48 Hours in London – A Guide to the East End, Soho and Southbank
I usually try to engineer at least two reasons a year to go to London and every time I do, I am looking to do something different. I never do the same trip twice.
Last year, I wrote about Little Venice, but my most recent trip topped that. We went to the East End and then spent time around Soho and the city. So here is my latest guide to 48 hours in London. Enjoy!
I don’t care what anyone says, a visit to London isn’t complete without a trip to the theatre! London is littered with theatres of all kinds, shapes and sizes, and it doesn’t have to be all sequins and musicals. My two favourite theatres in London are The Globe (the recreation of the Shakespeare open air theatre where magic literally happens) and the National Theatre. Both do amazing productions of serious theatre at very accessible prices. This time was a trip to the National Theatre, Olivier Auditorium for a new production of Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus.
Jack the Ripper Tour
Not for everyone, but as someone who grew up intrigued by the Victorian mystery of Jack the Ripper, I couldn’t say no! Now, there are many JTR tours in Whitechapel but we did our research and this one came out consistently on top, and we weren’t disappointed either. Our guide was a real-life Ripperologist, Mike Priestley, who delivered the tour with theatrical abandon and disturbing detail. We weaved our way around the streets of Whitechapel, some of which were old and creepy as hell, convinced that we might uncover the truth of who Jack really was. Alas, it was not to be but it did make for a very intriguing and alternatively entertaining evening!
Victoria and Albert Museum
It’s free to visit and what awaits is a world of treasures. If you are in anyway interested in design, ancient or modern, then this is the place for you. My advice though, plan in advance what you want to see. The museum is large and sprawling and I missed too much after running out of time. On the other hand, it is free to go in, as are many of London’s museums, so there’s no excuse not to return time and time again.
Maltby Street Market
No sooner had we landed our bags into our gorgeous hotel room, we were in a taxi heading to Maltby Street Market. Squeezed in between the old LASSCO ropewalk is a line of food vendors with the most delicious smells emanating. To your right as you walk down are food truck selling everything from mulled cider to cakes to melty cheese sandwiches with a cult following.
On the other side in the vaulted areas underneath the ropewalk are wine bars, breweries, distilleries and restaurants of the permanent and pop up kind. It is mobbed. The market appears every Saturday and Sunday and is one of the fastest growing pop-up street food markets in London. It is also home to the legendary St John Wine Bar and Bakery.
While we were here we shoved a box of mixed gyoza into our faces courtesy of The Gyoza Guys – delicious. A walk down and around the corner uncovered the Southwark Brewing Company micro-brewery that doubles up as a bar on the weekend. I had a three-beer flight of their London Pale Ale, Amber Ale and Vanilla Stout – each a delight.
Along a little further, and we ventured upon a tiny gin distillery. Jensen’s Gin make small batch gin based on painstakingly research traditional London gin recipes from its hayday in the 1800’s. A classic London Dry or an Old Tom are the offerings, along with some interesting tonics. I went for the mulled gin and it was a taste sensation – just the thing to take the chill off you!
Our final stop, and with our cheeks becoming decidedly ruby in colour, was 40 Maltby Street, a wine bar situated in the Gergovie wine warehouse but with a really interesting array of wines that are biodynamic and organic. Get there earlier (unlike we did) and you will be rewarded with a choice of epic dishes from their chalkboard menu. We spied partridge and creamy mash amongst other things. Shame the kitchen was closed…I blame the gin.
I almost don’t want to tell you about this place because then everyone will want to go and I’ll never get a seat! Kiln is a Claypot Thai restaurant where everything is cooked over firey hot coals in traditional Thai style claypots. A small plates menu is the perfect decision because, quite frankly, you will want to eat everything which is pretty much exactly what we did.
The food is fiery and aromatic. Seating is mainly counter style baring a really small number of tables down below, but if you sit down there you’ll miss all the fun. Watching the chefs at work: it’s frenetic and fast paced but we still have a chance to chat to them. You will get a little bit hot and sweaty especially if you sit where we were – directly opposite the claypot furnaces, but worth it. The wine list is phenomenal.
