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
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.
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.
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?’”
For another British favourite, head to Poppies of Spitalfields,
where Pop himself has been frying golden portions of fish and chips for more
than 50 years in his vintage, diner-style restaurant.
End food tours
To discover East London’s hidden gems, it is always best to ask a local.
According to Charli Matthews of culinary walking tours Walk Eat Talk Eat, the food scene
in East London is dynamic and always changing. “There’s nowhere else quite like
it,” she said. “There are so many different types of food, reflecting all of
the different immigrant groups that have come to the area throughout the years,
from the Huguenots and Dutch weavers to the Jewish, Irish and Bangladeshi.”
From the melting pot of Brick Lane in the inner east — a three-stop Tube trip
or a 10-minute taxi ride from Olympics transport hub Stratford station — the tours head to lesser-known foodie areas
such as Whitechapel, covering everything from Kashmiri teas and Swedish pies to
scorchingly hot Bangladeshi curries and the traditional British foods treasured
in this part of the city.