Monday, January 6, 2014

We Ate the East End: Eating London Food Tours

Eating at St. John Bread and Wine Spitelfields East London
We were a bit of a disaster. A hectic September with multiple trips to Manchester left us comatose for as long as life would let us until suddenly I was in London on a work trip with Ian set to join me for the weekend. What should have been a fun-filled outing was stressing us as we couldn't decide on a plan of attack and were completely overwhelmed with options. We've been here before, and clearly I am in that place again as it has taken me months to talk about one of the best things we've ever done in London!

We were saved from our indecision by an answer from heaven (or more specifically from twitter). Travels of  Adam connected us with the Eating London and just like that - we had a day of eating planned. As I said, heaven.

Eating London Food Tour

In their own words:
The East End is a neighbourhood is like no other in London. Its tapestry of diverse cultures, mouth-watering cuisines, unique architecture and fascinating story make it an unforgettable destination. Our 3.5 hour walking food tours offer you an opportunity to escape the crowds and explore the East End by eating your way through the neighbourhood interspersing history, tradition, and local food culture as we go. The tour is for small groups and led by entertaining local guides that will introduce you to London's best foods at locally-loved places that not only serve up delicious food, but also carefully fit into the East End's remarkable story.
Food Tour in London's East End
I apologize to Nicole as she is a lovely person who I managed to get not one good photo.

What this translated to for us was a full day of eating, talking and walking the East End. We learned much more than I expected about the history of this unique place and sampled beautiful dishes thsat define the area.

Each place has been carefully selected to highlight different features of English, and particularly the East End's, cuisine and notable restaurants. Our walking "meal" bouncing from beautifully salty bacon buttys to the dual UK national dishes of curry and fish and chips. Like Gilligan's Island, we were ready to take off on a 4 hour tour that would change our lives.

St. John Bread and Wine


St. John Bread and Wine London

Eating London Food Tour Review

We have only recently discovered the joys of the bacon sandwich after it was served as a late night snack at our friend's Manchester wedding. We are now devout converts (we attempted to make our own by smuggling back English bacon) and this may be the pinnacle of bacon sandwiches.

Award-winning St. John Bread & Wine specializes in "nose to tail eating" and takes pride in their unique products. Housed in what was once a bank, the place has perfected the air of casual elegance and you can tell that food is taken seriously. Once again, we followed in Anthony Bourdain's footsteps as he has called St. John his favorite restaurant.

Twitter: @StJBW

The English Restaurant

Eating London Food Tour Review bread pudding

Taking a giant leap in the other taste direction, we circled the market to one of the oldest restaurants in the East End. Simply named "The English Restaurant", this independent, family-owned restaurant is all re-claimed wood (from the nearby cathedral) and warm English favorites like the bread pudding with custard sauce. 

Twitter: @EnglishRest

Androuet London


Eating London Food Tour Review cheese

Eating London Food Tour Review cheese

cheese on Eating London Food Tour Review

Cheese please! Adding to our well-balanced meal of bacon and dessert, we visited the French mongers in the market. Has mold ever looked so beautiful? We ohhhed & awwed over each of the cheeses offered, served with a delectable companion like candied walnuts.

After bringing home a load of cheddar from our Manchester trip (a-ok on EasyJet folks!), this time we brought home the wonder that is Stilton cheese and made many delightful things with it, including this pasta.

Twitter: @AndrouetLondon

Poppies Fish and Chips


Eating London Food Tour Review fish & chips

Eating London Food Tour Review poppies

Poppies Fish and Chips

This old-school charmer is the quintessential fish & chips shop. Listed as Time Out's top 100 foods in London, the small shop is decorated with kick-knacks from the 40s & 50s with Poppie himself seated at the counter. Nostalgically uniformed waiters brought us our meal of lightly breaded fish, frie-er, I mean chips and mushy peas. There is a reason why this dish has been adapted and served around the world. Not-at-all greasy, completely satisfying...if you can only eat at one fish and chips shop in London it should be this one.

