It is no secret that Meg and Issy knows food. With a camera in one hand and a pen in the other, the very curious duo of The Curious Pear have travelled the world plate by plate. As Food52 columnists, they are bona fide insiders in the London culinary scene, eating at the tables of some of the finest kitchens in the city. They count red wine as their best friend, and are not one to pass up a good avocado dish. Meg and Issy let us in on a little secret called Hackney, the importance of having a Sunday roast, and why they think Italy is the unrivalled food destination.
Photo: Issy Croker
What do you feel defines British cuisine?
To us, English cuisine is all about experimenting with different flavours from around the world. England has so much diversity, and the food really reflects that. We’re constantly amazed by the choices in London.
If we wake up and want a Middle Eastern breakfast, we can get it down the road. If we want Vietnamese noodle soup for lunch, it’s at our doorstep. If we want a South Indian curry for dinner, there it is! It really is amazing, and it’s getting better by the year. In terms of British food itself, it’s exciting to see chefs making use of the great produce we have in this country. Our seasons are so different; and bring so many flavours with them. It’s great to see British food go from slightly bland to wonderfully experimental.
What is the one local food you feel travellers can’t leave London without trying?
We’d have to say a good old Sunday roast. Nothing beats it. It is quintessentially English, and incredibly comforting. The thing is, if you get a bad one, it can scar you for life. So hunt down a good one!
Our favourite is at the Marksman in Hackney. It’s just down the road from our flat and has absolutely exceptional food, and a great selection of beers. We love the mix of old locals and young people -and sometimes their dogs – and tend to bed down there for an entire afternoon on Sundays.
Where are your favourite restaurants in the city?
We’re having a hard time leaving East London at the moment, mostly because the food is so damn good around there! Our favourite place is Hill & Szrok on Broadway Market – a master butcher’s that turns into a cookshop at night. It’s the best meat we’ve ever had with beautiful sides and good, cheap red wine. We also love Berber & Q. We love the lamb and pita, and all the cocktails! It’s very New York-y in there. St John and Lyle’s are still the best British restaurants around, and we love Ducksoup in Soho for romantic dinner dates (usually with each other…).
Ducksoup in London. Photo: Issy Croker
St John Bar & Restaurant Smithfield in London. Photo: Issy Croker
What’s a typical English breakfast for you?
Shamefully, neither of us are massively into fry ups. We’re still hunting for one that doesn’t remind us of Withnail and I, but Londoners love trying different things at breakfast time. Poco does a great mackerel and avocado on toast, Rawduck is very cool and does a spicy daal with poached eggs, and NOPI has the best shakshuka in London. It’s that smoked labneh that does it for us! You can’t get much more English than crumpets and toast with jam, so for that we head to Burnt Toast Café in Brixton Village.
Avocado and poached eggs on toast at Rawduck. Photo: Issy Croker
Poco Tapas Bar in London. Photo: Issy Croker
Name one London dining etiquette most travellers miss
Getting very drunk on Sundays! Or perhaps the big family suppers you get in any British household. We love a big pot of food on the table for everyone to serve themselves from. That’s something you don’t experience as a tourist. Unless you make friends with us, in which case we’ll feed you up in our flat!
What would you recommend travellers do in London to experience the city as a local?
Go to the food markets. They show what London is about at the moment – fresh, local produce, good booze, global cuisine, and lots of fun. Our favourites are Broadway Market, Druid Street and Borough Market. Go hungry and grab as many samples as you can!
Egg hopper at Druid Street Market. Photo: Issy Croker
What do you feel are the most common misconceptions about British culture?
Maybe that Britain is a little stiff and overly polite. It is true that we apologise about 174 times a day and get embarrassed very easily, but British people are also a lot of fun and a lot more relaxed than our reputation! That definitely feeds in to the food culture, too. London has been renowned for bad food in the past, but hopefully visitors get a pleasant surprise when they come here for the first time now.
When it comes to food, where in the world is your favourite destination?
That’s such a difficult question! Well, there’s nothing like the home cooking in India. The amount of spices and herbs that go into the most simple dish there is incredible. The lunches in Israel are amazing – piles of labneh, pitta, falafel and finely chopped salads.
But if we had to pick one place, it would have to be Italy. The standard of food there is just so high. We recently went to Florence and fell in love with wild boar ragu – which we ate every day for a week – and learned how to made pici and handmade gnocchi. Each region is so proud of their food. The produce there is bursting with flavour. And, any country where wine is a staple of the table is a friend of ours.
Porchetta sandwich with truffle cream and rocket at All’Antico Vinaio in Florence, Italy. Photo: Issy Croker
WHERE TO EAT IN LONDON