Dear London, where everyone is welcome.
With a family hailing from your East End, you have never not been a part of my life—and my goodness, we have grown together. It’s been quite the ride so far, eh?
I have played rock ‘n’ roll in your dive bars in Camden, guided hundreds of visitors through your political and royal heart and held exhibitions for homeless artists in abandoned buildings in Mayfair. I have worked in restaurants in your oldest market (1,000 years of history… not bad at all!), studied in one of your famous universities down in New Cross and spent summer evenings with good conversation and amazing picnics in the wilds of Hampstead Heath. I have bar crawled with my diverse group of friends from Stoke Newington to Dalston on a Saturday night (always finding the coolest places in the back of pool halls or behind anonymous doors), adored and detested in equal measures the rush hour on your underground system (the first in the world), enjoyed music and art and culture in every nook and cranny of your sprawling, wonderful self… and I have eaten. My, how I have eaten.
The thing is London, and I hate to break it to you, you still do not have the best reputation around the world for your cuisine, particularly in comparison to other leading cities like Madrid, Paris or Rome. But it’s okay—we know this isn’t true, right?
You are a city of 2,000 years, of empires rising and falling, of immigration, of conquering and being conquered, of expansion and destruction, of industrial revolutions and both historical and modern access to fantastic produce, both from at home and much much further afield. Of Kings, Queens, pirates and nobles, bad-boy princes and punk rock princesses, penniless artists and well-to-do merchants, of tradition and progress. Of nine million people from all over the world, speaking over 300 languages and practicing many different faiths, bringing their culinary traditions and blending them with the historic gastronomic traditions of our isles.
From pie, mash and eels to curry goat and fish and chips; from our cheeses, ciders and wines (yes really), to chicken tikka masala and vindaloo; from afternoon tea to glorious puddings, wild game, pickled goods and even down to our condiments, there are tastes of the many cultures that have called you home stretching back even before Ancient Rome officially founded you as Londinium. But it’s also so personal: the chip shop is time spent with my mum. The local pub is Sunday roasts with my friends (my urban family). The pie shop is a treat from my Nan.
Your cuisine is your legacy and a testament to the diversity and community of your whirling, chaotic, beautiful, iconic self—that same diversity and community that makes and has always made you so amazing. THIS is why I am coming onboard as the Operations Manager for Devour London: so that I can, alongside a company truly devoted to sustainable tourism in the communities we work in, share with visitors from all over the world the key to unlocking you, helping new friends find the places to get to know you through your food, through your drinks, through your traditions, through your people—getting them to literally taste your history. You are so very worth it.
So far in my lifetime, we have ridden quite the rollercoaster together. Though I left you to work as a guide in 38 places around Europe introducing travelers to the culinary histories of everywhere from France and Italy to Lithuania and Georgia, I always knew I would return to my beloved city when the time was right. And London, for food? Now is the time. I have never seen you so full of street food startups, microbreweries, tiny gin distilleries, farmers’ markets and young, innovative chefs embracing our classics with modern twists.
Get ready, London. I have quite a few new friends for you to meet this year.