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…
…and a halloumi and hummous sandwich with grated carrots and beets, parsley, and olives. I very much enjoy their use of assorted non-matching patterned tableware.
I try not to let any visitor leave London without joining me on a pilgrimage to my favorite Broadway Market, just up the street from our flat. I also try not to let these visits conclude without at least one (or three) mini cupcakes from Violet Cupcakes. After carefully considering our extensive eating options (there’s new Persian food which I must try next) Lex and I opted for the Heavenly Halloumi burger from The Veggie Table with a generous smoosh of onion jam on top, which smelled so good it required an eyes-closed moment of silence and gratitude from Lex before biting into it.
This veggie burger, made of made of halloumi, carrots, zucchini, mint, and coriander, is one of the best I’ve ever had and is surprisingly easy to make yourself. Makes you wonder why you ever put those unidentifiable-brown-defrosted-hockey-puck-soy-protein-things pretending to be meat in your mouth. If you’re not going to eat meat, eat something that tastes like vegetables because, shockingly, vegetables are delicious.
Obviously, meat is also delicious. So we followed up the wholesome organic veggie burger with a triple meat sandwich from BanhMi11. Yes, that’s actually what it’s called. Stuffed with chicken, roast pork, pork pate, cucumber, red pepper, cilantro, and I don’t remember what else in a crunchy baguette, I’ve got to say it wasn’t the most amazing banh mi I’ve ever had, but quite enjoyable nonetheless.
Lastly, what foodie tour of London would be complete without attending the launch party of a brand new food and culture magazine in a stunning garage-warehouse complete with hanging ivy, bowls of roast lamb, and harp player? For The Love Of Life, indeed.
If you’re reading this and you haven’t been to visit yet, get your act together! I can’t drink all this wine and eat all this cheese by myself…or at least I shouldn’t. So save me from myself and come visit, okay? Bean, book some tickets already…
Bedales Wine Bar @ Spitalfields Market
12 Market St
London E1 6DT
The Elk In The Woods
39 Camden Passage
London N1 8EA
The Veggie Table and Banh Mi 11
@ Broadway Market
from 10AM to 5PM