The proper cold weather hasn’t even set in yet but I already appear to be growing an extra cosy layer of lard, brought on by gorging copious amounts of sliced white and sugary treats. This would be excellent news if I was a squirrel preparing for my winter hibernation but the reality is I’m a lot less cute and slightly less hairy and need to get into my motivation dress in time for Christmas. (EDIT: since writing this draft, Mr TBL has popped the question so wedding dress panic has ensued.)
It’s fair to say I’ve not only slipped off the wagon, I’ve also been run over by oncoming traffic. This time last year I was waking up at 5:30am and going to the gym or for a run. These days at 5:30am I’m most likely unconscious and in the middle of a night terror with a rendition of “belly’s gonna get ya” booming from the in-slumber entertainment system. But this is where it ends – I have the dreaded Body Pump class booked for tomorrow and I’ve strictly adhered to the Paleo diet when doing my Tesco online grocery shop.
I’ve been dabbling on and off with Paleo for a while now (I won’t get into the ins and outs of it as it seems to be a bit of a touchy subject), and while it’s all well and good sticking to it in a domestic setting where you have complete control, eating out can be difficult. If I had a pound for each time I’ve been apoplectic with rage in Tesco and can’t find a decent salad with no grains I’d probably have enough money for a des res in Surrey. So, after a bit of research, mainly through trial and error, I’ve come up with a bit of a Paleo eater’s guide for London which I hope you find useful. Even if you’re not a Paleo-er, it’s still handy for anyone trying to lay off the carbs.
This is your cheapest and most versatile option. In London, you’re never more than five metres away from a rat – and this dubious statistic can probably be applied to a certain well-known supermarket. When you’re in the capital, you’ll see numerous “express” versions of the supermarkets which have limited choices compared to their bigger siblings but you’ll find everything you need to satisfy your hunger. My favourite grab-and-go morsels are cooked chicken breasts, sliced cooked meats, salad leaves, berries, courgettes, avocados, nuts, herbs and olive oil. Look out for those warmers usually by the entrance for hot roast chicken which is a bit nicer than the chilled stuff. This might be really sad but I usually keep a small Tupperware box in my handbag to assist with salad-making on the go. You know you’ve hit rock bottom when you have to resort to eating your salad out of a cellophane Florette bag.
By specialist I mean places like Whole Foods Market and Holland & Barrett. I recently popped into Whole Foods in search for Paleo-friendly snacks and, after I recovered from my heart attack induced by the shock of their kale chips’ price tag, I was pleasantly surprised. I picked up some home-made guacamole, almond butter and some delicious Serious Pig cured meat. You can also find Nakd Bars there if you’re after something sweet but you’re better off stocking up on these at Holland & Barrett when the relentless Penny Sale is on. This is also where you can get packets of plain macadamia nuts, and every other kind of nut your heart desires.
This is super-specialist but The Savanna (seven locations around London including Paddington, Victoria and Liverpool Street stations) is a hidden treasure and it’s not just for South Africans! Their Biltong is a superb snack, particularly the Peri Peri flavour (the chilli jam one was delicious too but I was suspicious of the sweet taste). But at £40 per kilogram, it’s quite pricey. However, this delicious beefy snack is handy to have in your bag and satisfies salt cravings like a dream, loved by cavemen and non-cavemen alike.
The frustration with these places is the addition of carby ingredients in almost everything. However, don’t write them off completely. Their selections are always changing and you can usually find some nice salads. Pret is currently doing a crayfish and avocado salad (they call it a no-bread sandwich – insert eye roll here) which is surprisingly good. If you’re after a smaller snack, they’re also selling pots containing two boiled eggs and a bit of spinach – perfect. The lesser known Camden Food Co. does a chicken, bacon and boiled egg salad – Paleo heaven. It does randomly have a few bits of skinless boiled potato (it took me three attempts of buying the salad to identify the potato as such) but you can push those aside if you’re offended by them. How long these Paleo-friendly options hang around for remains to be seen but they’re worth trying.
Tossed (incidentally, is anyone else mildly shocked by the whole “the tossers are coming” slogan?!) is a great option as you can build your own salad and there’s plenty of choice. Massive portions too. Itsu does various low-carb salad boxes with salmon, tuna, chicken and avocado which all get a thumbs up.
London is packed with steak restaurants – American, British, Argentinian, you name it. If you’re feeling flush, steak is an excellent choice. It depends on how strict you are but some of these places sell grain-fed beef and others are grass-fed so it might be double check beforehand. However, the newly opened STK in the ME Hotel on The Strand serves grain-fed American beef, and as the waiter confirmed, this makes for bigger, fatter cows. The fillet was the most tender I’ve ever had.
By far the best steak (in my opinion) is The Hawksmoor – which I suspect is trying (successfully) to poach steak loving custom from Gaucho. Juicy steaks and a selection of Paleo-friendly sides to choose from – what’s not to love? Pricey? Yes, but top quality delicious and grass-fed British beef comes at a price. Best saved for a treat.
Gaucho wins for sheer choice of steak cuts (which are all grass-fed). If you’re after a dark and moody ambience this is the one. And with 12 branches dotted across the capital, you can usually walk in without a booking (although the Piccadilly branch is almost always full at peak times).
I’m not talking Burger King. I mean proper burgers. You’re never too far from a Byron, which does a Skinny burger (no bun). If I’m honest, in my pre-Paleo days, Byron burgers were one of my favourites but the Skinny burger just doesn’t cut it. On its own, it’s a little dry and a little boring. It comes with a generous helping of salad but that’s about it. Haché (located in Shoreditch, Clapham, Chelsea and Camden) are a lot more creative with their burgers, which are all grass-fed and available with a big salad instead of the bun – definitely worth a try – the All Day Breakfast Burger is Paleo heaven. Look out for specials throughout the year, like the Iceburger they had on during the summer – see below – get it?!
Grilled juicy chicken and lamb served with salad – skip the rice and bread and you’re golden. Stoke Newington is your best bet for choice but the Best Mangal Kebab & Cafe Bar on Old Street (excuse the slightly disturbing homepage, they’re a lot friendlier than they look) is the best Turkish I’ve been too, and is excellent value. Huge portions for around £6 – yes please.
Obviously many of these base their dishes around rice and noodles but there is hope! Rice and noodles are normally ordered separately, so you can go ahead and order a meat dish. Do be careful as these places love their vegetable oil, deep fat fryers and sugar. You’ll always find something that is relatively Paleo-friendly though; just order a side of salad, pak choi or morning glory instead of the rice. I recommend Cay Tre on Old Street (amazing Shaking Beef) and Thai Cottage in Soho for good food and lovely staff.
To conclude, it’s probably best to avoid:
• Pubs: Everything is wrapped in pastry and served with “mash or chips”
• Italian: If it doesn’t come with pasta or bread, they probably don’t have it
• Boots: Surprisingly carb-heavy zone
• Greggs: Enough said
If anyone has any other tips on Paleo eating in London comment below – I’m always hunting for new things to get my hands on!