Paleo eating in London: Part 2

28 Nov

In Part One I covered the basics of sourcing and preparing food for home.

In this post I will cover how to eat in a reasonably healthy way whilst travelling the mean streets of the Nation’s capital.

Ok, so here’s the situation: you’re out and about in London. Perhaps you are doing tourist things, perhaps it’s lunchtime at work. For reasons left unexplained you don’t have a pre-prepared meal or snack with you and you are hungry. How, when faced with row upon row of bloomin’ sandwich shops, sushi bars, and noodle restaurants can you ever hope to eat Paleo?

Well, my friends, there is a way. In fact there are loads of ways.

Takeaway

In true hunter-gather style you’d like to eat on the move. Or at least at your desk.

Option 1: Local supermarket

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UK Supermarkets

This is my go-to meal of choice during the working week. Simply grab a pack of prepared salad leaves, perhaps some additional prepared veggies (sugar snap peas are a fine choice), some cooked and sliced meat, a pack of nuts and a fruit. Bingo! I like to roll the salad leaves and veg up in little meat rolls, but that’s just me. Very simple and pretty cheap.

Bonus tip #1: buy the cooked meats from the deli counter rather than the shelves. They are cheaper and better tasting (probably fresher)

Bonus tip #2: Go for berries rather than bananas, mangos or dried fruit. Their sugar content is significantly lower, and they still taste sweet enough

In increasing order of price (and perceived quality) I would look at UK supermarkets in the following fashion:

The latter four all tend to have inner city ‘metro’ versions that stock a more limited but still useful range of goods.

Bonus tip #3: You’d think it would be possible to find an all-in-one prepared salad (with meat and veg) in the supermarket that meets your needs. However most have either pasta, rice, noodles or couscous making up the bulk. Once you have eaten around this, it is hardly worth the effort. Make your own!

Option 2: The sandwich shops

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Pret a Manger

Yes. You read that correctly. If you look carefully, you can actually pick up a pretty good grain free meal in these places.

For example Pret a Manger do an excellent chicken salad in a box. Yes, it has slivers of parmesan cheese in it, but you can always leave those to the side. The rest is fresh leaves, juicy chicken and a lovely oily dressing. Perfect! By memory, Eat is also a pretty good bet for a nice salad – just watch out for hidden noodles or pasta!

Your other option is to find the kind of sandwich shop that actually makes them to order; the ones that have endless tubs of ingredients and a large (black)board listing all the bready permutations.

Guess what? You don’t have to have the bread! In most of these places if you ask they’ll make you a salad on a plate with the ingredients. And now you have a huge choice!

Option 3: The kebab shop

A London kebab shop
A London kebab shop

I love how I can – with a straight face – suggest that eating food from a kebab shop is good for you. Well maybe not ‘good’, but certainly not bad.

Just in case you don’t know what I am talking about, these are the places that often have some mystery meat cooking on a spit in the window (generally chicken, sometimes lamb). You may also remember them as the place you tended to end up at after a night ‘on the ale’.

It goes like this:

Meat? Check

Vegetables? Check

Oily/fatty dressings? Check

Simply chose from the meat on display (I recommend the lamb for fat content), take your pick of the vegetables present, splash on some sauce, and ask for it to be put into a box without the bread. Or chips. Result!

Option 4: The workers cafe (pronouced: “caff”)

This one is a little bit of a stretch, but is generally pretty good in a pinch especially at breakfast time.

Who does eggs? They does eggs! Omelettes, scrambled, poached and fried. There will be some apologetic nod towards salad, but don’t get your hopes up. Like I said, good in an emergency.

Eating in restaurants

Ok. Let’s manage expectations here.

I haven’t eaten in every restaurant in London. I simply don’t know what is on the menu in each of the several billion eateries that scatter our fair city. What follows therefore are my general rules of thumb for dining out.

Remember the basis

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A gastropub

Your are searching firstly for quality protein (meats and fish, perhaps eggs), then for a little carbs from vegetables, ideally. Finally you a looking for a good source of healthy fats to make up the meal. When you think about it, that isn’t actually as restrictive as you may first reckon.

Most gastropubs (check Wikipedia) for example, do a fine range of meat, fish and vegetables. That they should choose to garnish them with rice, chips or potatoes needn’t be an impediment to you. Simply…

Ask the waiter/waitress

…to remove the offending grains or starches and ideally supplement with additional veg. Yes. It is pretty much than simple. In my experience a pleasant smile, accompanied with a slightly apologetic look (well, we are English after all) gets you most of the way there. If you feel the need for additional leverage, mumble something along the lines of “gluten allergy” and you should be golden.

