Revered for being the pulse of London’s multicultural make-up, the city’s East End has long been a melting pot of all manner of communities and identities from around the world; no wonder then that, over the decades, it’s become a beacon for those interested in trying out many an edible curiosity. Here are just five such examples…
Traditionally speaking, London’s Jewish community is at its most concentrated – and, therefore, the city’s Jewish culture at its richest – in North London’s Golders Green area, yet to pay a visit to Beigel Bake (159 Brick Lane E1 6SB), you might just be fooled into thinking you’ve just stepped into downtown Tel Aviv. Living up to the irrepressible eclectic, electric vibe of East London, this bakery (that, yes, specialises in bagels – they make 7,000 of them a week!) is open 24-hours-a-day; perhaps their greatest creation being their salt beef bagel – ask for lashings of mustard. Ideal for a lunch on-the-go, a late-night snack or part of a Sunday hangover cure, you can’t beat this place.
Nutty for bacon butties?
Just like in many other parts of the world, bacon is an enormously popular slice of meat in Britain – not least as the filling to a sandwich. Which is a moot point, for in Blighty the word ‘butty’ is shorthand for ‘sandwich’; a bacon butty then being a sandwich that features, well, basically buttered bread and, yes, as much bacon as possible. Extremely popular with – again – the hangover crowd (not that there’s a theme developing here or anything), the bacon butty probably isn’t served better anywhere else in the capital than at St. John’s restaurant near the world-famous Spitalfields Market in Clerkenwell (26 St John Street EC1M 4AY).
Currying f(l)avour on Brick Lane
Thanks to its influx of Bangladeshi and Indian immigrants during the second half of the 20th Century, the Brick Lane area of East London has long been associated with the culture and – most relevant here – the cuisine of the Indian Sub-Continent. To wit, for decades now curry houses of have been as big a bastion of this district as the Cockney ‘Bow-bells’ accent. In fact, owing to the wider UK utterly embracing the curry, it’s now officially the nation’s favourite dish. So what better reason to check out one of the very best restaurants where it all began – Brick Lane itself? Why not, indeed! Walking down this floridly vibrant thoroughfare, it’s impossible not to be enticed by the spicy smells from its many outlets, but the best to try out have to be the highly recommended Brick Lane Brasserie and Standard Balti House (67 and 71 Brick Lane, respectively); the latter being anything but standard, naturally – and perfect for dinner out one night, if you’re savouring one of the London City break packages available at the likes of the Montcalm Suites London.
Fancy a fish and chips supper?
Of course, the UK’s previous national dish was the age-old popular fish and chips supper. Quite frankly, there are still few Brits alive who don’t like to devour a plate of plaice or a good serving of cod along with potato-packed chips (fries to their American cousins) every now and then. Some Brits still eat them every Friday, as part of a long-standing national tradition. Don’t worry; salt and vinegar all over your chips and mushy peas or a pickled onion or egg as a side are optional, but are certainly worth trying. Once, at least. Apparently, despite curry’s usurping of the crown, there’s still in excess of 10,000 fish and chips shops up and down the country; none, though, are better exponents of the dish than Poppies Fish & Chips in Spitalfields (6-8 Hanbury Street E1 6QR), not least because of its whimsical 1950s-styled décor.
Mines a pint – what’s yours?
Finally, few places are as intrinsically associated with the working class Englishman than the East End – and with that comes the classic pub (or ‘public house’, to give its proper name; or ‘boozer’, to give its name in the local tongue). And that’s hardly surprising really, because one of the nation’s oldest breweries, Truman’s (once upon a time the world’s biggest), is based in this part of town – in fact, it’s occupied the same spot since way back in the 17th Century. Still going strong, you can sample Truman’s much-loved porters and other brews in many of the East End’s best pubs, such as the so-traditional-it-hurts The Pride of Spitalfields (3 Heneage Street E1 5LJ) or, for something a little different, the hipster bar famed for its table football (fussball), Bar Kick in Shoreditch (127 Shoreditch High Street E1 6JE).