This weekend just gone we were lucky enough to be able to go to the Anniversary Games in the Olympic Stadium in London. A year ago this week we were in London on holiday to experience an amazing two weeks at the London 2012 games. Who would have guessed that exactly a year later we would be back in London, but now as residents, and back in Stratford, living mere minutes away from the stadium itself.
On a post in a former blog incarnation, we detailed our trip – which if you know us, you know is always going to be heavily surrounded by food. Here’s what we saw and what we ate, a year on and reproduced for this blog. The places we ate and things we seen are unlikely to change over the next few years so this is a nice look back for us but still completely relevant for those living and visiting London.
We had been planning a trip to the London 2012 Games for over a year. I am enamoured, dare I say obsessed, with London and my dream was to see and be a part of the Games in my beloved city, a second home that has now, happily, become home for me. We decided on a ten day stay from the end of July through to the middle of August. This meant arriving a day before the Opening Ceremony and leaving a week before Closing. – Russell
Firstly, the main thing to describe is where we lived. For the first time, we decided to use the almost Couchsurfing-like site Airbnb. You pay a home owner to share or to take over their property. To decribe it: it’s something less than (and cheaper than) a hotel but a step ahead of self-catering apartments as these properties are lived in and retain all of the owner’s charm and furnishings.
We stayed in the home of a wonderful host, Canadian-born and London-based Katee, who has a lovely self-contained flat in an old house in Stamford Hill (follow the link to see her Airbnb page). The modest photos actually don’t do this little gem justice as it was spotless and quaint, with a neat place for everything. A real cosy, comfortable nook. Though our booking got slightly altered meaning we had to bunk in and share with another family attending the Games, the stay was for the most part pleasurable!
Stamford Hill is a quiet town nestled in North Hackney, just above Stoke Newington and Shoreditch, which is easy to get to on a the National Rail trains from Liverpool St. Station. Though we didn’t get to see much of the local areas at the beginning, Olympic-histeria at full whack, we managed to spend a day in each towards the end of the holiday. More on that later.
We arrived on day one and got our bearings but on day two we were due to watch the Olympic Opening Ceremony. We unfortunately didn’t get tickets to the ceremony itself in the Olympic Park in Stratford. As a side, we managed to wrangle tickets to Wimbledon, beach volleyball in Horse Guard’s Parade, and swimming heats in the Olympic Acquatic Centre. What we did get tickets to for that night, however, invited us to watch the entire ceremony, as well eat great street food and watch live performances, in the nearby Victoria Park. Not quite the real deal, but it was magical enough for us, with ample space to sit, picnic-style, and eat and drink to your heart’s content!
Some days we caught breakfast in the flat – just grabbing some juice, cereal or yoghurt from the shops up the road. One of the best breakfasts we had out was in Albion. Nestled in trendy Shoreditch, Albion Café, with it’s in-house bakery and food store, lives on a very unassuming street, but what lies within is magical.
On entering, it seemed a little posh, expensive, and possibly reservation-only, but the mix of people and the laidback style was just the right balance. Priding themselves on using great British ingredients, we ordered a full English each, to which a clean, simple and well-cooked meal was delivered. No reservations for under six people, just rock up when ready and indulge. A little more expensive than most, but worth it!
Another breakfast place worth mentioning is the super trendy, hipster haven that is The Breakfast Club. This is diner chic with an all day breakfast ‘n’ more menu that we gnashed in to at about 3pm. To describe it figuratively – a greasy spoon stirring a vintage tea cup with an old Hollywood pin-up drinking from it, sitting in a pit stop diner. It was recently featured in Heston Blumenthal’s latest series and is a definite kitsch experience to have. We knocked about Brick Lane, Spitalfields (where it’s based) and Shoreditch before and after.
For brunch, which we both like to take full advantage of as much as possible, one of the best places we ate was The Blue Legume in Stoke Newington. They have three locations (one on Church St and a newly-opened branch in Crouch End); it seems Stoke is the smallest of their range.
Nestled just off the high street, a quick bus ride or long stroll for us, it’s fitted out in a kitsch way with tables on the path outside, others nestled neatly in the skinny main room, and a heap of extra seats in the cosy but light-filled conversatory out back. Though it was an odd affair of quickly choosing what we wanted first at the counter, due to queues, and then finding a seat, it cannot be disputed that the caf ain’t got character.
