Have you heard of it? Been there?
To me, it’s a place filled with opposites and contrasts, like me. It’s touristic and you can go off the beaten track, it’s expensive and free, beautiful and dirty. All these contrasts are what make me fall more in love with the city every time I go.
I was seventeen the first time I visited and now, almost ten years later, I’ve been eight times. People ask me sometimes: ‘haven’t you seen it all by now?’ How can I, when the city keeps changing and growing. Especially the food(ie) scene has improved heaps over the last few years, or I’ve only now started discovering it. Whatever it is… I’ve been enjoying it immensely. I’ve found a go to-place for every meal of the day.
Two summers ago I was exploring the St Katherine Docks near the Tower Bridge. My friend and I stumbled upon a quaint coffee shop called White Mullberries; and I never looked back. Breakfast, lunch or snack, White Mullberries has got you covered. They serve the best Chai Latte – at least as far as my (and my friends’) experiences go – and the coffee itself is also good. I can’t vouch for this myself, as I don’t drink coffee.
Pair the Chai Latte with a slice of their banana bread, carrot cake, or one of their many other cakes and pastries. You won’t regret it. Except that feeling of having eaten too much, because it is that good. For a proper breakfast or lunch have a seat at one of the tables. Order some banana bread with spread(s) and fresh fruit or gorge yourself on one of their savoury toasts.
If you’re in the mood for something healthier, try the smoothie bowls. Right before you leave, head back to the counter and order another Chai Latte to go. Is it obvious I like that one?
If you want to hang around the Tower or the Whitechapel area all morning, you can return to White Mullberries for a spot of lunch. For those like me, who are not made for staying in one place, here are some lunch recommendations.
You can’t go wrong with most pubs. They serve a myriad of food and it’s usually pretty good. Here are some tips on choosing the right pub:
– Stay clear from touristic pubs or pubs near touristic places and monuments. That pub near Buckingham Palace is likely not the best option around.
– Follow the crowds. If you see (and hear) Londoners in a pub, there’s a good chance this is an authentic pub that has ‘proper pub grub’.
– Use all your senses. Look around and follow your nose. Some pubs are real hole-in-a-wall places. Tiny things tucked away between to other buildings or in an alleyway are treasures. They don’t have big signs or other types of advertising to draw in customers, so they rely on word of mouth.
These tips won’t guarantee a good pub experience every time, but they’ll help you get there.
If you’re looking to eat fish and chips, head down to Poppies Fish & Chips in one of their many locations. Look for them in Camden, Spitalfields, and Soho. You can choose from a diverse menu of fish and chips, fried seafood, and more sides than you can dream. The batter is crunchy, the fish flaky, the chips are up to standard (and that’s coming from a belgian!) and even the mushy peas are quite good (take it from someone who doesn’t like peas).
Next, London is teaming with markets. Any of them will have food carts and stalls offering you lunch. Borough Market and Old Spitalfields Market are my favourites (I haven’t gotten to all of them yet). You can buy a meal or you can shop around and assemble your own lunch with some bread, spreads and some cheese. Enjoy your lunch in open air (on those few days where it’s not raining) and spend the time people watching. Plus, you can go for dessert after.
Last but not least, head to Beigel Bake in Brick Lane for the best bagel you’ve ever had (at least on our side of the Atlantic). Don’t be fooled by the look of this shop. Beigel Bake is open 24/7 and they sell traditional Jewish bagels. Salt Beef with Mustard is their signature bagel and it’s brilliant. It’s perfect for a cheap lunch, especially if you’re already in the East End. https://www.facebook.com/beigelbake/
I’ll be honest here; I haven’t actually tried that many afternoon tea spots in London. That’s because I found a wonderful place quite early on: the Wallace Restaurant. It’s inside the Wallace Collection, an art, weapons and historical artefact collection. It is part of a bigger chain of Peyton and Byrne restaurants. Is their afternoon tea the best one around? I wouldn’t know. I can say that they have the best scones I’ve ever had, though, and that I’ve been there six times now.
You can order a pot of tea with scones, clotted cream and fresh preserves or you can go all the way and order the assortment of Peyton and Byrne mini cakes and pastries. That one comes with some finger sandwiches as well. They’re wonderful and delicious, but I keep going back for those scones. The collection itself is a plus, with its beautiful rooms and displays; the best thing about it is that it’s free. But first, tea and scones. And if you’re lucky, they’re still warm.
Two summers ago I stumbled upon a wonderful bar called The Nightjar. They do brilliant cocktails and they’ve got live music. The interior heralds back to the Prohibition era speakeasy (sigh, I love history). What more could you want? It’s hidden away in a basement and it feels dark and secretive. I was sad to learn that they don’t serve food here. There are two sister venues: Oriole and Swift bars. I haven’t been to Swift bar yet (it’s on the list), but I adore the Oriole. The food they serve there is delicious. I’m a big fan of fushion style cooking (though, is anything not fusion these days?) and they do it wonderfully. I love the Pork Bun and the Fried Squid is divine.
The real treat at the Oriole are the cocktails, though. The bartenders play around with crazy flavour combinations. On top of that, they look brilliant too. There’s one cocktail I had there both times I went: the Marine Drive. They bring it in a set of glasses modeled like an hourglass. One side has a bright orange-red cocktail in it, the other side is filled with honey smoke. And then, they flip it. That makes the cocktail go through the smoke and take in the flavour of it. It’s spectacular to watch and even better to drink. https://barnightjar.com/food
My passions for travel and food come together in London. I hope this post got you interested in the food and the city itself and even inspired you to start planning a trip. If you want some more help finding great eating places in London, I recommend checking out Eating Europe’s website. They do guided food tours in different neighborhoods in London. I did one. It’s a wonderful mix of great food, information about the city and its history and meeting new people.
Well, London’s calling, again. So, I’m going to start planning my next trip; especially what I’m going to eat. London’s got great food to choose from, you know… if you know where to go.