I can map this city in layers. The food eaten; the shops and cafes I’ve loitered in; the people I’ve loved; the otherwise mundane benches and phone boxes that have been the scenes of important conversations and epiphanies. I could tell you about bickering with a now-absent friend over whitebait in a family-run Italian before I even moved here. I could sit you down in the pub where my heart burst with love for my mother. I could give you a run-down of what the bridges have meant to me, and recant tales from the very different new years eves I’ve celebrated. The Soho tattoo parlour where I got books inked into me. The train stations that have led me to new adventures. I could show you the city that shaped my life as I grew from a fresh-out-of-uni innocent moving to the big city to hopefully a more fully-formed woman, with a pair of santoku knives I refer to as “my babies” and more than a handful of stories to tell.
By which I mean, parts of me will miss it, and parts of me will stay there – just as they’ve stayed scattered across northern and eastern England – now that I’ve handed in my keys and hefted a suitcase and a tote bag of beers onto a train to leave. But my god, how I’ve eaten over these almost five years. My memory is truly terrible, and it’s the photos taken, no matter how embarrassing it is to be that person hovering over a table with their phone, or worse, actual camera, that will remind me. My Instagram is a log of the food I’ve eaten, sure, but it’s also a journal of the places I’ve been, a way of day by day making a note for future me: You ate here, with these people. You wandered through the market as the sun beat down relentlessly and made comments under your breath about underboob sweat.
Five years of food condensed into a grid of photos – but how about five years condensed into a day-long menu?
Let’s go full hobbit.
Given one day and a bottomless pit for a stomach, I’d kick off the day with a mushroom croissant from Bread Ahead‘s Seven Dials bakery – it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s filled and topped with a rich cheese sauce (and spinach to balance out the decadence). Second breakfast? Easy, it’s gotta be a mooch over to Dishoom. You could go for their famous bacon naan, or never-ending porridge, but I’d opt for the Big Bombay, complete with masala beans and glorious pork sausages. It’s a big plate of food, but it’s worth making time for, as, like this podcast celebrates, any good breakfast is. For elevenses, a wander through Bloomsbury via all the bookshops, and a quiet coffee and a nibble at Continental Stores, maybe a jaunt up to Kerb in Camden.
Lunchtime! Well, lunch is one of the easiest decisions of the day: hands down, it’s Honey & Co. Their set menu is a thing of utter beauty: a wide range of thoughtfully-selected mezze options, followed up with a main of your choice, and, if you fancy it, which of course you do, a dessert. In reality, I’ve never made it to dessert with room to spare. Not that I let that stop me – one sunny Friday before I left the city, I headed up to Warren Street after work, got a seat at the bar and ate the cheesecake in blissful solitude, savouring every crunch of the pastry and every sweet pop of a blueberry.
The hobbits’ fourth meal: afternoon tea. I’ll take this to mean a drink and something sweet, and so I’d head to Borough Market to scout out another Bread Ahead gem, the oh-so-Instagrammed doughnut. While I’m there, it’d be rude not to hop over to Cannon & Cannon and Utobeer for some goodies to go.
Dinner may be a controversial one, but for value you can’t say no to Hawksmoor‘s pre-theatre menu, even if for nothing else than excellent creamed spinach. I’d happily go just for that to be honest: table for one, no need to look at the menu, just a trough of creamed spinach.
In between the hobbits’ dinner and supper, I’d have to sneak in an extra meal: an ice cream from Udderlicious as big as my head. Bonus points for the carrot cake or strawberry & basil flavours. There are plenty of other ice cream and gelato parlours around the city to experience, most of them in the below post.
So we’re on the home stretch. One final meal. It’d be tempting to make the most of London’s booming burger scene – you can’t go wrong with an Honest Burger – or delve properly into all the multi-cultural cuisines the city has to offer. But as they say, go hard or go home, and I’d go hard with an 18 incher from Yard Sale Pizza and a ginger beer, before collapsing on the nearest bed in a carb coma.
You’ll notice that I don’t have photos for most of these places – they were memorable enough without it. London has so much to offer to the food-obsessed, and I’ll miss the 250+ restaurants that Deliverooed to my office. But in returning to Norwich, I’m moving to another city with a thriving food scene, so the eating out section of the blog will turn its eye eastward. I look forward to showing you what the county has to offer.