Blog :: Ramblings of a health nut

A Taste of East End

Posted on 28 Dec 2014 by maisha (posted in: blogs)

Believe it or not, it was actually E that came up with the East End Food Tour when we were brainstorming what to do during our London speedcation. It came so highly rated on tripadvisor that we decided to book it. Besides, neither of us had been to the East End before, so it seemed a fun way to get to know the area. Our meeting location was at Old Spitalfields Market, where I sat sipping coffee while we waited for the other participants.

They were setting up some sort of vintage/clothing market. Nicole, our tour guide, later told us that they have a different market every day.
When our group of twelve was complete, we started of with a short introduction round. We had a nice mix of people: Canada, the USA, and of course the Netherlands (us) were represented. Nicole told us she was born Aussie, but East Ender at heart. After making our acquaintances, she took us across the road to St. John Bread & Wine for a taste of the best bacon butty. St. John Bread & Wine offers nose to tail eating (using the whole beast), but Nicole said that would've been a bit too exotic for a food tour, so a bacon butty it was. It came on freshly baked sourdough bread, slathered in loads of butter, and with a homemade secret-ingredients (one of which was cinnamon) ketchup on the side:

It was so good, that E, who doesn't even like bacon (I know, WTF?!), had the left-over portion! It ended up being the group favorite at the end of the tour. After hitting the spot with St. John's 'Old Spot Bacon Sandwich', it was time to indulge our sweet tooth. For this we headed towards the heritage listed English Restaurant for a British classic: bread pudding. The British sure love their puddings. The interior of the restaurant was already a treat itself, with beautiful wood panelling and varnished furniture reclaimed from old buildings in the area, lending the place a cosy ambience. And the pudding, oh the pudding. After cracking my spoon through the perfectly crisp top of burnt sugar, it sank into a wonderfully rich and soft vanilla brioche bread pudding. As if that wasn't enough, there was a winter spiced custard to pour on top. Liquid gold on liquid gold...

The next stop took us back to the Old Spitalfields Market and the House of Androuet, a cheese shop run by the master cheese mongers and brothers Leo and Alex. As it was their busiest time of the year, a queue was already forming outside the shop. It was a pity, because as such we weren't able to enter the shop, but had to make do with cheese tasting at the bar. I would've loved to have a peek and sniff of all the wonderful cheeses on display! Sitting outside wasn't too bad though, what with the wonderful mild and sunny weather and the hustle and bustle of the market going on. We tasted two English cheeses: the Westcombe Cheddar and the Barkham (I think) Blue, accompanied by raisins and caramelized walnuts, respectively.

I love blue cheeses, so that was definitely my favorite. Lucky for me, E doesn't, so that meant two pieces of blue for me.
By then it was nearing lunchtime and bellies were rumbling *LOL*. Clearly time for something more substantial and thus Nicole took us to Poppies for some proper fish & chips. The restaurant (with an inviting vintage-style d├ęcor) was packed with people, and even their take-away service was attracting quite a crowd. Poppies won an award for the best fish & chips of the UK this year, so expectations were running high. Our fish & chips came wrapped in newspaper, just like they were in the olden days, and with the classic mushy peas.

The fish was perfectly battered: a nice thin crunchy crust. And not the heavy, soggy, fatty battered fish, that is far too often sold on markets. But the big surprise for me were the chips! I do not like french fries, or chips, or crisps, and very seldom I come across a chip that I like. This was one of them. Or actually, a whole bag of them, which I drizzled with malted vinegar and soaked in mushy peas and polished off, while the rest of the group sensibly ate only half to save a bit more room for the remaining food stops. Thankfully the next stop was for drinks, at the Pride of Spitalfields, Nicole's local pub. This particular pub has their own pub cat, Lenny, with his own facebook page and all. When we came in he was sitting on a stool at the bar, in the midst of customers. A few locals inside the pub weren't all too pleased with the 'tourist crowd' coming in and 'disrespecting' the locals by taking photos, but we were in and out before they could empty their pints of cider. We tried whatever English beer was on tap that day and a very nice cider. I had one sip of beer and gave the rest to E, before proceeding to empty three shot glasses of the fizzy cider. Then we were out and about, roaming the streets of the East End, with Nicole giving us a healthy serving of the areas historical and cultural background.

We came across some spectacular street art, to which I devoted a separate post. Nicole pointed out historic coal chute covers on the sidewalks:

And showed us a perfect example of what people did when 'window tax' - people had to pay tax for each window in their house - was introduced:

This is how the saying 'daylight robbery' came to be.
After letting our stomachs settle a bit, we went down Brick Lane to Aladin (voted the winner of the Brick Lane Curry Award) to taste three curries ranging from not spicy (veg curry) to mildly spicy (lamb curry) to spicy (chicken curry). The curries were good, but in all fairness, not the best I've ever had. The same goes for the naan bread that was served alongside it. The curries also fell a bit heavy on the stomach and we still had two stops to go! One of which was also located on Brick Lane: the salt beef bagel from Beigel Bake. Beigel Bake has been serving bagels for nearly 50 years now, 24/7 (!!!), and there is always a queue. The prices haven't changed either in all those years, I think it was something like 30 pence (a little under 40 euro-cents) ber bagel, and even less per dozen. I wasn't too impressed by the bagel, but I loved the combo of salt beef, hot English mustard, and sweet gherkin on a soft bagel.
Our final stop was at Pizza East for dessert. There's always room for dessert, right?! Especially if it comes in the shape of a salted caramel tart. Ironically, I made a salted caramel tart from scratch just two weeks ago, so I was curious to taste how mine would compare. It was a nice piece of tart, but I definitely preferred my own. As E said, the caramel layer of this tart was too much and too thick and not salty enough. Nevertheless it was a fine way to end an entertaining three hours of tasting our way through the East End.

And Nicole was such a lovely guide, so bubbly and bright. She made sure to point us to some streets where we would find more street art, before we shared a hug and parted ways. It was once of the best experiences I've had in a long time and I would definitely recommend it to everyone!
For all the photos of this and the previous post please check out my gallery.


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