Note that this is easier said than done as the place was just starting to buzz around 11, but is slammed with locals and tourists in the evening hours. If you order a take-away, make use of the vinegar bottles strapped onto tables outside and check out the custom newspaper wrapping.

Twitter: @popsfishnchips

The Pride of Spitalfield

Eating London Food Tour Review beer

Eating London Food Tour Review cat

I've often heard Brits talk about their local and wondered what that would be like to have such a beery home. Nicole graciously invited us into hers off of Brick Lane and we sampled some ales including the returning favorite Trumans. Much like Germany's beer scene, English beer-lovers are recognizing that the giant international beer retailers don't cater to more unusual or local flavors. Thus - microbreweries are coming back. Yea Beer!

For you non or light drinkers - fear not. This is only a little sampler like the other stops and not a full pint. You will have to save that for after the tour.

Don't forget to greet the cat and look out for other pub cats around London.



 Eating London Food Tour Review Brick Lane

Eating London Food Tour Review curry

Eating London Food Tour Review Aladin'sFinally - Brick Lane! One of the most well known streets in all of London, this is the heart of the Bangladeshi-Sylheti community and world-famous for its many curry houses. The last time we came to London we stayed just off of the iconic street and witnessed first hand the fervor for the many different restaurants, fabulous markets and drunk frat-types that plague the streets later in the evening. We were happy to be back.

Each shop proclaims it's curry to be the most decorated with loads of awards posted on their door. When we were shopping for where to eat, Ian carefully surveyed our options and chose Aladin's because it has been visited by Prince Charles (picture evidence -> ). Another plus of Aladin's & many of the curry houses is that you can bring your own booze, further diminishing the price of eating out. We ate and drank with abandon that night.

And so we were surprised - but not - that the food tour took us back to Aladin's. Momentary disappointment that we weren't trying a new place was replaced with spicy love as curry dishes were placed before us. With three different levels of heat, our taste buds rejoiced after a long hibernation of German cuisine.

Twitter: @AladinBrickLane

Brick Lane Beigel Bakery

Eating London Food Tour Review bagel cop

Eating London Food Tour Review bagel pickle

Again we were disappointed - but not - that we visited a place we had been before. The legendary Brick Lane Beigel Bakery is the oldest bagel shop in London and one of the few signs of the Jewish immigrant group who passed through here. Not bearing much resemblance to the New York bagel, this hot salted beef sandwich with mustard is the nail in the coffin of any real hunger you are going to experience that day.

Every guide book and local highly recommends you stop here, but one of the benefits of the tour is that you get to skip the line. Watch the bagel makers in back molding the dough, the register ching-chinging away and listen to all the many different accents of pepople in line.

Time Out Write-Up:

Pizza East

Eating London Food Tour Review salted carmel tart

We waddled into our last stop and were immeaditly bowled over by the very hip industrial chic design. A pot of tea, salted caramel tart plus a seat allowed us to reflect on our day and ask any last-minute questions. The perfect topper to a whole day of decadence.

Twitter: @pizzaeast

East End History

So that was food bit, but I would be so remiss if I didn't mention the loads of history that Nicole effortlessly packed into every moment we weren't stuffing our faces. Like a good teacher, she didn't even let on that were learning until we left the tour with heads brimming with facts. 

Eating London Food Tour Review Jack the Ripper

No need to take the Jack the Ripper Tour! Nicole told us about this site (now a parking garage) where one of his victims was found.

East London skyscrapper
The changing East End

Eating London Food Tour Review Jewish history
Another small reminder of the Jewish community

Eating London Food Tour Review Irish history
Evidence of the even briefer Irish occupation

Eating London Food Tour Review Artillery Passage
Artillery Passage
Chic Woman East End London
A glimpse down one of the most expensive streets in East End.