The posher the restaurant, the more likely you are to be able to ‘customise’ your meal. Perhaps even to the extent of ordering “off piste” i.e. meals that are not listed on the menu. Your mileage may vary.

Use your common sense

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Common sense?

Not just a rule of thumb for eating, but also useful in everyday life, I find. However, I digress…

If you think you’ll be able to wrangle a nutritious meal in the Land of the Golden Arches or via the Ruling Monarch of Hamburgers, then you are likely to be disappointed. Yes, they technically do ‘salads’. But [insert your own snarky metaphor here]. So there.

Particularly if you are new to Paleo eating, try to avoid getting into a situation where you are searching for food whilst hungry. That is a recipe (pun partly intended) for poor decision making. If possible, try and plan the sort of food you would like to eat and seek out those places early rather than leaving it to chance.

Finally, if you know that your willpower around some foods is…suspect. Then guess what? Don’t put yourself in those situations! Got a thing for cakes? Then steer clear of the coffee houses (Starbucks, Costa, Nero, etc.)

I’ll end with a couple of suggestions of places you might want to consider:

  • All Turkish/Middle Eastern restaurants: usually pretty good range of meat (chicken, lamb, occasional beef) and lots of tasty salads available. Watch out for: bread, rice and occasional couscous
  • Nandos: Chicken is pretty good, although sauces may be a little high in sugar if you are being very picky. Salads available. Plenty of options if you don’t want rice or chips as accompanyment
  • Pizza Express: Do an excellent chicken salad. It comes with dough balls, which you can use as bargaining chips with the chef for “moar cheekin”. A reasonable compromise if you are eating with folks who don’t share your dietary proclivities.
  • Thai restaurants: a little risky, what with all the rice and noodles. However a good vegetable stir fry and some excellent meats will generally fit the bill
  • The ‘Fresh & Wild’ healthfood stores do a great range of Paleo friendly salads (thanks, Trevor)
  • Old Spitalfields Market do a “huge” pick’n’mix chicken salad (thanks, Trevor)
  • Opuz Kitchen, in Old Compton Street, Soho is a very good Turkish Grill (thanks, Morgan)

And some that are probably worth avoiding:

  • Italian restaurants: a sea of pasta and bread
  • Japanese/sushi: rice in spades
  • Chinese: more rice
  • Anything with “Steakhouse” in big red neon letters: (primarily for the benefit of our visitors from overseas). In the words of the great Admiral Akbar, “It’s a trap”. Don’t ask. Just walk by and feel content in the knowledge that CrossFit London saved you.
  • Subway: If I even have to discuss this, then something has gone very wrong*

Doubtless the more gastronomically adventurous of you will  be able to identify other opportunities for Paleo eating in London. If so, pipe up in the comments. I will add your suggestions to this post, credited accordingly.

*Although I did appreciate the schadenfreude of seeing another UK CrossFit affiliate proudly advertising a 10% off deal with the aforementioned establishment “for our members”. Nicely done, friends.

35 thoughts on “Paleo eating in London: Part 2

  1. Eating out can be a pain on Paleo. Steak or kebab places aside the vast majority of outlets, from posh restaurants to greasy spoons, will cook the food with some sort of omega-6 laden junk vegetable oils in preference to healthy animal fats.

    When I’m out and about I can usually find somewhere that sells small pots of double cream. Cheap and filling. Minimal lactose / casein. Obviously you’d want to avoid this if you (still) think saturated fats are unhealthy, or are sensitive / intolerant of lactose or casein. If none of these apply then it’s the cheapest, healthiest meal on the go there is.

    1. Good points, Morgan. There is always likely to be an element of ‘damage control’ whenever you don’t have full sight of the ingredients being used.

      Interesting about the cream. I’m just working up a post now about dairy.

  2. Thanks Steven. Socially, I will compromise when the odd occasion demands it. For example, if it’s someone’s birthday and it’s at Pizza Express then I’ll dig in and enjoy my pizza as much as everyone else. I am quite strict about not ‘falling off’ (standard restaurant food) like this too often – maybe twice a month max. But again, if I end up being invited to four weddings and a funeral within one month and have to eat what’s on offer then I won’t stress about it too much. I don’t eat paleo because of any known allergies or intolerances but because I currently think (based on a range of evidence interpreted to the best of my own understanding) that this is the healthiest and most logical way I should eat. It’s also hugely enjoyable and need not be expensive!

  3. While being ‘dragged’ around central London last weekend a couple of top notch Paleo options came to light! If in the Soho area of London the fresh and wild health food store has a cafe with a good selection of proteins and veg/salad at £5.99, while in Spittalfields market on Sunday enjoyed a HUGE chicken salad box for £5 and it’s a pick and mix your own stylee!

