London offers more tasty treats than any other city in the world. We aren’t the only ones who think so. Irish couple Russell James Alford (below left) and Patrick Hanlon (below right), have a fabulous blog, GastroGays, which explores the plethora of eateries London has to offer, all through the eyes of London newbies.
What inspired you to start blogging about your love of food?
The blog idea evolved from a bucket list of places we both wanted to eat and drink in across Dublin City. We found ourselves frequenting the same places over and over, and somewhat neglecting or under-appreciating the vast amount of eateries on our doorstep. We aimed to eat in 50 places during 2013 that we had never tried before and review them all in a no-frills, to-the-point, accessible tone.
It’s a place for us to gush about food and everything associated with it, and it just so happened to find a home on the internet. Following our move to London, it developed into a lifestyle blog focused on everything food-related; from reviews to recipes and tourist information to the trips we take.
You’re both from Ireland. What deciding factors helped you make the jump over the pond to London?
London’s always been the dream, for both of us. We felt our ideal jobs would never be based in Dublin. The opportunities, especially professionally, are just so much greater in London, but the desire has always come from deep within our hearts.
A two-week trip to the Olympics last year helped sealed the deal for us, too. We stayed in a flat in Stamford Hill, attended the Games and saw London at its most vibrant and exciting, so it simply sold the dream to us.
When the timing felt right this year, we couldn’t have been more excited to make London our adopted home-town and begin our lives as residents.
What’s the food and drink scene like over here compared to Dublin?
Though we’ve seen a lot in our short six months here so far, we are by no means the definitive guide to the London food scene…just yet!
The biggest difference, thinking of trends between the two capitals, seems to be the popularity of street food across London. We’ve experienced a lot of street stalls and markets and it’s so exciting and tasty, plus it’s an easy and accessible means of trying lots of different tasters of food – especially when supporting a young start-up.
Patrick is a food writer and journalist, having been the content producer for RTÉ Food (Ireland’s equivalent to the BBC Food site) before moving. There’s definitely a food revival occurring in Ireland presently and the support of artisan/traditional producers and local, high-quality produce is evident throughout the restaurant scene in Dublin.
You’re going around trying all the food east London has to offer (which sounds like a pretty good idea to us). Where would you recommend?
Because we live in Stratford and adore the East End, we have more of a drive to try the places local to us here, but we do try to see and taste all the different districts in London.
We’ve blogged about some of the east’s best, like the amazing brunch at The Counter Cafe; the cute little cafés in areas like Stoke Newington (we particularly like The Blue Legume); and the east’s markets. These are among our favourites in London, like Broadway Market and Chatsworth Road.
For coffee and lunch (plus a sneaky tipple) The Hackney Pearl is a great independent café and for deep-fried deliciousness, we head for Poppies in Brick Lane for a battered sausage and chips.
Where’s your favourite place to eat and drink in London?
Now only one is just mean! The Commercial Tavern on Commercial Street (between Spitalfields and Shoreditch) is our go-to pub. It’s quirky, creative and always a different experience on each visit.
The South Bank Food Market (on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays) is perfect for us, and we gravitate towards it for simple, quick and satisfying food. Though we’re alike, we have very different tastes and sometimes can’t decide on a cuisine to suit us both, so South Bank definitely satisfies that! Eating out should be a treat and appreciated. Just like the idea we set up the blog with, we always remind ourselves to thoroughly enjoy the experience and try to eat something new every time, if possible.
You must have tried hundreds of different dishes. What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
We’ve a long-lasting love affair with Brussels, and of course Belgium is celebrated for its culinary culture. We’ve visited a number of times, and we’re in the midst of planning a New Year return as we speak. For the frites alone, a pricey trip on the Eurostar is absolutely justified.
We had the most amazing meal in a tiny, unassuming, ten-tabled French bistro-style restaurant, with a hand-written menu and the best bottle of French red wine that we’ve ever tasted. Nothing has ever come close. Le Petit Boxeur is the name of the place, and it’s just off Grand Place – the central square of Brussels. We have a huge guide to Brussels coming in a post on the blog in early 2014.
Everyone who moves here has a crazy London story they like to tell their friends back home. What’s yours?
London has constantly surprised us, but we haven’t had anything especially crazy happen to us. Though London is a huge metropolis and one of the biggest cities in the world, it’s a lot smaller than we thought.
Last year during our trip to London 2012, we had met up with Lauren (Patrick’s sister) a couple of times. She had just moved over and was feeling a little unsettled so it was lovely to be close by and we made the most of it, but hadn’t any plans to meet up again on the trip.
On one of our last evenings, the two of us were sitting around at a market, polishing off yet another cupful of churros and chocolate sauce. While calling home just to check in with Patrick’s parents (e.g. securing a lift home from Dublin airport)… then who walks by? Lauren. Minding her own business; completely by chance. One Hanlon, talking to another Hanlon on the phone, and a third Hanlon walks by! The village of London, eh?
If money was no object what would you choose as your final meal?
It’s a beautiful thing that we differ so much in our food tastes, as it really enriches our blog with two different and distinct voices on a topic or feature.
Russell: I’d have to start with moules, something I waited over 20 years to try! My dad had spent every European holiday trying to convince me to have one little taste but I never even humoured the thought, as I had an intense fear of fish. After trying them once, I was hooked for life.
For a main I would have to have a classic Irish fry-up, insisting the only chef to touch the plate is my dad, who makes the meanest ‘brinner’ known to man. It must consist of two sausages, a rasher of bacon, a fried egg, one of each pudding, peas instead of beans and home-made, hand-cut chips. To finish, a tasting plate of the best French patisserie would send me to heaven a happy man!
Patrick: Bruschetta has been a family favourite for years, and each family member has their own twist on it, so I would have to honour that tradition and start with that. As a former vegetarian, I would probably go for a beautifully crafted veggie or fish main, and actually finish on a cold dessert, either affogato or île flottante.