London was where the nascent insurance industry started, the place that television flickered into life and the first place you could ‘spend a penny’ without an attendant demanding payment. London also has its share of first foodies, even if they have come from an expected quarter.
Pimm’s was invented to flog oysters
>Pimm’s is unofficially the beverage of Wimbledon. Over a quarter-of-a-million glasses of the stuff is drunk in those two weeks, but it was born as a clever marketing ploy to aid digestion. In the 1820s James Pimm ran a struggling oyster bar in the City. Trying to drum up custom, he came up with a refreshing, gin-based drink to wash the shellfish down. He called it ‘Pimm’s No. 1 cup’.
Scotch eggs from err…Piccadilly>
Though those north of the border might argue otherwise, but this strange combination was born in the Big Smoke. Fortnum & Masons claim it invented Scotch eggs as a portable snack for aristocratic clients who were about to rumble off in carriages to their country estates which in all probability was north of Hadrian’s Wall.
Bourbon biscuits not consumed by French aristocrats>
In the late 19th century, Bermondsey was known as ‘Biscuit Town’ due to its huge Peek Freans biscuit factory. They seemed to give their products interesting monikers: the Garibaldi, named after Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi; the Marie, an Anglicised version of the galletas marias, and the bourbon.
Arnold Bennett’s omelette>
If you should be invited to an aristo country retreat, you are likely to be offered for breakfast, alongside the eggs Benedict and kedgeree, a rich and smoky fish omelette invented at the Savoy Hotel in 1929. Created for the writer Arnold Bennett, who was staying at the hotel while he finished a novel, loving it so much, he insisted Omelette Arnold Bennett was made for him wherever he went.
Champagne from London>
Don’t mention this to our Gallic cousins but in 1662 Christopher Merrett having moved from Oxford to London demonstrated at The Royal Society how to make champagne, a full 30 years before Dom Perignon started his famed tipple.
Peach Melba for a soprano>
The Savoy’s famous chef Auguste Escoffier was credited as creating this dessert for opera diva Dame Nellie Melba. The combination of peaches, raspberries, redcurrant jelly and vanilla ice cream were combined to protect her precious vocal cords before her appearances at Covent Garden.
Eastenders’ smoked salmon>
Once again, don’t be fooled by those Scots. Though most smoked salmon today comes from the bonnie hills of Scotland, the delicacy as we know it today was first made by immigrant Jewish families in the old East End of London. They used to ship the prized fish from Eastern Europe, smoking it, not because they loved the flavour, but simply because it preserved the fish in the days before refrigeration. The last surviving London smokehouse is Forman’s near Stratford, which you can still visit today.
Golden syrup from leftovers>
In the 1880s Abram Lyle owned a sugar factory on the Thames in East London. Lyle noticed that the refining process produced a syrup as a by-product. He started to sell it in wooden casks under the brand name ‘Goldie’, and before long he was supplying a tonne a week to grocers across London. The original factory still stands proudly on the banks of the Thames today, you can’t miss it there’s a giant version of the famous green-and-gold tin mounted on the wall.
Tea dispute in London and not Boston>
Twinings Teas at the point where Strand becomes Fleet Street claims to be London’s oldest shop, you enter this tiny shop, through a white portico guarded by two Chinese figures, one blue, the other yellow. Twinings and Jacksons produced a beverage that floated the British Empire – Earl Grey – a fragrant tea blend thought to have been created for Charles Grey, prime minister in the 1830s, who made it the most fashionable drink in London society. Both Twinings and Jacksons of Picadilly lay claim to have invented Earl Grey, but since Jacksons are now owned by Twinings, it could be said their disagreement is no more now than a storm in a teacup.