  4. Opuz on Old Compton St in Soho is a very decent Turkish grill if you’re in the West End.

  5. I have started the Paleo diet this week and was hoping someone could give me some pointers with the diet please?? I seem to read very conflicting views from site to site. For example can I eat as much fruit as I like as im concerned I am getting too much sugar? Same with nuts how many is too much? Can I have any diary or not (my understanding is no but then I see recipes with dairy in)?

    I really want to stick to this way of eating but I don’t want to be making fundamental mistakes.

    Your help would be much appreciated.

  6. Great to see more info on Paleo!
    However – kebab houses – the meat is questionable [unless you go to a proper Greek restauraunt] and dont go for burgers – only 47% meat.
    Caffs, what oil are they using?

    Luke: I just started this week and I think it depends on whether you are aiming for weight loss – I am and so keeping my sugar in fruits low and ensuring I only have an ounce of nuts a day is a must.
    Dairy is a no [if you are going to be really paleo] unless of course you can find some dairy products that were made from cows that havent been given hormones and were fed on grass!
    Keep food organic and most importantly stay away from processed foods and of course caffeine!
    A tasty snack when I am on the move in London – mussels, raisins and Nori [seaweed]. Also herbal tea or hot water with fresh chopped ginger and lemon works a treat 🙂

    Good luck!

  7. Just found this site – thank you! All very informative and people seem to be asking the same questions I have had in my head for the last few days. Oishii – I thought we should avoid dried fruit – you suggest raisins as a snack? Anyone else any ideas for a snack. I haven’t had breakfast today as I hear I am only allowed 6 eggs a week and have most of the week to go and had 2 eggs for scrambled eggs yesterday. Couldn’t see any chicken in my local sainsbury’s that was appetizing that didn’t contain ingredients I thought I should avoid. I’ve had salmon, carrots and red pepper for lunch. But am notw having sweet/biscuit/cake craving!! What to eat?? Help please 🙂

  8. One of the best ‘snacks’ (hate the word) in London is the Biltong from thesavanna
    They are a chain of South African stores in some of the larger train stations. Liverpool Street and Victoria, maybe more. The meat is grass fed Aberdeen Angus and is fantastic. £5.00 worth is enough for me for two meals. Very good. There sausages are also great with very high meat content. Their website is http://www.thesavanna.co.uk/

  9. Be careful of Biltong as it has a very high salt content.

    The key is to always be prepared and make all your food at home!

  10. Thanks for this, I did have a subway salad and was presently surprised. A much better choice than nothing at all when you’re in a food hurry. I do miss pasta, but my crohns does not in the morning.

  11. The salad bar on the ground floor of the Hilton Tower Bridge does a huge fresh salad with the leaves, toppings and dressing of your choice for only £7. There’s lots to choose from, and they even let you sit and eat in their plush lobby. Definitely one of my favourites. (http://www1.hilton.com/en_US/hi/hotel/LONTBHI-Hilton-London-Tower-Bridge-hotel-/index.do)
    The South African ‘Savanna’ shops Ian mentioned also do a Game (Wilderbeest) Biltong – for that authentic paleolithic eating experience – very tasty and healthy, but a little pricey.

  12. As Maria mentioned above – Subway do a pretty amazing Salad now. Plenty to choose from with lots of fresh veggies and choice of meats. Add a black coffee and you have a £3 meal deal!

  13. I’ve recently discovered the salad chains Tossed and Chop’d. Perfect for picky paleo types.

  14. do you know any shops in london that sell paleo museli, banana bread or the equivalent breakfast recipes you see for people that dont want meat eggs or have cooking time for breakfast. Or any on line shops please?

    Also if you add in goats cheese can you still keep weight loss down as am a non meat eater xx

    1. ‘Paleo’ museli & bread kind of defeat the core focus of the paleo diet – no grains!

      If you are a vegetarian, I would suggest diving into eggs for breakfast.
      If you are a pescitarian (sp?), go with fish.
      If you are vegan, then I can’t really help. Soy and other vegetable proteins are simply not very good for you.

  15. You can generate a Paleo “bread” without using any grains. There are many coconut flour recipes around. I dont think I have seen anything like this in store, but generally these are not overly difficult to make and you will know exactly what is in there. As a Paleo cereal you could use a mix of flax and nuts. Those you can buy at places like Hollands and Barret or Planet Organic or prepare yourself. It tastes reasonably good when you add some berries and coconut milk. For a source of protein I would maybe look into hemp.

  16. Not as excellent of an article as everyone makes it out to be. Sometimes I question how much of paleo London folk really are.  Local supermarkets? Meat is not grass finished, chickens are not freerange and woodland – not paleo. Any mention of organic options? No.
     
