Many of us who joined Eddie on his food tour that explores Shoreditch, Spitalfields and Brick Lane were pretty familiar with the area. At least, that’s what we had assumed before we set off.
Over the next three hours, the Not In The Guidebooks team got a taste, quite literally, of one of our experiences for the first time in what felt like forever. We wandered the atmospheric streets around Shoreditch and discovered the quirky, unexpected facts you only get to know when you’re with a local who has made some real effort to learn about their home, and got a flavour of some of the very best food in the neighbourhood.
Pintxos and Wine
Like any good city tour (or at least the vast majority of them), ours began with some incredibly good food and wine.
One of the great things about London is that, as a truly global city, local food isn’t limited to jellied eels or fish and chips. The fact that we were near Brick Lane was the perfect example of this global culture. We learnt that there was the traditional area for immigrant populations to live and establish their culture, from the French Huguenots, the Jewish people, then the Bangladeshi immigrants, all of whom brought their own culture and cuisines.
Essentially what this all means is that genuinely authentic, top-quality cuisine from all over the world can be found in London – if you know where to look.
Fortunately, we had Eddie to lead us first to a traditional Basque restaurant, to try a cuisine that doesn’t often find itself in the limelight.
If escaping from the steady, grey, East London drizzle into the warm, relaxed atmosphere of Sagardi wasn’t enough, then the generous helping of pintxos (think Basque tapas, cured meats, cheese and anchovies and more on small slices of bread) certainly sealed the culinary deal.
We were shown the proper way to help ourselves to these delicious little creations, and enjoyed an explanation about the way the people of the Basque country cure their most prized commodity, beef. A couple of glasses of wine and a couple more pintxos later, it was time to head back out to explore further.
The Old Nichol Slum and Even Older Stories
Wandering east towards Shoreditch High Street, stopping briefly to pick up some doughy fuel in the form of Nutella and salted ricotta stuffed pizza (trust us, it works), Eddie began to bring the old East End, a world now only hinted at by remains of tenements and intriguing back alleys, old storefronts and hidden signs, to life.
Stopping in Arnold Circus, we learnt about Jack London’s journey to the heart of the Old Nichol Slum and his resultant novel, The People of The Abyss, and some genuinely fascinating facts that explained London quirks we’re so used to, but never know the cause of.
It would be telling to give away too many secrets of the tours now though, you’ll just have to head out with Eddie yourself to find them out…
Eddie's Tours With NITGB
Bagels, Brick Lane, Bangladeshi Street Food – and Beer
We then headed to the top of the iconic Brick Lane, with the chimney of the Truman Brewery still looming over a community that once revolved around the massive old brewery.
As we headed down the cobbles, we stopped at one of the most treasured London eateries, Beigel Bake. Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year, the lights only turn off when the a bulb goes, and they churn out vast quantities of salt beef and salmon and cream cheese bagels every day.
It would be almost rude to walk straight past this establishment and not stop in for one of these legendary ‘snacks’, so we stopped to share a salt beef, mustard and gherkin bagel between two (they’re not snacks, they’re huge).
Continuing to the Truman Brewery via of the best chocolate truffle shops in London, we learnt more about the history of the building, the community, the quintessential Brick Lane street art, and so much more as Eddie enthusiastically pointed out those little details you would otherwise totally miss.
Why do you see different patterns in the glass above the beautiful old terraced houses in the area? How did London’s ‘curry mile’ come about? Why do we see green tiles on pubs so often? How did Spitalfields Market get its name?
The quirky little stories behind all these questions and more are what made the tour so unique, as we got off the standard tourist trail and saw some of the hidden gems that make London so special.
As we headed back to Brick Lane after a quick wander around Spitalfields and some local Bangladeshi street food snacks, we settled in a craft beer bar and shop, thoroughly stuffed at this point, and soaked in the early evening atmosphere.
It had been a tour that genuinely showed a side to London that even those who had been locals weren’t aware of, and was a chance to try some of the best food in an area where it’s known for the wide range of cuisines.
The highlight of course though, was our local host, who led our group with an infectious enthusiasm and energy, and kept everyone engaged with his obvious love of the city and the local people. We had been treated to the secrets and stories of East London, and a wide array of incredible food that left all of us totally satisfied and happy with a unique day out.
Why not join Eddie yourself, on this Locals Love East End Food Tour, and find out for yourself what all the fuss is about, and come away from this historic part of the city with a much greater knowledge of how it has evolved, and with a stomach full of properly great food.