Seeing that I’m was born and grew up in East London, I should know everything about the food scene there, right?
When we won a voucher for two to take Eating London’s East End food tour courtesy of Savi and Vid I thought it’d just be a nice, easy thing to do for half a day, eating some comfortingly familiar, but ultimately unexciting food. It also wasn't specifically a vegan food tour so I wasn't so sure.
The food was indeed good (some was even amazing!), but what really surprised me was just how much I learnt about the area of London just 10 kilometres west of where I grew up in Manor Park. (For anyone wondering, in London terms that’s nor very far at all.)
We met Nicole, the tour’s founder and Emily, her protégé, inside Spitalfields Market in Shoreditch, historically a poor, working class district of the East End, that would be the focus of the tour and which recently (perhaps five or six years ago) reached the height of its cool as a result of the massive gentrification of the area.
The first thing that struck me about Nicole and Emily was their enthusiasm for sharing this corner of London and its food with us: this wasn’t going to be a tired routine delivered by two worn out tour guides fed up of visiting the same places day after day and repeating the same flat script.
For me, the top food highlights of the tour was the fish and chips.
Again, you’d imagine that having grown up in East London, I’d be pretty familiar with good fish and chips.
And again with the being wrong.
Certainly I’ve had fish and chips many times in my life, but rarely that great and never as good as these. The lightly battered fish was fried in peanut oil, making it distinctly crispy and not at all greasy and the chips made from organic potatoes were also perfectly done.
And that green stuff? Mushy peas, something I never thought I would like. I mean, mashed peas mixed with cream and mint. Sounds awful, right? But these were just the right contrast of flavours and texture to accompany the fish.
Other highlights for me were a creamy bread and butter pudding served with vanilla custard in a traditional English restaurant in a former nut roasting factory, a cream cheese and smoked salmon bagel and a salted caramel and chocolate tart to die for.
There was certainly more, and at every option Nicole had made sure there’d be something to eat for people who didn’t or couldn't consume alcohol, fish or meat.
Between all the food stops, Emily told us about the history of the streets we walked through, the waves of immigration to the area and how they had influenced Shoreditch and its food.
It started with French silk weavers in the 18th century, who were followed by Jews and Irish immigrants in the 19th century, then Bangladeshis in the late 20th century and most recently, the hipsters.
The best place to see the confluence of these various influences is undoubtedly Brick Lane, perhaps Shoreditch’s most famous street, lined with uncountable curry houses (several of which I have childhood memories of visiting) but also some fascinating street art.
Overall, this tour really impressed me. Nicole, as an Australian, confessed that she'd been a little wary of having an East Londoner on the tour at the beginning, worrying that she would slip up or say something that I'd contradict or that would offend me.
I told her that I actually thought that having a non-local as a guide was in some ways more valuable than a local, because there are insights that someone from outside can give that might just be so obvious to a local they don't even think to mention it.
Many thanks to Savi and Vid, for the opportunity to do this tour and of course to Nicole and Emily for taking us around and reacquainting me with my old ‘hood!
As always, no one requested a favourable review (or indeed any review at all) of this tour and our opinions are, and always will be, our own.
- Cost: £59 per person
- Times: the tour begins at 10am and finishes around 1.30pm
- Website; Facebook; Twitter