I suggest you go hungry so you can fill your boots. Food is ridiculously reasonably priced for the quality. We were told they were about to open another location near Canary Wharf doing this kind of food for breakfast. Not that we needed an excuse to go back.
Duck And Waffle
Think you know breakfast? Think again. I booked three months in advance for breakfast at Duck and Waffle, situated on the 40th Floor at the prestigious 110 Bishopsgate. Crazy? Possibly, but I’ll not be complaining.
Open 24 hours a day for that legendary breakfast, lunch and dinner with panoramic views of the London skyline. If you haven’t booked in advance, don’t even bother showing up. When your day starts with Cocktails at 10.30am 40 floors in the air you know it’s gonna be a good day!
At the end of a painful 5 minute procrastination I decided that the original Duck and Waffle breakfast was what I needed. Confit duck leg falling off the bone, a perfect fried egg, fluffy and moreish buttermilk waffles and a mustard infused maple syrup sauce.
It was the best breakfast I have ever had. It is one taste memory that will be too long to leave me, and for that I am happy. Who knew such breakfasts existed that are worth waiting three months for?
Borough Market is London’s oldest food market, but in recent years has undergone a major revitalisation that has seen it blossom and reconnect with its history and roots. If it wasn’t for the smart phones and the Barbour jackets you could easily think you had been transported back in time.
If ever there was an emporium to the best seasonal produce available in the South East, then Borough Market is it. Fresh game birds yet to be plucked, native rock oysters, cockles and mussels alongside vendors selling hot food inspired by India, the Middle East and Asia.
It is a snapshot of what London is, and always has been: multiple cultures living side by side and a world of foods to gorge on. That and they had little Styrofoam pots of fresh crayfish tails – a little thing that flooded back childhood memories of the shellfish shacks on the beach in Weston-Super-Mare.
The final meal of this trip, and it just had to be back to my beloved Wahaca Southbank. The Wahaca brand is the brainchild of Thomasina Myers, a very early Masterchef UK champion, whose whole world is authentic Mexican food. There are many Wahaca’s in London, but this one made of a hodgepodge of old containers stacked and fashioned into the coolest restaurant of all on the banks of the Thames is the only one I will ever go to.
I start with fresh guac and a Mondelo and proceed to eat far too much food. If my last meal consisted of the Baja fish taco’s guac and refried beans (and a fair few beers), I would die happy. At this juncture I would also like to give massive props to the 60-something guy on the table opposite me who ordered the Tequila flight. Legend.
Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town
Go to the Sunday Breakfast Club on Artillery Lane. Ask to see the Mayor and wait. Walk through the door of the giant Smeg fridge, down the rickety stairs and pass the sign pointing the way to “Thrills”. You are in his town now. But I didn’t tell you how to find him, capiche?
We splashed out on a touch of London Luxury and stayed at Threadneedles in Bank. It’s a five star hotel, but with a little help from Secret Escapes we were able to get a €600 a night room for €150. We were staying for two nights over a weekend.
Top tip: unbelievable deals on your hotel accommodation are available if you stay in a business district over a weekend. The bulk of their trade is Monday – Friday, so as long as you don’t mind it being a little bit quiet, a top class room in a central location can be yours for a fraction of the usual cost.
We took an offer that couldn’t be refused in the middle of the Ryanair pilot crisis and bought a return flight from Cork to London Stansted with priority boarding for just €15 per person.
Kate Ryan is an established food writer, blogger and founder of Flavour.ie, a website that is dedicated to promoting West Cork Food through writing, events and tours. Kate writes regularly for the Evening Echo and The Southern Star newspapers, The Opinion Magazine, TheTaste.ie, Headstuff.org and has been featured in the Irish Examiner and Irish Times. Kate was commissioned by A Taste of West Cork Food Festival to author an “Artisan Food Guide” published in June 2017.
Her blog, The Flavour Files, is recipe driven showcasing the best of West Cork produce and encouraging everyday cooking with it at home, as well as the best places to eat in the region.
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