    Same goes for Pret tip – what about the quality of the meat?
     
    Kebab shop? You’ve got to be kidding me, questionable meat processed with god knows what, cooked in who knows what oils? Chips??? You mean those unorganic things cooked in vegetable or rapeseed oil that has been reused 20 times? Oily dressing? What goes into that oily dressing? It’s the same as suggesting eating in McD’s, at least there you know what you’re getting.
     
    Fried eggs is not an option for paleo person either for the oily reasons.
     
    I will continue browsing this site, but so far all the forums and websites I came across about paleo in UK are a joke, people think getting their meet from sainsburys is enough. I came here to find real solutions like where can I find actual grass finished meat that is not overly expensive in London, my farmer’s market (Blackheath) is not great in this field and living in Central London doesn’t really allow me to be friends with Kent or Surrey farmers.

    1. try not to let ideas of perfection  get in the way of good or better.
       
      My kebab shop chucks hunks of  lamb on a   grill in front of me…. better than a pile of grains.The conversion from bad food to a better paleo  diet can easily  take about 4 years. Eg  you probably need to convert to eating a bit more  meat, before you spend more on grass feed.,, all about slow, easy to do stages.  
       
      but for an advanced paleo eater this info and hints probably seems quite basic

      1. @AndrewStemler cross fit and paleo is not about doing it half way. yes, avoiding grains is great, but when I googled london paleo I was looking for inspiration and hard core people that know what they’re doing and can provide some valuable info that is not widely available since most paleo ‘gurus’ are american.

        1. Crossfit is about creating a structured supportive step by step path to success, not the abusive imposition of dogma. Abandoning one type of eating foranother can be a journey of many years.

    2. Hi Ally – great to see you here, and thanks for your comments.

      At the risk of being provocative, I would suggest that there are different levels, or interpretations, of what eating paleo means. In fact there was a terrific article on Robb Wolf’s blog just week about exactly this: Seven Shades of Paleo.

      That said, I’m sure you find both grass fed and free-range meat in many supermarkets across London – I know I do!

    3. Ally in the most polite way, what you’ve said is absolute nonsense.
       
      Article is a great intro for people into the basics of paleo eating.
       
      Most big supermarkets have grass fed meat and free range poultry products, as well as specialist organic sections.
       
      The kebab option I read as a last resort, but a means of avoiding grain and other non paleo goodies if one was inclined.
       
      The beauty of city farmers markets is they connect inner city inhabitants with country farmers from places as exotic and far flung as surrey and kent. Take a trip to borough market on saturday morning and see for your self 🙂

      1. borough market is the same as blackheath isn’t it? i would call what they offer a big variety to be honest, and what makes you think supermarkets sell grassfed meat? if that’s true i’ll be over the moon and be happy shopping there @Patrick T

      2. borough market is the same as blackheath isn’t it? i wouldn’t call what they offer a big variety to be honest, and what makes you think supermarkets sell grassfed meat? if that’s true i’ll be over the moon and be happy shopping there @Patrick T

        1. @Ally E You can get grass fed beef from Waitrose. And a quick search on google found at least two suppliers offering grass fed beef in, you guessed it, Borough Market. Seems you’re not looking very hard…

        2. @Ally E  Hi again! Borough Market is not the same as Blackheath (technically Greenwich). London is blessed with great food markets. You can find Borough Market here: http://goo.gl/maps/iyWER
           
          You will also find some excellent quality meat at Smithfields market, here: http://www.smithfieldmarket.com/ – word to the wise you will need to get there early to get the best deals.
           
          As for the supermarkets, Waitrose definitely sell grass fed meat, and I am fairly sure that the larger Sainsburys and Tescos do too.
           
          Good luck!

  17. @Ally E I find your judgment very harsh. This article isn’t meant to be a definitive guide to paleo but some easy advise for those choosing to change a lifetimes habit of eating. Trying to change your way of eating is not an over night task and takes time. Paleo is still relatively new on UK waters so if you were looking for perfect beings you are in the wrong place.
     
    As far as Blackheath and Borough being the same, it is simply not true!! They are both markets and that is where the similarities stop. Take a look if you don’t believe me. The selection is very wide and inclusive even for the fussiest of eaters at Borough.
     
    Your comment to meat quality is valid but would it not be the lesser of two evils? If I had a sandwich and a salad both from Pret and offered them to you under pain of starvation (or a more realistic situation -being late for work ect)  Would you rather starve? I have a feeling you probably would.
     
    And finally taking a harder look in the supermarket rather then ripping into articles might be a better use of your time since I and many others find grass-fed meat in stores.
     
    I hope that helps you.

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