Highlight of London so far: a personal walking food tour!
We told the company about our group and what we’re interested in, and got set up with a younger docent who happens to be a world expert on chocolate (one of this years Grand Jurors for the International Chocolate Competition… yes, that exists, and yes, I want to be a part of it). She seemed like a perfect match!
Based on our tastes (which we summed up to be “chocolate, cheese and wine”), we spent a casual afternoon eating our way through West London. The guide picked spots that suited us, and along the way she would teach us facts about the city or answer our random questions.
We started the day in the grocery store of the Royal’s: Fortnum and Mason. Which is just way too pretty to be a grocery store. And it had a whole floor dedicated just to sweets, so I was sold. We tried some traditional English foods here, including Scotch Egg and Game pies. Neither would I order regularly but they were a tasty little treat.
The best part was that once the man serving us found out we were on a little tour, he took us aside to a hidden wine cellar which was originally the first room of the store. In the corner is a big wooden door which leads down a secret tunnel to Buckingham Palace (late night royalty snack runs perhaps?).
From there we got to benefit from our guide’s chocolate expertise at Prestatt trying tasty English truffles, with unique flavors like earl grey or rose cream (which is apparently the Queen’s favorite). They love their Royals here. My personal favorite was the original dark chocolate truffle.
This colourful confectionary shop has been issued a Royal Warrant of Appointment, which are given by the Royal Family for providing excellent goods or services. Only the Queen, Duke and Prince of Wales can issue them. The shops typically bear a coat of arms above their door, and there are only around 1100 of these warrants that can be given out. So far only 800 of them have been awarded.
We sampled truffles here until our bellies hurt, and left with bags of goodies for later.
From sweet to salty, we moved onto English cheeses. The cheese monger informed us that Stilton and Cheddar are the classically known English cheeses, but introduced us to some new favourites: Stinking Bishop and St. Woolfston (a hard cheese made from pear cider with little bits of Brie rind in it). Yummy.
Passing some English pubs, we learned that the reason that many of these have names like the “Crown” or “White Horse” or the “Rose & Crown” is that most people in England around the 16th century were illiterate; so, the pubs had names like these so there could be an easily identifiable picture on the sign for people to recognize them.
We sampled tea, dried fruit and nuts, hot chocolate and coffee. London is full of history and everywhere we went we would stumble upon a piece of history, whether it was the home of Benjamin Franklin or Herman Melville, or the street of the Cholera outbreak.
We also wandered down fancy streets of restaurants, hotels, and suit shops, where each shop had its own maker in the basement below. One of the high-end brands is known to inscribe a little message in the inner pocket that says their suits “help you get laid”.
During one of our walks, our guide happened to know a friend involved with a restaurant I would love to return to one day called “sketch”. The main chef is a 3-Michelin star awarded chef, Pierre Gagnaire. However, that wasn’t what drew me. Instead, I felt like every room in the place was a work of art with incredible design that changes seasonally. One room was orange, made with all different pieces of furniture and cutlery collected from around the world as the artist wanted no piece to be alike. Another room, for afternoon tea, was decorated like a fairy-tale forest. It was all very unusual, yet somehow felt very contemporary. Even the bathrooms were an art piece!
Speaking of interesting locations, we got our a private glimpse into the Oscar Wilde Bar. Stepping into this bar, established in 1865, you feel like you step back in time. It almost feels like a cellar with its dark interior, but is lavishly decorated in a Louis XVI theme. The seats are plush red, the walls covered in mirrors surrounded by gold embellishment.
The bar is named after its most famous patron – Oscar Wilde, who met and fell in love with his partner Lord Alfred Douglas here. It is also known to have been a favorite to the Beatles and Elizabeth Taylor. Nowadays you can stop in for afternoon tea, drink champagne in the early evening, or enjoy live entertainment at night.
After a few hours of wandering and bellies more full of food than I expected, we ended up in a tiny dumpling shop in Chinatown, where the dumplings are made right beside you. The older lady that owns it is slightly abrasive, running around with an aggressive tone, but I thought she contributed to the overall atmosphere. It was here that our tour ended and we said goodbye to our lovely guide. If you’re interested in some of our specific stops, I posted more info about our London walking food tour below.
PS. Sorry for the somewhat blurry photos… We were too busy eating to take much for photos other than with our phones!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: FOOD TOUR HIGHLIGHTS
Though our 3-4 hour London walking food tour took us to a variety of places in West London, here is a list of our favorite stops and places we’ll be hoping to return to in the future:
- Fortnum & Mason’s: Grocery store of the Royal’s, worth stopping into just to gaze at the decor.
- Prestat: Our favorite colorful chocolate shop of the tour. Lots of tasty truffles to sample and they make a great gift! The classic chocolate truffle was my favorite, and the Earl Grey and Knickerbocker Glory chocolate bars are also great.
- Paxton & Whitfield: A cheese shop with a true cheese monger.
- Cafe Royal Hotel Grill Room (ie. Oscar Wilde Bar): A very Louis XVI feeling cocktail bar.
- sketch: A restaurant where food and art come together.
- Paul A Young Fine Chocolates: Another tasty chocolate shop, with this year’s international chocolate award nominated caramel truffles.
- The Windmill: A classic pub and the place to go to try classic English meat and fish pies.