London Travel Tips from Meg Abbott & Issy Croker of The Curious Pear

Conversations with Locals

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. 

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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…). 

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Ducksoup in London. Photo: Issy Croker

 

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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. 

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Avocado and poached eggs on toast at Rawduck. Photo: Issy Croker

 

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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! 

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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. 

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Porchetta sandwich with truffle cream and rocket at All’Antico Vinaio in Florence, Italy. Photo: Issy Croker

 

WHERE TO EAT IN LONDON 


Marksman
Where: 254 Hackney Rd, London E2 7SJ, United Kingdom
For: Sunday roast

Hill & Szrok
Where: 60 Broadway Market, London E8 4QJ, United Kingdom
For: Meats

Berber & Q
Where: 338 Acton Mews, London E8 4EA, United Kingdom
For: Lamb and pita 

Lyle’s
Where: Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High St, London E1 6JJ, United Kingdom
For: A modern upmarket feel

St John Bar & Restaurant Smithfield
Where: 26 St John St, London EC1M 4AY, United Kingdom
For: Nose to tail eating

Ducksoup
Where: 41 Dean St, London W1D 4PY, United Kingdom
For: Somewhere romantic 

Poco Tapas Bar
Where: 45 Jamaica St, Avon, Bristol BS2 8JP, United Kingdom
For: Mackerel and avocado on toast

Rawduck
Where: 197 Richmond Rd, London E8 3NJ, United Kingdom
For: Spicy daal with poached eggs 

NOPI
Where: 21-22 Warwick St, London W1B 5NE, United Kingdom
For: Shakshuka

Burnt Toast Café
Where: Argos Brixton, 36 Atlantic Rd, London SW9 8PS, United Kingdom
For: Crumpets and toasts
 
 

WHERE TO GO IN LONDON


Broadway Market
Where: Hackney, London E8 4, United Kingdom
For: Food markets

Druid Street Market
Where: Druid St, Bermondsey, London SE1 2AN, United Kingdom
For: Food markets

Borough Market
Where: 8 Southwark St, London SE1 1TL, United Kingdom
For: Food markets

London Travel Tips from Valeria Necchio, Italian Food Writer at Life Love Food

Conversations with Locals

Valeria Necchio is the author of the Italian food blog Life Love Food, where she shares her cooking and travel adventures. Raised in the countryside of Venice, she is now based in the city of London. We talk to Valeria about her favourite places in Italy for food, her love for English green asparagus, and her go-to places for gelato in London. 

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Photo: Valeria Necchio/Life Love Food

What do you feel defines Italian cuisine?

Quality raw ingredients, seasonality, simple flavours and regional differences.

What do you feel are the most common misconceptions about Italian food? 

That it’s always the same stuff – pizza, lasagne, spaghetti – from North to South. I will never stress this enough: every region has some amazing dishes and specialities that are unique to that area and are worth trying. Be adventurous and ask the locals!

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Sfogliatelle, a type of pastry filled with ricotta cream and sweet citrus, that can be found in Naples. Photo: Valeria Necchio/Life Love Food

In your opinion, which parts of Italy has the best food? 

It would be really hard to pick one, because there are so very many regional differences, and every region has such great food! I am of course fond of the food of my origins – Venice and the surrounding countryside – with its abundance of seafood and its focus on great seasonal produce.

Yet, if I had to pick one, Sicily would be my second region of choice – their granite, fresh ricotta and range of great seafood is truly hard to beat.

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Pane cunzato, a Sicilian sandwich made from a loaf of bread. Photo: Valeria Necchio/Life Love Food

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Freshly caught seafood in Sicily. Photo: Valeria Necchio/Life Love Food

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Panini in Sicily. Photo: Valeria Necchio/Life Love Food

What are some Venetian dishes you feel travellers can’t leave Venice without trying?

Squid ink risotto is a great classic, but also baccalà mantecato (a sort of cream made with stockfish), and sarde in saor are great examples of Venetian cuisine. The latter is a dish made of fried sardines topped with cooked slices of sweet and sour white onion, often punctuated with pine nuts and raisins. It is served as a cold starter or bite-size snack in many traditional restaurants or osterie in the city – it’s my absolute favourite.

As a Venetian, what do you feel most travellers miss out on when they are visiting Venice? 

The city offers hidden gems to whoever dares to venture beyond the beaten path, without the fear of getting lost. The real charm of Venice is in its decadent beauty made of crumbling walls and empty small squares. Sure enough, the big attractions are worth seeing, but there is so much more to the city than St Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge.

Now that you are based in London, can you share with us your thoughts on the difference between British food and Italian food?

Italy, perhaps because of its location and its favourable climate, has a broader variety of raw ingredients available throughout the seasons. This leads to a cuisine that is varied and deeply seasonal, changing from one month to the other. Britain seems to have less of this variety – at least from a consumer perspective. It also has less regional differences. In this sense, a typical dish usually plays around the theme of ‘meat and two veg’.

That said, there is a great generation of British chefs who are changing the way people eat, and exploring new routes while making local ingredients shine.

