Last Updated on February 21, 2021 by Fiona Maclean
London Food Tours – London Bridge.
Food Tours are always a great way to learn more about a local food scene and its culinary heritage. Somehow that combination of food, walking and listening to an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide provides a colourful and memorable insight into what is unique and special. And personally, I find a food tour often provides a better cultural insight than all the museums you can manage – especially in a city like London where the food is very much at the heart of things.
Joining a London food tour focussed around London Bridge, one of a range from Secret Food Tours, was an opportunity not to miss. It’s an area which has grown way beyond the popular Borough Market to include sites like Maltby Street, Vinegar Yard and Bankside. And, the south side of the river is in the London Borough of Southwark, my own home.
The evolution of a London food scene over the last twenty years or so intrigues Londoners and visitors to our City equally. Did we really have no cuisine so to speak until 20 years ago? I think not – and restaurants like Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner where the menu depends on recipes dating back a thousand years or more prove otherwise. What may be true is that we lost sight of our culinary heritage during the Second World War and in the drawn-out period of food rationing which followed. Certainly, London in the early 1980s had a burgeoning food scene, though eating out was more of a ‘special occasion’ for most people than it is today. Berwick Street Market was where I bought my own fresh vegetables – and I remember being excited to find fresh fish (including lobster walking around on the shop floor) around the corner, homemade pasta and olive oil at Lima stores in Brewer Street and practically any exotic Asian ingredient at Loon Fung in Gerrard Street.
Despite living in Clapham, South of the River, Borough and London Bridge were not on my radar – in fact, although Borough Market is an ancient food market (there are records showing it in operation dating back to the eleventh century), it almost died out completely in the 1970s with the opening of New Covent Garden for wholesale fruit and vegetables and the growth of supermarkets. In the 80s and 90s, the evolution to what is there now had just started. Today the market is definitely on the radar of every food-loving visitor to London – so it’s perhaps not surprising that the Secret London Bridge food tour started there, with a bacon and egg ‘sarnie bap’ and a rather indulgent Whisky cocktail at Whisky Ginger, one of the street food stands on the edge of the market.
Matt, our guide gave us an overview of the walking tour – perfect for food lovers with plenty of time to explore Borough Market.
The revival of Borough Market in the early 1990s coincided with a new interest in artisan foods and drinks in London. Specialist producers and importers had already taken up residence in some of the nearby warehouses – and the market capitalised on that to establish a new artisan food market. What exists now is a carefully curated portfolio of businesses with a greater focus on street food than in the past. But, it’s still somewhere I go when I am looking for a special ingredient – be that game, seasonal vegetables or a rare spice.
As a local, I seldom indulge in the street food offerings (other than oysters from Wright Brothers, which I can never resist) – so it was great to get a chance to sample some new (to me) dishes.
I do shop at The Ginger Pig – the Borough Market branch is one of eight butchers in and around London selling meat and poultry predominantly from the UK. They are famous not just for the quality of their meat but for sausage rolls, which we got to sample. And very excellent they are too.
Delicious flaky pastry with a substantial spicy sausagemeat filling that melts in the mouth. I’m regretting that introduction – unlike oysters, they are definitely not low-calorie treats. So, thank you Secret London Food Tours for adding to my diet pain!
One of the advantages of being on a food tour is that often, as in this case, the guide is known to the stallholders. Instead of queuing at FishKitchen, a winner at the National Fish and Chip Awards, we were brought a sample by Matt who explained that the chips were triple cooked (a la Heston) while the fish was delivered four times a day. Certainly, the result was a mouthwateringly light battered fish and very moreish fluffy centred chips with a crisp shell.
We had plenty of time on this food tour to look around the market for ourselves.
Eyeing up the globe artichokes, I escaped having to try and cook them simply by finding a competitor for my affection in the form of new season’s English Asparagus. Classic English food – steamed and served with a little butter or griddled and dressed up with ham and quail eggs. I can’t think of anything better.
I was tempted by some of the cheeses at the market too, but as we had more to come on this London Bridge food tour, I knew I wouldn’t want to eat for a week or so. And Borough Market Cheeses have their own stall at my local farmers’ market too.
There are plenty of places at Borough Market offering alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks both to consume on the spot and to take home. We tried some unusual West Country Mead at Cartwright Brothers. But I’m afraid, I still preferred the Rhubarb Gin Liqueur, which I sampled despite having a bottle already at home…
Well, it is all about eating (and drinking) London isn’t it.
Leaving Borough Market our walking tour took us through to The Mug House, a pub that is owned by Davy’s, created from a building that was part stables and part wine cellar. There we enjoyed a platter of English cheeses, crackers and grapes together with Aspalls Cider and then a small glass of port.
Next to Viva Bacchus for English Breakfast Tea and Sticky Toffee Pudding with vanilla ice cream. A classic English pudding that is always a hit.
Finally, a walk around Southwark to learn more about the area. At one time, this side of the River was home to everything that London itself didn’t tolerate. Gambling, bear baiting, unlicenced acting and more – Southwark was ruled by the Bishops of Winchester and the remains of the Bishop’s Palace are still there, along with Southwark Cathedral. Curiously, prostitution was legal in Southwark in the 12th Century – and the ‘Winchester Geese’ (the local prostitutes) paid a tax to the Bishops of the time who ruled the ‘Liberty of Southwark’.
Looking out over the River Thames while we enjoyed a vanilla custard doughnut from Bread Ahead we’d reached the end of our secret food tour.
It’s a part of London I know and love so I’m happy that it’s being shared with food lovers visiting the City. Like Soho and East London, London Bridge has its own unique character and heritage. And, this food walking tour just begins to introduce visitors to some of the places to explore. If I have any criticism it is that the food tour doesn’t go far enough. But, Borough Market itself is somewhere I can easily spend a half day, so perhaps that’s not surprising.
Check the link for more information about the London Bridge Secret Food Tour. Or pick from a range of food tours in London, Edinburgh and other destinations worldwide. The London Bridge tour takes around 3 hours (normally starting at 11 am so you are ready for lunch) and begins a few minutes walk from London Bridge Station. Prices start at around £59 for adults with discounts for children.
Thinking of taking this food tour? Why not pin my post for later
Meanwhile, here are a few more places to eat in London Bridge and Borough. Though I wouldn’t recommend booking anything for after the Secret London Bridge Food Tour – you may not need to eat for a week!