    Your picture of the bacon sandwich is making my mouth water! But I’m most looking forward to the salted caramel tart… 🙂

    If the offer still goes I would appreciate the discount code as I have yet to book the tour! Keep up the great posts! x

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) June 24, 2015 — 7:21 pm

      Oh believe me, that salted caramel tart is absolutely delicious! You’ll be begging for another slice of it! Hope you have a lovely time ☺

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