Living in Kent, I’ve been to London many times. I worked in London for four years pre-children and have visited for days out and tourist trips ever since I was a child. But I’ve never been on a guided tour. I always thought it was better to explore and find your own way round. And I feel a bit awkward when it comes to spending time with a group of strangers I’d never normally meet.
So when Eating London kindly offered me a free ticket for their East End food tour, I was excited and a bit worried. I didn’t want to go alone coz that would mean three and a half hours of walking and eating with people I didn’t know. So my sister came along too! We don’t get to see each other as often as we’d like and very very rarely without my kids in tow. So it was to be a special girls’ day out for us. We were excited!
I’m pleased we went together but I needn’t have worried. The whole day was so well organised and the groups are deliberately kept small so it wasn’t overwhelming. In our herd there was a group of radio presenters, another pair of sisters on a birthday day out, and a lovely couple on a mini break from Norway. The star of the show was our guide, Emily. She was absolutely delightful. Enthusiastic, funny, really knowledgeable and completely natural.
The information I was sent was excellent. The directions for the short walk from Liverpool Street Station to our starting point at the Daily Grind café were so clear. We found it very easily and a few of the group were already starting to arrive.
I was told in advance to wear comfy shoes and bring a bottle of water. I would also recommend an elasticated waistband or, like me, opt for a smock of some description. You need as much room for food as possible without breaking a rib!
St John Bread and Wine
After a little introduction about the history of Spitalfields, our first stop was St John Bread and Wine for a bacon sandwich. This was not just any old sarnie. This was the king of all bacon butties. The bread is made from scratch on the premises and deliberately charred to give it a smoky flavour. The bacon is high quality meat from Butts Farm. It spends two weeks soaking in brine, then two weeks curing in sugar and salt before being smoked. It’s good stuff. The ketchup was sweet and tangy and also made on site.
The English Restaurant
This was our next stop and it does exactly what you’d expect. There was wood panelling and a chalkboard of the day’s menu. We were served with a miniature portion of bread and butter pudding. Certainly an English classic but not at all what I expected. I have never liked bread and butter pudding. I don’t like raisins or sultanas for a start. And soggy bread? Why would anyone want soggy bread?! But this was a food tour so I was definitely going to try it. I was surprised. It was delicious!
Made with brioche and served with rum custard. I could also taste a faint citrus flavour – lemon or perhaps orange. I admit I picked out the sultanas like the cretin that I am. The brioche was soggy (as it should be) but with just enough bite left. Another winner!
Now we had another little walk around Spitalfields, with Emily pointing out interesting buildings and their history and relevance today. Fascinating little snippets, delivered with enthusiasm.
The cheese shop!
This was a quick pit stop where we tried three cheeses. The man working there had thoughtfully chosen English cheeses to fit in with the theme of our tour.
I can’t lie. I have no idea what the first one was. I asked the man twice for the name but I couldn’t hear him properly! It sounded like “ogershille”. It wasn’t that. But it was a fairly hard, pale yellow cheese. Mild. Nutty.
The second was Westcombe Cheddar. It had a smoky taste. I found it quite mild, although my sister said the opposite. Go figure.
The third was a Stilton. Ordinarily I’m not keen on blue cheese. I find it too sharp. Too bitter. The little wedges were served on a wooden board with a pile of caramelised walnuts. I don’t like walnuts either but I’d never tried them caramelised. In for a penny and all that. It wasn’t my favourite. I probably wouldn’t choose it again. But the creaminess of the Stilton and the sweetness of the nuts balanced out the bitterness.
This is a real gem. You can’t get more British than fish and chips and Poppies has just won the award for the best in the UK! The old guy sitting at one of the tables was none other than Pops himself. The man behind the counter had been frying fish there for 52 years.
They print their own food safe newspaper so they can wrap their chips in it the way it should be done. The whole place looks and feels like it couldn’t be anywhere other than Britain.
And the grub was pretty good too…
The Pride of Spitalfields
No tour of the East End would be complete without a visit to proper boozer! This one is just off Brick Lane.
It isn’t fancy. There are no frills. The regulars were in high spirits and propping up the bar. Sadly Lenny, the resident cat, failed to grace us with his presence but it was exactly as a London pub ought to be.
We sampled two quintessentially British tipples: a real ale and a cider.
The cider was Sharp’s Orchard and right up my street. Very dry and refreshing. Could quite happily have drunk a whole pint.
The ale was Truman’s Emperor, very fitting as we saw the old Truman brewery…
…and the house of the original Mr Truman himself during the tour.
I’m definitely not an ale drinker but this was surprisingly good. Ales I’ve sipped previously have been bitter or sour. This was neither. Very dark and smooth. It went down a treat.
Of course it’s pretty much The Law in Britain that drinks at the the pub must always be followed by a curry. Having a curry on Brick Lane felt like one of those ‘bucket list’ type things. It’s a milestone I can tick off on my ‘to do’ list of life. And this was a darn good curry house too. The staff were impeccably polite and efficient and we were presented with three little tasters and plenty of naan bread. The naan was thin and light. Not at all doughy round the edges like many I’ve had before. Really tasty.
We ate vegetable bhuna, lamb pathia and chicken madras. I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to proper curry. The madras initially tasted awesome. Beautiful spices. Then it blew the back of my head off and cleared out my sinuses while it was at it.
The pathia was hot but less intense. The lamb was so soft and I got the beautiful flavour from all the spices before the heat struck the back of my mouth.
The bhuna was my favourite. I tend to prefer veggie curries anyway and this contained a really good selection of vegetables. The heat was just enough and the flavour was awesome.
We enjoyed it so much we’re planning to take our dad back there for Father’s Day in the summer.
I am a huge bagel fan. This was the bit of the tour I was most looking forward to. And I can honestly say it was a total revelation. I might even go so far as to say mind altering. Life changing. I say with absolute certainty that you have never tasted a bagel until you’ve eaten one from a genuine Jewish bakery, standing in the middle of a bustling Brick Lane.
The bagels are boiled before they are baked. This is apparently the only correct way to make them. Soft, warm and not jaw-achingly chewy like shop-bought ones. The mustard was strong. The salt beef was juicy and felt apart in my mouth. The gherkin sweet and sharp and crunchy. Undoubtedly my most favourite thing ever. I don’t think I can go through the rest of my life without coming back to this bagel shop at some point!
The final stop on our tour. We were tired and I was so full that the underwire of my bra was digging into my ribs! But the pot of tea that welcomed us at Pizza East was exactly what we needed.
After all the historical places we’d seen and all the traditional food we’d sampled, we finished up in a large airy open plan restaurant.
There are long benches and clever lighting and trendy furnishings. And a very contemporary salted caramel tart. I powered through the pain and I was not disappointed. It was gooey and rich and sweet and salty. I could taste each separate layer as it melted in my mouth. It was a perfect way to end.
All in all it was a really well-organised day out. Even the order of the places we visited was carefully done. Our guide was fantastic and it’s a day that my sister and I will remember for a very long time. I think tickets are a great price considering all that’s included. I tried food and drink from eight different places – including things I thought I didn’t like; learned lots of interesting stuff about the area; and saw amazing things I wouldn’t have found on my own.
If you’d like more information about Eating London Food Tours, check out their website.
I did not receive any payment for this post but I was given one free tour ticket in exchange for an honest review.