Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Eating My Way Around London

I’ve never been a huge fan of tours.  I like exploring things on my own and happening upon new sites and restaurants.  Or I do what every other crafty person does; I search Pinterest for fun things in whatever city I’m traveling to, and then note them in my phone so I can find them (or get lost trying to find them) when I arrive.  However, in 2015 when I went to England and Belgium, my travel partner in crime booked 2 tours for us.  The first was a Secret Garden Tour of the Cotswolds and the second was a Chocolate tour of Brussels.  Well, to say that these tours were awesome would be a huge understatement. They were phenomenal, and I had so much fun – and I ate so much food – and they totally converted me to being a tour person.
When left to my own devices, I chose Pancetta Ciabatta - Yum!
That’s why, when this year’s England trip rolled around, I actually mentioned a food tour of London as being something I’d like to do.  Of course, the travel partner in crime, already aware of how cool tours can be, was more than happy with this idea.  After a few Google searches we happened upon the Secret Food Tour of London. Secret Food Tours operates tours in cities all over the world.  In London, they have 3 choices for this type of tour.  We chose the Traditional British Food Tour, which takes place in the London Bridge area of town, and includes Borough Market, and traditional pub fare.

Unfortunately, the day we chose for the tour could have been a bit better – often torrential downpours on a walking tour are never fun.  However, our guide Mat was delightful.  He never let the weather get in the way of our fun.  He was so adept at giving the tour, and managing the weather that he would change the order of things, just so we’d be under cover for a lot of the heavier rain.  While he was young – a university student, we learned – he knew a great deal about the area and the food.  He was also a big fan of London in general, so he had great tips for touristy and non-touristy things to do while we were staying in the city.  But to me, the avid scrapbooker, the best thing he did was take our emails so he could send us a listing of the food and the vendors we tried on the tour.  That saved me from having to remember all of the vendor names, while shoveling in all of the delicious food. Mat really was a fabulous host, and I’m so happy we had him as our guide.

Now on to the really good part – the food!  And oh my goodness was there lots of it.  I’m pretty sure I ate my weight in deliciousness in those 3 hours, and I’m not even sorry about it. It was the best 3 hours I’ve ever spent in London!

We started the tour in Borough Market, home of a green market, handmade delicacies and a fish/meat market.  The market is full of so many things to try, that I’m quite happy we were touring it first with an experienced guide.  That way we didn’t waste our time and were introduced to the best items first.  As an appetizer for the day, we were treated to a Scotch Egg from Scotch Tails.  Now Scotch Eggs often get a bad rap for being stale, unhealthy, and tasteless.  However, this Scotch Egg – a deep fried sausage ball, filled with a medium-boiled duck egg – was unbelievably tasty.  It wasn’t tasteless or dry at all, and I’m a sucker for a perfectly cooked egg, so even though it was the first thing I tried, it was my favorite of the whole tour.  

We then learned a bit more about the market and took a few minutes to ourselves to wander. After wandering, it was on to the main attraction of Fish & Chips from Fish!Kitchen, which was our biggest meal of the day. Instead of the usual English Cod, this fish and chips was made with Haddock.  As a non-fish person, fish and chips are not usually my thing, but these were also delicious.  The fish wasn’t too fishy (my super scientific scale for rating fish), and the chips were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, just how they’re supposed to be.  It’s no wonder this particular vendor won Best Fish and Chips this year in the British Fish and Chips awards (and as an aside - how does one get on the judging committee of these awards, because that sounds like a pretty great job...?)

To accompany our fish and chips, we were treated to some Honey Mead courtesy of Mat.  I don’t do carbonation, so it really wasn’t my thing.  But others seemed to like the sweet treat. Continuing on, we then enjoyed an “Exceedingly Tasty Sausage Roll” from Ginger Pig.  Now, you’d think after I went gaga for the Scotch Egg, that more sausage would be my thing, but not in this case.  It was good, but it definitely wasn’t my favorite (also it made for a really ugly photo, which is why you see a photo of potato merchants below...)  It was a little bland, and honestly, if I was eating sausage, I’d really have preferred it contain a perfectly cooked egg…

Then it was time for the Secret part of the Secret Food Tour.  The gimmick of these tours is that there’s always one food that’s kept secret as a surprise for those on the tour.  Of course, this made more sense before Yelp and TripAdvisor.  I was unwittingly spoiled by checking out what others had said about the tour (and I'm apparently spoiling it for you too - a point I just realized).  But even being spoiled by what the secret food was, didn’t stop me from enjoying the giant Vanilla Cream filled, Sugar-Cinnamon Dusted donut from Breadahead. Oh My Goodness!  If I could have one of those every morning for breakfast, I’d be as big as a house, but I’d also be a very happy girl!  It was definitely a highlight – after the Scotch Egg of course.
Donut of Deliciousness (DoD)
Happy Girls enjoying the DoDs
After all of that deliciousness, we left Borough Market to see a bit of London Bridge, then traveled to the Mug House – a pub in Victorian London Bridge for a few cheeses and some ale.  It was here that Mat stepped up again, and really showed what a great guide he was. He remembered me saying that I wasn’t a drinker, so he ordered me an Elderflower Soda instead of the ale that everyone else drank.  Such a thoughtful tour-guide!  The cheeses were not my favorite, but I did enjoy the grapes and crackers served with them.

After a bit more walking, we ended the day at Horniman’s for dessert.  You may wonder how we could have enjoyed dessert after eating all of that food, but when it’s put in front of you, you really do have a hard time resisting.  In this case it was pots of tea and a Lemon tart. I went 50 – 50 on this – not a lemon fan, so I didn’t love the tart, but the tea was the perfect ending for a chilly and gray day.

All in all, I can’t say enough about just how much I enjoyed this tour of London.  The weather could have been better, but I’m not sure we would have had the same experience if it had.  We spent a lot of the time on the tour joking about the climate in London and dodging other’s umbrellas.  Mat was a superb tour-guide and he has a perfect personality for this type of work.  I learned so much about London from him and enjoyed all sorts of foods I'd probably never have tried if I were there on my own.  So, if you’re ever in London, I highly recommend trying out the Secret Food Tour of London.  But be warned: skip breakfast that morning.  You’ll thank me later!

Ruins seen walking from Borough Market to the Thames

3 hours
Cost: 59 pounds (not sure what the current exchange rate is)
All food and beverages are included in the price.

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