Olympic-standard food in East London
Tuck into a hearty breakfast at The Counter, an airy cafe with views of the Olympic Stadium. (Matt Munro)
In times past, London’s East End was not known for its culinary excellence, specialising in typical working-class foods such as jellied eels, cockles, and pie and mash. Today, however, this area is in the midst of a food revolution, home to some of the most innovative and downright delicious offerings in the British capital. This is good news for visitors to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, as the main stadium is within close proximity, allowing plenty of opportunities to sample East London’s best modern and traditional fare.
Cafés around the Olympic site
A javelin’s throw from the main Olympic Stadium is the Counter Café, a laid-back coffee den and restaurant located within the Stour Space building, which also houses a contemporary art gallery. The cafe has soft leather couches and large windows, where you can sit and look out at the curves of the outer Olympic Stadium wall. The emphasis is on organic produce, whether it is whisked into a fluffy scramble as part of the all-day brunch or baked into a golden-crusted homemade pie with fillings like lamb and aubergine, or pork, apple and fennel. During the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Counter Café will be a very popular option, so reservations for breakfast, lunch and dinner will be necessary well ahead of time.
For a good café alternative less than a mile to the north, try the Hackney Pearl , an award-winning restaurant and bar that specialises in weekly-rotating modern British dishes such as plaice with wild garlic butter and roasted Suffolk lamb as well as steaming cups of Square Mile coffee, some of the best beans roasted in London.
Not just another mall meal
The prospect of dining in a large shopping mall does not often inspire great expectations, but London’s second Westfield, which opened recently less than a mile from the Olympic Stadium, has one or two surprising exceptions. The Franco Manca pizza restaurant in the Brixton neighbourhood has often been dubbed “the best pizza in London”, and its Westfield branch continues the tradition, producing perfect, brick-oven, crisp-yet-chewy sourdough pizzas. Toppings are traditional and locally sourced where possible — such as the creamy buffalo mozzarella delivered from a farm in Somerset — and are best washed down with a glass of organic Ottavio Rube Italian wine.
Fresh, fast Mexican street food with a view of the Olympic Stadium is served at Westfield’s Wahaca and they serve delectable tamarind margaritas as well. Fresh, handmade pasta can be enjoyed at Pasta Remoli.
Les Trois Garcons in Shoreditch is a little farther afield — a 15-minute taxi ride — but it is well worth the extra miles. With swaying strings of crystals, stuffed animals wearing tiaras (including a giraffe’s head emerging horizontally from a wall), rich antiques in every corner and vintage handbags hanging from the ceiling, this converted Victorian pub is as notable for its lavish décor as it is for its food. The exceptional modern French cuisine, including dishes such as tea-smoked salmon with sesame and pickled fennel, followed by heavenly lemongrass pannacotta with tarragon ice cream, makes for a special meal away from the Olympic crowds.
For more adventurous modern cuisine influenced by a master of molecular gastronomy, try Viajante, one of London’s most experimental restaurants — a short Tube trip from the nearest Olympic Stadium station of Stratford to Bethnal Green — featuring unusual combinations such as duck heart with apple ribbons, pig’s tail with sweet cornbread, and milk sorbet with pickle and fresh cucumber.
Traditional East London fare
Less than a mile west of the Olympic Stadium, G Kelly’s Noted Eel and Pie Shop is a simple, sleek outfit of white-tiled walls and smartly uniformed staff, where traditional East End dishes have been served since 1939. Freshly baked minced beef pies come with lashings of mashed potato, all drizzled with a secret-recipe parsley sauce. Braver-hearted souls can try the eels, either served piping hot with mash, or cold, set in gobs of clear aspic
jelly and dressed with vinegar and pepper. Sue Venning is the latest in a long family line to run the shop and is well accustomed to convincing the uninitiated to sample a bite. “I ask them, ‘Do you eat sushi?’” Sue said with a bright laugh. “And when they admit that they do, I say, ‘Well then you can eat cold eels – what’s the difference?’”