london streetfood: whitecross street
Last Friday B and I hit Whitecross Street in EC1 for another round of curbside eating. A few minutes walk from Old St and Barbican tube, the Whitecross Street Market is one of the oldest in London, dating back to the 17th Century. There’s a general market that runs through the working week, and a speciality Food Market that opens every Thursday and Friday. Given its location, the food market is understandably popular with the nearby office folk so we aimed to get there early and avoid the rush.
We arrived just before midday with rumbling tummies (having skipped breakfast) and ready to eat. Our first stop was the union jack adorned Eat My Pies stall selling a selection of British classics – Handmade Pies, Sweet and Savoury Tarts, Yorkshire Pud Baps, and a whole smorgasbord of Scotch Eggs (including Thai Red Curry, Smoked Haddock and 3 Bean Veggie versions).
Everything looked lovely but it was the unusual Scotch Egg varieties that intrigued us, and upon owner Andy’s recommendation we bought one of the black pudding numbers. He kindly halved it for us, revealing a perfectly soft boiled egg (hurrah!) with a bright orange yolk. Unfortunately it had been sitting out so was a bit cold, but there was no denying that it was a quality Scotch Egg. A thin breadcrumb layer giving way to well-spiced pork meat laced with just enough black pudding to flavour but not overpower.
As we nibbled on our scotch egg we decided to walk the length of the market to check out the wide array of food on display while the street was still relatively empty. The cuisine on offer spanned the globe – there was a German stall selling Curry Wurst and Stollen (above), an Indian food truck dishing up Chicken Tikka and Roti-wrapped Kebabs, a small stand offering sizzling Chorizo Sandwiches (opening image) and of course, the obligatory Hog Roast stall, amongst many others.
By the time we had reached restaurant Ravello‘s impressive Italian spread and the Tofu-Burger-peddling Veggie Table, the city crowd had started filtering in. It was time to get properly stuck in, so we turned back and paused at Brazil Flavour, lured by the smell of beef searing on the grill. We ordered a Picanha (rump cover) Sandwich, a Coxinha de Galinha (a Brazilian chicken appetizer) and a can of Guarana (a carbonated drink with apple and berry notes) to wash it all down with.
The vaguely warm coxinha was basically a deep-fried chicken croquette, pretty tasty and not too greasy but could have been (much) crispier. The Picanha sadly did not come up to scratch, for a cut that wikipedia describes as “considered to be the best part…even better than fillet mignon (in South America)” it was disappointingly full of sinew – so much so that I physically could not swallow it, even with the help of the refreshing Guarana.
After chucking most of the Picanha sandwich away, we went in search of better eats and noticed that Luardo’s, which we had passed earlier, had a healthy 20-deep queue forming. We headed hopefully towards the pretty mint-hued van and joined the throng in wait of some tex-mex nosh.
We ordered a Carnitas (pork) Burrito with lashings of hot sauce and boy was it good! Soft, pliable flour tortillas bulging with tender slow-cooked pork, toothsome rice and beans, fresh salad and a zippy guacamole (which we added for an extra 50p). It was pretty substantial (good for a satisfying lunch, not so good for two people attempting to taste all the food market wares) and hands down the best food we tasted that day.
Another stall which the crowds flocked to was the Lebanese Hoxton Beach which sold falafel wraps. I had a peek at them being made, and although they did look good we were mindful of our stomach capacity, so gave the crunchy chickpea treats a miss.
We moved on to sample three different chicken and rice combos (purely coincidental), all of which were pretty mediocre. The least offensive was probably the Chicken Curry with Rice and Peas from the Caribbean Stall, the chicken was at least flavoursome but unfortunately very dry despite being cooked on the bone, and the gravy could have done with a lot more heat.
The Pollo Catalana (served with Saffron Rice) from the Spanish stall however was a real let down flavourwise – the chicken and accompanying red peppers were bland and seriously under-seasoned. Such a shame as the enticing smell surrounding the stall was so promising.
The worst of the lot however, was the shockingly bad Chicken Massaman Curry from Lek’s Thai Food. We were initially going to bypass the stall (especially after the lady behind the counter gave me and my camera the evil eye) but thought we should give the only Oriental stall in the market a try. What a mistake. The generic tasting curry sauce lacked any depth of flavour and was a rather unappetising shade of mustard. Not inedible, but not a Massaman Curry either.
With that last disaster we wanted to end on a high and we knew a coffee from Britain’s Barista of the year would not disappoint. Gwilym’s expertly-made flat whites were without fault and went superbly with the luscious chocolate fudge brownie we picked up from Artisan Foods on our way over to the coffee cart.
There may have been a few duds, but all in all we enjoyed the stalls at Whitecross Street. Luardo’s Burritos are worth a return visit at some point, as is Gwilym Davies’ coffee cart, and I’m itching to sample the rest of Artisan Foods’ tantalising cakes and pastries. No doubt I will also be trying Eat My Pies’ Yorkshire Pud Baps with rare roast beef and a falafel wrap from Hoxton Beach next time I’m there.
More London Street Food: Golborne & Portobello Roads