London is, without a doubt, a world-class eating city. The first week I moved here, I found myself within walking distance of an organic grocery, Chinese dim sum, Turkish gözleme, Caribbean jerk, Nigerian stew, and more Vietnamese restaurants on one short block than can be found in some American cities. You can find food in London from all cultures and countries, of all price ranges, as down-and-dirty as deep fried street food on the corner and as elevated as a Michelin-starred molecular gastronomextravaganza. Sure, there’s bad food to be found, as is the case anywhere. But put in just the tiniest bit of effort and you’ll never have to waste stomach space on inferior edibles. And when it’s good, the food here is oh..so…orgasmically…amazingly…good.
So why does the myth still exist in the States that British food is horrible? I’ve made it my personal mission to introduce every single one of my visitors to the wonders of London eating. I’ve been lucky enough to have over a dozen friends and family stop by the Hackney Hostel since I moved here and the tourist itinerary doesn’t involve Westminster Abbey or the British Museum. No, the most important sights of the trip are Borough Market for toasted cheese sandwiches, Broadway Market for cupcakes and Ghanaian food and mushroom risotto, Gwilym’s coffee cart at Columbia Road Flower Market, Tayyabs for lamb chop and curried baby pumpkin feasting, the Breakfast Club for bacon butties (and mini-discos), the Brick Lane Upmarket for octopus balls and dulce de leche filled churros…and I’ll stop now because i’m getting very hungry. Thankfully, every single one of my visitors cares about food just about as much as I do, which is probably a main reason we’re friends in the first place. I don’t waste time with non-excitable eaters.
My friend Lex is one of these people. She left just last week, after five straight days of talking about food, venturing off to procure food, deciding what to eat, eating, digesting, and then talking about what to eat next. In other words, my kind of girl. Oh yeah, and we cooked Chinese food for 20 strangers in my living room. But although I always have to show off my favorite eating spots, the best part about visitors is opportunities to try new and exciting markets, cafes, and restaurants.
One happy new find is the Bedales Wine Bar, tucked into a tiny storefront in Spitalfields Market. It’s easy to overlook with the sprawling chains like Wagamama, Giraffe, and Leon taking up massive real estate, but we ducked into this charming little spot to get out of the rain and were happily surprised by excellent glasses of wine, a bowl of fresh bread from St. John and a board teeming with multiple varieties of cheese, pickles, olives, and a piquant little bowl of ratatouille.
Apparently you can purchase a bottle of wine and drink it there without the hefty restaurant markup…I’ll certainly return to prove that hypothesis (and eat more cheese…yum).
Another solid winner in our rapid-fire London food tour was the wooden-beamed, vintage-wallpapered, elk-skull-bedecked, dreamy-design-geek-fantasy restaurant and bar The Elk in the Woods on Camden Passage in Islington. This miniscule cobblestoned passageway is one of my favorite streets to show London visitors, both for its quaint historic charm and its abundance of tantalizing eateries. We snacked on a potato and pancetta skillet with baked eggs, peppers, and tomatoes with toast…