We both chose sandwiches, mine was the BLT, which was a real treat for slightly sore heads following a heavy night before. The bread was not over toasted, more so warmed and lightly golden kissed, which was a nice change from the crispy, oft even hard, BLT sandwiches most places serve. Lashings of tea, served in cute, mismatched cups ‘n’ saucers alongside pixie sugar cubes, accompanied a great meal at a handy price. The breakfast/brunch market is well catered to by this little gem and no sooner were seats vacated than were snapped up by prospective diners – Patrick
Lunch was usually on the go, a sandwich here, a burger there, some Itsu, Wasabi and a whole lot of M&S. Because of the nature of our quick stay, being hyper-tourists during the busiest time London has seen in recent history, we needed to plan in advance the whole time and we had a rigorous schedule which demanded a constant brisk pace.
Some lunchtimes or early evenings were spent looking around the food halls of Harrods, Selfridges and the ever-amazing Whole Foods. We went to WF in Stoke, but the one on Kensington High Street was top choice (also notable branches in Clapham and Picadilly). I got some vanilla paste that I had been dying to try, as well as some black sea salt and some puffed spelt oats. It was magical, especially the food hall upstairs. We chose to bring buffet salads, soups and stews from downstairs up to the free seating, but the choice on offer was really great.
Not everything we did was Olympic or sport-themed though. We managed to take in a few of the sites, notably the extortionately priced Tower Bridge, climbed tall and tiresome Monument and whiled away an afternoon or two at museums and galleries (V&A, Getty Images, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern and The Photographers’ Gallery). We shopped, we strolled and, most important for me, had mini catch-ups with friends, as well as with my sister, who recently relocated alone to the massive smoke for work.
Being able to experience the Olympic Village in Stratford was one of the most exciting points of the trip. Seeing the hundreds of thousands of people, all of which must have been in our queue for McDonalds at the same time, going to and fro was something to behold. The sheer organisation of the project and dedication of the volunteers and staff was exceptional. We even managed to catch NBC’s Today Show reporting live on site after we caught the swimming heat that we had tickets for one morning.
One of the most exciting things for me was to be at Wimbledon. I’m the least sportiest person you will meet – but tennis I have a love for. Can’t play it, well more so I don’t push myself to try, but I love watching it and I feel a real connection to it. Of all days for the torrential rain during the heat of August, mother nature chose our Wimbledon day. We spent eight wonderful hours at the courts, of which around 45 collective minutes was spent watching play due to the rain postponing everything – Patrick
Possibly the most tastebud-teasing and anticipative portion of the trip, food-wise, was when we went to Wahaca. We are both huge fans of Thomasina Miers and Mexcian food, so we were dying to try what her restaurants have to offer. We tried to get seats in the Soho and Southbank branches but it was not happening, yet in Westfield Stratford City we seized our opportunity to dine and divulge. I love the simplicity, colour, and spice of Mexican food. It’s all about zingy freshness or the deep flavours of slow-cooking. When paired together it serves up a heavenly meal every time.
We shared a platter for two which contained tasting portions of pork pil-pil, tostadas, tacquitos, tacos, and arrived served with black beans and warm, buttery corn on the side. Two beers with lime cooled us down throughout.
Upon seeing churros (Spanish sugared doughnuts dipped in warm chocolate sauce) on the menu, having watched Miers make them on her show, we would have shamed ourselves if we didn’t order them. Did they disappoint? How dare you even ask.
We spent an evening in Soho, eating pizza with a cheap enough bottle of red and listening to live jazz in Soho Pizzeria. A different night we had big, beautiful burgers in Giraffe, housed in Old Spitalfields Market – a truly favourite spot of ours in the city. As a side, we planned to go on this trip but never got around to it – one of the best experiences in recent trips to the English capital was a night at a Be @One cocktail chain in Spitalfields. Promise you won’t be disappointed by a visit!
A few great evenings were spent at the Southbank Real Food Market. We often opted to get one or two things from the street vendor stalls, then having coffee, wine or a dessert to top it all off. Some of the best things were London’s freshest moules frites, one of the most delicious pulled pork sandwiches I’ve ever had and the first place I’ve ever had affogato on the go, which is one of my favourite desserts since childhood.
On another lazy afternoon we travelled to Borough Market. We planned to do a whole heap of different food halls, markets and street fairs but truth be told time got a grip on us and didn’t let go.
Getting around was an absolute dream, and you may balk at the suggestion of that, and before we got on that flight to LHR we would have done the same. But I think Londoners were almost too precautionary in their plans. My theory is lots of Londoners fled at the most wonderful time their city has seen this century so far. The transport ran ultra efficiently and was often even quiet for us! Along with all the signage and volunteers on hand, getting around was really easy and efficient – Russell
Did you visit London 2012? Eaten in one of our haunts described above?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!