Former Northerner Emma Brooke seeks out some home comforts in the capital.
Like many Northerners who’ve dared to make the great exodus ‘down south’ (despite nan’s insistence that nobody talks to each other and you’re definitely going to get mugged as soon as you arrive), a lot has changed since the day I got my first Oyster card. Whereas once I thought everyone sounded like Hugh Grant and was astonished that people would consider paying more than £3 a pint, these days the family laugh at me for having a posh accent and calling it dinner instead of tea (God forbid I ever start referring to it as supper…).
Whether I like it or not, I have become a Londoner. And while most days I’m happy to drink craft beer and mooch around the latest pop-up boutique, occasionally the urge creeps in to sit in front of Corrie with a brew and something that consists predominantly of carbs and beef dripping. And so, my quest began to acquire the finest delicacies the North has to offer… in London.
"Eccles cakes. They’re from somewhere up North aren’t they?". Yes, my friend, they are. A little town called Eccles in fact. Since the mid 18th century, the people of Eccles have been making these buttery, sweet currant cakes in order to make our elevenses extra special. If you’re willing to brave the gastronomic heaven/tourist hell that is Borough Market, you’ll find some freshly baked buns at The Flour Station from Thu-Sat. Or, for a more refined experience, head over to St John in Smithfield, where you can enjoy them at the bar or as a delectable dessert with a slice of good old Lancashire cheese.
Chips and Gravy
The quest for chips and gravy has been a long, arduous one for many a Northerner. How could something so simple be so difficult to find? Yes, there are rumours from time to time about this or that chippy that’s able to serve up some delicious brown sludge, but the chances of actually finding your favourite Friday night treat once you get there are slim, as requests are often met with utter bewilderment.
There are, however, a handful of establishments where you’re guaranteed to get something much more satisfying that that tub of Bisto you brought from home. A formica lover's dream, The Fryer’s Delight on Theobold’s road has been around for 50 years and what they don’t know about frying chips isn’t worth knowing. Expect lashings of gravy and one of the capital’s best recreations of this Northern delight. Or just round the corner, we can also recommend one of Farringdon’s favourite cheap eats, Traditional Plaice on Leather Lane.
Kendal Mint Cake
Forget red bull or a double espresso, there’s only one treat that’s keeping up the energy levels in Cumbria – the well-loved Kendal Mint Cake. There are a few different brands knocking around, but one of the most popular has to be Romney’s, established in 1918. If you’re feeling flush, head down to Fortnum & Mason and pick up a couple of bars along with your luxury Christmas Hamper. Otherwise, you can get hold of the minty stuff at Toffee Nose, based in Covent Garden.
Traditionally a North East dish, pease pudding is the perfect comfort food to enjoy with a nice, warm stottie. Back in the day, it was adopted by London’s east-enders who’d enjoy it with faggots or a yummy saveloy sausage. These days, gentrification has taken hold, and you’re more likely to find it in some of the city’s more upmarket eateries. Butler’s Wharf Chop House on the river serves it with wild boar and venison, while at Simpson’s in the Strand you can enjoy it with oxtail faggots. If you’re on a budget, your best bet’ll be some of the larger supermarkets. Sainsbury’s currently has it for 40p.
Black pudding has seen a bit of a revival lately and can be found on the brunch menu of many a gastropub. While many southerners will still wince when you reveal the ingredients, for us a full English just isn’t the same without it. Black pudding's origins are dubious, but one of the strongest and well-supported claims comes from Bury. You can buy the real Bury stuff at Sillfield Farm's stall on Borough Market. Or if you’re after an alternative, you can enjoy it with a first-rate fry up at grade II listed caff E Pellici in Bethnal Green.
Forget goose fat. Everyone knows that any kind of potato-based accompaniment tastes a million times better when it’s covered in beef dripping, even if it is sending you to an early grave. Northfield Deli in Borough Market sells great big tubs of the stuff for you to experiment with at home. Alternatively, you can head down to trendy British eatery, Albion in Shoreditch, for a ready-made portion of beef dripping chips.
A hearty stew, topped with some crisp potatoes and served with a heap of red cabbage, Lancashire hotpot is a common teatime favourite. While it is available intermittently on the specials boards of certain gastropubs (and mentioned in many posh cookbooks), at present it’s proving particularly elusive. Alas, even Twitter was unable to help. However keep an eye out at your local after Christmas roast season is over and you might just be fortunate enough to get your hands on the perfect winter staple.
Words by Emma Brooke, chip picture by Chris Butchart.
This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital's top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.