Healthy Travel Guide: London
London is one of my favorite cities in the world. While I recently moved back to San Francisco after living in London for two years, my boyfriend’s company is still based there, and I’m lucky enough to spend several months a year drinking copious amount of tea and getting my fill (if it’s even possible) of British countryside walks and Pimm’s Cups.
The city’s health food scene has truly exploded in recent years, making it a wonderful city for the health conscious traveler. Juice shops abound, gluten free items can be found in abundance at large chain grocers like Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, and the quick spread of Whole Foods and UK-based chain Planet Organic assures high-quality organic produce and health-based speciality items in most neighborhoods.
Because England is, after all, an island, local still trumps all: pubs and restaurants proudly assert the Britishness of their food’s origin; as a result, seasonality is the most prevalent and easy-to-follow tenant of healthy eating. Long relieved of its poor gastronomic reputation, London is now definitively a city for foodies, with world-class restaurants, bustling markets and cutting-edge cuisine (yes, there’s a Paleo restaurant). It’s endless markets make it possible to sample your way from one neighborhood to another – with, of course, a break for a spot of tea in between.
Getting in Your Greens
The many juiceries popping up around the city center make it easy to start your day with liquid vegetable goodness, from Planet Organic (all of the grocery stores have an all-organic juice bar inside) to SoHo’s Lab Organic to the pharmacy-themed Juice Tonic near Piccadilly Circus.
The chic Roots and Bulbs offers some of the most creative flavor combinations (all organic) in a serenity-inducing, eco-chic environment – stop into the South Kensington one, where the recent seasonal, organic combination featured a mix of pear, alfalfa, cucumber, chillies, kiwi and lemon (£5 for 250 ml).
A Market Breakfast
You can’t talk about London without talking about its markets – from Camden to Portobello to the hipster-filled Broadway market, the city has a market for every taste (and every attitude). You could spend your entire time in the city market hopping, subsisting on free samples and sangria, but if you want to stick to the best of the foodie best, start your day with the thousand-year old classic – Borough Market. Nestled next to the Thames in cinder-stained brick warehouses and wharf buildings that wouldn’t be out of place in a Dickensian novel, from Wednesday to Saturday Borough teems with organic produce, artisanal cheese, pastured meat, raw milk and butter, chorizo, farm fresh eggs, goat’s milk ice cream, jams, olive oils and much more. Grab your groceries for the next few days, then purchase a Pimm’s Cup (you’re on vacation, it’s never too early) and visit the hot food stands for sausage rolls, chicken pistachio kibbeh, Thai coconut pancakes, or vegetarian Indian food before settling in on the grass in front of Southwark Cathedral to nosh (about £3 for a snack; £10-13 for a meal; beer, wine and cocktails around £5 per glass).
Along the Canal
The Santander bike system (affectionately known as Boris Bikes, named after the city’s mayor) offers 10,000 rental bikes located at 700 docking stations, making getting around town on two wheels a breeze (£2 for 24 hour bike access + 30 min; £2 for each extra half hour). If darting in and out of people driving on the left side of the road doesn’t quite suit your fancy, the canals offer a wonderful (and far safer) biking opportunity – pick up a bike at the Limehouse Basin, where the Regent’s Canal meets the Thames, and pedal through the achingly trendy Hackney and Dalston before reaching Camden Lock and Market, where, if you’re feeling peckish, you can forgo the antique and punk-clothing filled stalls for a pastured pork meatball with cauliflower rice at the Feed Me Primal paleo stall, or raw vegan carrot cake at the inSpiral Lounge Cafe (£3.95). Continue through the quirky houseboats and beautiful backyards of the Primrose Hill, passing through the wild boar and aviary section of the London Zoo (no admission required) before you reach the Regent’s Park, where you can dock your bike for a stroll through some of the most beautiful examples of English style gardens in the city.
A High-Quality High Tea
Marylebone, just south of the Regent’s Park, is one of the London neighborhoods that looks lifted straight from a Hugh Grant movie, and it’s high street, the hub of commerce, restaurants and pubs, is one of the prettiest in the city. Stop in for a tea sample at Kusmi before carrying on to Daylesford Farm Cafe, where you can enjoy an all organic version of the ultimate British tradition – high tea. The Brits take their tea seriously, with even the most intense of meetings breaking at 4 pm for some Earl Grey with milk, and the Daylesford Farm version doesn’t disappoint. Order yours with a freshly baked scone (pronounce it as the Brits do, to rhyme with “lawn”), seasonal jam and clotted cream made from milk from local, grass fed cows (Earl Grey, £2.50; scone with clotted cream and jam, £3), then peruse the adjoining shop for goodies fresh from the Gloucestershire farm.
Dinner, Two Ways
An international cultural capital like London is a haven for niche-exploiters and seekers, and dietary preferences provide no exception. For dinner, choose from two trendy dietary extremes – paleo and raw vegan. Pure Taste brings fine-dining and paleo (two other seeming extremes) seamlessly together, with a menu that’s entirely free of gluten and dairy, and high in creativity and flavor. Start with the garlic and rosemary focaccia (£4.50 per basket) before moving onto a grass-fed beef and cauliflower tabbouleh (£26) or pastured pig cheeks with beef and broccoli (£26). Self-dubbed as London’s first “superfood cocktail bar,” Tanya’s Cafe offers raw, vegan fare – tacos filled with “meat” made of oyster mushrooms and walnuts (£15.40) and buckwheat gnocchi topped with sun-dried tomatoes (£15.50). The aforementioned cocktails couple vodka, gin and mezcal bases with cacao, acai, bitters and spices, and, while their health benefits leave room for debate, their creative flavor profiles (and definitive ability to lessen one’s propensity to care about health benefits, or much of anything else, really) are verifiable. The model-types who fill every nook and cranny only add to the Instagram-worthy environs.
Like this London Healthy Travel Guide? For even more gluten free, organic, paleo, vegetarian and local restaurants and shops, download EatWell Europe, the free healthy food travel guide to major European cities.