If you’re planning a vacation or staycation in London this summer, try exploring the city’s diverse food scene.
The launch of the 7th edition of Food Lovers’ London, published by Metro, took place at Unpackaged in Hackney earlier this month. Unpackaged is a new food store concept: it hosts a café, a bar and an organic grocery store, where you bring your own container to refill your kitchen cupboards. This was an ideal venue to present a book showing the diversity and creativity of the food shop owners who contribute to the colourful and engaging atmosphere of the streets of London. A perfect combination for people like me who love food and who love London.
Jenny Linford is the ideal person to write a book on London food shops. A London-based food writer who has written 15 books ranging from cookery books to ingredient guides, Jenny has followed the food-related developments in the streets of the capital for more than 20 years. She explained how she started the process for her first edition back in 1991, when things could not be found on the internet. She would walk in the streets of London interviewing people from various backgrounds on where they find the ingredients for their recipes. She soon became an active promoter of independent food stores. “If you make your point that you spend a part of your food budget on independent food shops, you will contribute to bringing life to the streets”, she explained to me during our interview.
And it is indeed about authentic, real, urban, life experiences. There is such an excitement today about street-level culture, street food, food markets, cafés and real community experiences. One reason is that it is pleasant to have a conversation with a butcher or a cheese monger and interact with other customers. It is also a sensual experience to feel the taste, aroma, texture and colour of the food you buy. For Jenny, “food shopping is the pleasurable beginning of a meal”.
Among the shop owners sitting on the panel at the launch party, many have shown a real passion for their work and for giving the right customer experiences, even with the many challenges linked to high rents, parking restrictions, and the congestion charge, just to name a few.
The book is full of useful data. In the first part, shops’ recommendations are listed per neighbourhood. This is followed by the categories of food shops, such as greengrocers, fishmongers, chocolate and sweets, butchers, and so on. The end product gives a great overview of the landscape of British gastronomy today. London has without a doubt become a true foodie capital.
London is also so cosmopolitan that it is possible to find any type of ingredients coming from all over the world. This is certainly a big advantage for a city described by Chef Joël Robuchon as “very possibly the gastronomic capital of the world”. The book presents food shops per culture with a brief history of each community’s settlement in London, a glossary of the typical ingredients found in such diverse types of cuisine, the food shops’ addresses and places to eat, and even recommendations of cook books for each particular type of cuisine.
So there are no excuses; let’s go food hunting in the streets of London!
Jenny is leading a Soho Gastro Tour on 14 September. If you would like to join, contact details can be found here.