I was excited about visiting London but at the same time worried. Worried about what we would eat. You see, London doesn’t have a great reputation for food and food is one way we as a family love discovering new areas when traveling. Our London East End food tour with Eating Europe took us into local spots and proved that the city has a lot to offer foodie families.
After booking our tickets online, we were emailed instructions on our guide and where we would meet the team. Lucky enough we were staying in an apartment (I share a video tour if you’re interested) around the corner from the Spitalfields Market, our meeting point.
Our group was small, with local and international travellers alike. There was a mix of older world travellers to a younger couple and even a brother and sister traveling together. We were the only family in our tour but the group was very inclusive. After our brief introductions we set off on our first stop.
St John’s Bread and Wine
Located across the street from the Spitalfields Market, St John’s Bread and Wine is known for making dishes using British ingredients not commonly used in mainstream establishments as well as all parts of the animal (nose to tail). Their menus change daily but you’ll find items like leek and potato soup, braised ox tail and mash, even pressed pig skin, dandelions and shallots.
The restaurant is very simple on the inside, just a large room with plain wooden tables. The bar is open to the back kitchen area to the delight of your senses.
Our first food stop brought us a bacon butty, a simple bacon sandwich served on toasted bread. But at St. John’s the taste was anything but simple. So we’re clear, this is not that stringy fat laden bacon strips you buy in the store. These thick cuts of back bacon on buttery white bread were a taste of heaven served with a side of homemade ketchup, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Although not open for breakfast, St. John’s is also a great stop for their jelly filled doughnuts but you have to be quick as they go fast. I think Ashley’s post on Not Without Salt pretty much sums up the fascination with these doughnuts.
The English Restaurant
A trail skirting around the Spitafields Market took us in front of The English Restaurant. The family owned pub’s charm carries right through to their interior. It reminded me of the Tardis, deceptively large on the inside with little nooks and crannies for seating, along with an inviting wood panel bar.
Similar to our first stop, The English Restaurant prides itself on serving traditional English fare such as Mulligatawny soup (from Britain’s days in India), monkfish, and steamed puddings. We were here to sample one of my favourite British dishes, bread and butter pudding (what I’ve been calling bread pudding all these years). For a dish that was created as a need to ration, bread and butter pudding sure is tasty, especially topped with custard.
We enjoyed our visit here so much that we made a return visit for dinner later in the week. It was a very different feel visiting in the evening versus the during the day, more lively but just as friendly.
As our tour was happening on a bank holiday, the planned third stop was swapped with a visit to Bedales Wines for cheese tasting. The weather was so nice on our tour (on our whole visit actually) that the group enjoyed wine nibbles on their outside tables under the dazzling sun. I should point out that the Spitalfield’s market is a covered market and this arm had an atrium style roof to let the light in.
We enjoyed three soft cheese made at a local dairy, three cheese local to the region and ones we have never tried before. The nice thing about a food tour with kids is trying new food items in little bites and discovering something they love as a complete surprise.
Poppies Fish and Chips
Another British staple. We had already sampled a few varieties of this dish as chip shops and pubs so I was curious to see how Poppies measured up, especially since it is a popular spot. We discovered they have a little kiosk within the Spitafields Market (as well as Camden market but that’s another post) but we were off to the original location.
This east end staple was established in the 50’s and carries a sense of nostalgia when you visit any of their locations. You can taste the heart of this family own business with every bite of their sustainably caught fish. The batter was crisp and the fish moist without being soggy. They even make their own tartar sauce, a must with any fish dinner along with malt vinegar.
This was another location we hit again later in our trip, the kids loved the fish so much.
Pride of Spitalfields
We couldn’t make a trip to London without visiting a pub or two. Pubs are appealing to me because of their more open acceptance of families. You can grab some ‘pub grub’ for the family, washed down with a pint for mom and dad. There’s no shortage of pubs in London’s east end or London proper but a true authentic pub should feel like you’re sitting in a friend’s living room. That’s the definition of Pride of Spitalfields. Even it’s out of the way location, off the main strip, is like like a neighbourhood home in which you already know the address. Time Out concurs, listing the Pride of Spitalfields as one of London’s most cozy pubs. Darn the secret is out.
We had a chance to sample a local ale and lager as well as a cider (non-alcoholic offerings were made to the kids of course). The space was small, spread over two cozy rooms, with a large bar to greet you when you come in. There was a fireplace and carpeting on the floor and couches and chairs grouped for drinking and sharing stories. The ale was good but the atmosphere would have kept us hanging around longer if our tour wasn’t moving on. The regulars were friendly and chatty and I could envision my husband sitting for hours never running out of something to talk about, especially as he was invited behind the bar. Even my oldest loved this photo opportunity.
I should point out that the drinking age in London is over 18 but those over 16 can drink a beer or cider with a meal if the drink is ordered by an onsite adult. Another atmosphere plus had to be Lenny, the pub cat. Being a cat person I kind of like the idea of enjoying my ale with a cat on my lap.
When in London’s east end you can’t help but head over to Brick Lane (Bangla Town), home of the city’s Bangladeshi community and great curry. The area also shares a strong connection with artists and hipsters. Keep your eyes open for some fun and interesting street art.
You’ll find a number of curry shops and each will have their own shill (greeter) out front trying to draw you in. This caught me off guard but our guide indicated that this is a cultural thing.
The Aladin Curry House restaurant is small with a single aisle down the middle with tables on either side. In the middle of the day it was busy but even busier when we visited for dinner another night. On our tour we tried a variety of curries at varying degrees of spiciness, along with rice. I think my kids inhaled all the varieties to the amazement of our our tour guests.
London’s east end neighbourhoods have seen a number of immigrant communities come and go, leaving their mark in the form of architecture and shops. At the turn of the century, many Jewish immigrants called the east end home. Remnants remain, like the Jewish Soup Kitchen on Brune Street.
Another piece of history still stands in the form of the Beigel Bake. You’ll breath in the bready aroma long before you notice this somewhat hole-in-the-wall shop. This 24-hour bakery seems to always be hopping, whether early morning brunchers or late night clubbers. The combination of fresh baked bagel topped with salted beef is a breakfast dream. I could easily make this my morning ritual.
With stomachs nearing capacity we made our way to our last stop, a wood fired pizza joint housed in an old warehouse in Shorditch. The stop at Pizza East wasn’t about pizza but rather a delicate slide of salted caramel tart with a spot of tea.
About Time magazine lists this as one of London’s Top 15 Salted Caramel Desserts, and I would have to agree. As an aside, they also listed St. John’s doughnuts too. The large warehouse is made cozy with the accents of wood and the open kitchen.
You can take a trip along with us during our food tour experience in the video below:
We left our London East End food tour with a new appreciation for traditional British dishes and even found a few favourites. This was just one tour offered by Eating Europe’s London team. If you’re interested in discovering the aromas and tastes of the Brick Lane neighbourhood, you can try their Brick Lane tour. I think next time we go back (and there will be a next time) I might opt for the Historic Pub Tour or SOHO Food and Cocktails Tour, sans children of course.
Food is a great way to discover a neighbourhood and our Eating Europe East End Tour had us dabbling in some traditional dishes, spotting great street art, discovering the evolving history that made the east end what it is, and meeting great people. Highly recommended should you be visiting London with your family.