IT IS not often that I eat pudding for breakfast. Nor partake of a chilled glass of cider before the sun is over the yardarm. If this sounds indulgent, imagine also squeezing in a bacon sandwich, curry, a platter of cheese, fish and chips, a bagel stuffed with salt beef and pickle, plus a salted caramel and chocolate tart. All before lunchtime.
Gluttony for some, perhaps, but all in a morning’s work for our international group of gourmets on the Eating London Tour that escorts visitors around the East End of the city.
It is an area repeatedly settled, and subsequently vacated, by people fleeing persecution, from the French Huguenots in the 17th century to Jews fleeing Eastern Europe two centuries later. The 20th century saw a wave of economic migration from Bangladesh, while the latest influx of artists and hipsters have come in search of large industrial spaces and cheap rents. The area is packed with restaurants, bars, an eclectic mix of fashion boutiques, pop-up designer outlets and, with more than 60,000 artists in the neighbourhood, an intriguing array of street art from Banksy and Space Invader to Stik.
We were warned to arrive hungry and were richly rewarded with a four-hour walking tour with eight stops in award-winning restaurants for food tastings. Most popular was a toasted bacon sandwich at St John Bread and Wine, rated amongst the top 50 restaurants in the world and renowned for its chef/owner Fergus Henderson’s philosophy of nose-to-tail eating. The bacon sarmie with homemade ketchup is one of those mouthfuls you should cross town for.
Also exquisite was a bread and butter pudding with rum-spiked custard. The English Restaurant, in Spitalfields, specialises in traditional English cuisine in a 17th century wood-panelled building. It is like sitting in a Dickensian teashop.
We were taken down alleyways frequented by Jack the Ripper. We munched our way through the classic English repertoire — fish, chips and mushy peas, followed by the national favourite, curry, and even a platter of local cheese. A stop at a pub gave our group a taste of traditional tipples — cider and ale. Somehow we made space for the best salt beef bagels in London at Beigel Bake, the famous bakery on Brick Lane, open 24 hours a day, and a magnet for the weird and wonderful of the city. Disused factories have been turned into restaurants appropriately decked out in industrial style with much raw brick and metalwork. A salted caramel and chocolate tart reduced our garrulous group to silent contemplation, broken by groans of pleasure.
As we descended into the tube station, a busker serenaded commuters with the immortal words of Bob Marley: "Let’s get together and feel all right." It was precisely how I felt.