Could you share with us some of the English food you fell in love with while you are living in London?

English green asparagus are just on a league of their own – the best asparagus I have ever tasted. There are also some truly outstanding cheese makers producing some fantastic artisan cheese, most of which can be found at Neal’s Yard Dairy.

Where are your favourite restaurants or cafés in London for Italian food?

I love Artusi in Peckham – straightforward, well-thought seasonal Italian food with great wines to pair. The River Cafe is, of course, an institution in the city, and the best place to treat yourself to a quintessential, simple-yet-sophisticated Italian meal.

Where are your favourite spots in London for a good gelato?

Gelupo serves some delicious gelato – my favourite being the seasonal and ever-changing fruit flavours. For ice cream, La Grotta Ices in Bermondsey is plain delicious.

Where are your favourite food markets in London?

Spa Terminus in Bermondsey on a Saturday morning – the best food artisans in the area open their warehouses and sell their goods to a crown of food lovers. You can find cheese, bread, fruit and vegetables, beer, gin, honey, etc. It feels a bit like a treasure hunt.

 

WHERE TO EAT IN LONDON


Artusi
Where: 161 Bellenden Road, Peckham, London SE15 4DH
For: Seasonal Italian food

River Cafe
Where: Thames Wharf, Rainville Rd, London W6 9HA
For: Simple and sophisticated Italian food

Gelupo
Where: No 1 Cambridge Circus London, WC2H 8AP
For: Gelato

La Grotta Ices
Where: Arch 5, Voyager South, London SE16 4RP
For: Ice cream

Neal’s Yard Dairy
Where: Unit 6 Dockley, Dockley Road, London, SE16 3SF (and more)
For: Cheese

 

WHERE TO GO IN LONDON


Spa Terminus
Where: Dockley Road Industrial Estate, Dockley Rd, London SE16 3SF
For: A food market

The Eating Guide to London for £20 and Under

England

When I got off the subway in London’s city centre, it was a Friday and the beginning of a long weekend thanks to a bank holiday. I wandered into streets filled with red brick architecture, that looks like a scene from Notting Hill. The streets are littered with cafes and restaurants. Bars are filled with happy people holding a beer. They were having a great time just standing outside the bars and adding laughter to the street noise. Every cafe looks cool. Posters of musicals and plays filled the advertisement spaces.

If you come from Singapore (like myself), London seems like a terrifyingly expensive place to visit. Something that costs £10 is basically $20. Everything is a lot more expensive and being in the city, accommodations can blow your travel budget. That being said, London is a beautiful city, and one that shouldn’t be missed. Here’s a guide on three amazing places where you can have a great meal and not count your pennies afterwards.

Flat Iron Steak

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Where: 17 Beak St, Soho, W1F 9RW & 9 Denmark St, Soho, WC2H 8LS
What: Flat iron
For: Steaks

This is one of my favourite place to get an awesome steak. If you have been blowing $30 and above for steaks, the pricing in this place might seem unreal. Flat Iron Steak price their steaks at £10. Yes, you’ve got that right. Before you start questioning the quality, this is not some mediocre piece of meat. I first heard of the flat iron steak from one of Jamie Oliver’s youtube videos. When I heard of the name of the restaurant, I just had to try it to see for myself.

The restaurant adds certain memorable touches to their customer experience, from the adorable little butcher knife you get to cut the steak to the popcorn that’s sitting on the table before you arrive. Now let’s get down to the meat. The taste of this particular cut rivals that of the famed Wagyu beef due to its marbling. I tend to judge the quality of a steak by first trying it on its own without any sauce. This steak is only lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. Perfect! This is the way every steak should be tasted. It is also recommended that we try the medium rare version, which I did and was totally blown away.

Vasco & Piero’s Pavilion Restaurant

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Where: 15 Poland Street, Soho, London, W1F 8QE
What: Umbrian Italian food
For: Elegant Italian dining

I must confess that I was craving for authentic Italian food on my first day in London. Which is why, rather than trying local British food, I headed into this quaint looking restaurant that’s just off Oxford Street. The food at Vasco & Piero’s Pavilion Restaurant is exactly what I hoped for – true Italian cooking that creates simple dishes that brings out the flavours of its ingredients. The quality of the olive oil used is a testament to traditional Italian cooking values, and its flavour is impeccable. The restaurant focuses on Umbrian cuisine and sources most of its ingredients from this region of Italy.

Burger & Lobster

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Where: 36-38 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 4PS (and more)
What: Lobster
For: Casual dining

Burger & Lobster is probably every Singaporean’s favourite eating place in London. Every Singaporean friend of mine who has been to London insisted I try this place. Made popular by its huge lobster priced at £20, everyone wants a bite of this juicy crustacean. You get to choose to have the lobster served steamed, grilled or as a lobster roll. Another popular choice is their humongous burger which is also priced at £20. This restaurant is packed at any time of the day and they have a strict no reservations policy if you’re a group of less than six persons. Be sure to come early to secure your seats!