Brick Lane East End graffiti
 No surprise to Berliners, graffiti is so hot right now. It is impossible to talk about the East End and Brick Lane without mentioning it and so Nicole points out some highlights, but I don't know that I would recommend the graffiti tours we saw everywhere that were drowning with people. Eating London Food Tour Review East End graffiti

Eating London Food Tour Details

How can you purchase tickets? Bookings must be made in advance, online. Pick an available date from the calendar on the right and get foodie fantasizing.

Where? The tour meets daily at 10am (except on Sundays) at Spitalfield market (London’s oldest) and ends by the Shoreditch Street Tube stop.

How long? The tour is listed at 3.5-4 hours and despite our constant lolly-gagging and picture taking, Nicole got us in right around the 4 hour mark. Her patience and professionalism never left us feeling rushed as she kept us on track.

How much food - really? We went to 8 actual destinations with 4 savory dishes, 2 sweet, 1 cheese course and 1 stop for a drink. We arrived hungry and our eyes occasionally betrayed us, trying to convince us we wanted more food. But our bellies told us differently, remaining pleasantly full throughout the 4-hour period. If you want to be piggie stuffed, this tour may not do it for you.

How much walking? The tour includes a moderate level of walking which was just fine for us, would be completely doable for our parents (if leaving them a bit tired for the rest of the day) and definitely too-much for our 80+ year old grandparents. Perfect for walking off the many, many calories you will enjoy or knocking off a rich, elderly relative.

How many people are in the tour? On our tour, there were just 4 of us which was wonderfully intimate. We met the couple from Linda's Other Life who were celebrating their anniversary in style - what a perfect gift! I see on the site that tours are limited to 12 so you are guaranteed a similarly personal tour.

How much? £59 for adults, £50 for teens (13-17), £40 for kids (under 13).

Honestly, this tour is above our pay grade. Not because it is not worth it (it totally is!), but because we are pretty legit poor folk. We were welcomed on the tour in the hopes we would spread the word. Though we didn't have to fork over the money, our opinions are completely our own. Like we could keep them to ourselves....

If you can afford a fancy meal in London, scratch that and take the tour! You get a variety of excellent places and dishes, comprehensive oral history and meet wonderful people.

More FAQ on their site.

drinking on German trains
Pro Tip: Spitalfield market is also flush with great shops and stands including art, foods and cheap dresses (my personal weakness). I actually bought this skull sweater -> for £10 which has attracted much love even back in Germany.

They love making connections so feel free to tag & connect on social networks:
Twitter: @EatingLondon
Facebook: london
Pinterest: london
Google+: london
London Food Blog:

Even MORE pictures of the food and tour on our Facebook album, "Eating London Tour".

 Have you been on a food tour? Have you been on this tour? What did you like best?


Sammy Dorn said...

I have this tour book marked! I saw another blogger post about it and god damn it looks good. I love East London and Brick Lane is my favourite place to eat! So jeal

ebe porter said...

Clearly, I recommend it Sammy. It was truly delicious and I was really blown away by how much we learned about the area. Go forth and EAT!

Travels of Adam said...

<3 Thanks for the shout out Ebe!! So glad that you loved the tour. That's a cute little GIF you've made of the East London tour map as well!

~ cheryl said...

This sounds similar to the Seattle Food Tour you sent us on for Mother's Day - and we loved it! If ever we make it to London -we'll have to check out the East End!!!

ebe porter said...

Thanks again Adam - we ate our little hearts out! And thanks for the props on the GIF. Clearly I am a graphic wizard.

It probably was quite similar to the Seattle Food Tour. I would love to take more food tours if they are anything like this one.

BavarianSojourn said...

You have no idea how homesick this post made me. I worked in the city for many years, and the East End was a frequent haunt! I am SOOO glad you got to go to St John's, it's an incredible restaurant and proof of how good English food can be. The fish and chips, and the pub nearly made me cry! :D

ebe porter said...

I don't know how you ever left BavarianSojourn! The food is positively addictive and the history is endlessly fascinating. The tour is a testament to how delicious English cuisine can be and I highly recommend.

We're Back in Berlin Ja!

We're Back in Berlin Ja!
ebe & ian at Yak-toberfest 2008