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An Interview With Oliver Mernick-Levene, The Man Behind Secret Food Tours

An Interview With Oliver Mernick-Levene, The Man Behind Secret Food Tours

Picture of Isabelle Pitman
Updated: 13 September 2017
From a young age, Oliver Mernick-Levene has been a self-confessed avid foodie and traveler, always eager to experience a wide range of cuisines from around the world. In 2013, Londoner Oliver decided to combine his passions for traveling and for food, and create Secret Food Tours in Paris, along with Nico Jacquart, in order to show off the ‘best of British’ food whilst teaching people about its culture, too. The Culture Trip catches up with Oliver to find out more about the project, his tours in Rome and London, and where his inspiration came from.

Courtesy of Oliver Mernick-Levene

Courtesy of Oliver Mernick-Levene

What motivated you to set up Secret Food Tours?

Nico [Jacquart, the project’s co-founder] and I set up Secret Food Tours to show off the best food in top European destinations. Our tours are always in small, intimate groups which allow people to learn about the culinary culture and history of the area, while enjoying and tasting amazing foods and drinks. Our first tour was set up 2 years ago in Paris, and due to its success, we created three more tours, two of which are in London (a traditional food tour in London Bridge and an East End Indian food tour), and one in the heart of Rome.

 

When did your love of food start?

Both Paris and London have amazing food scenes, and we were both lucky enough to have families that took an interest in teaching us about interesting cuisines from all over the globe. We have both traveled a lot and that has meant that we have been able to experience new tastes in different countries, but in the way that foodie tourists would tend to view a country.

Pizza Fast Food | © Pexels

Pizza Fast Food | © Pexels

 

Why did you choose to do your food tour around London Bridge?

London Bridge has truly been transformed in recent years from an almost no-go area to a tourist hot-spot. It has done well to keep its original ethos and there has been an explosion of great food there, from amazing pubs to the iconic Borough Market, and little independent restaurants. It’s a food heaven. We picked traditional British food on this tour due to the history of the area, which stems back to before medieval times; look out for fish and chips, amazing fudges, mouth-watering pies, succulent sausages and delicious English desserts. It’s a chance for us to truly show off the ‘best of British’.

 

What is British cuisine to you?

British food is hard to define. We all know the traditional dishes, but these days people love curry as much as sausages and mash. So for me, modern British cuisine can be summed up as being wholesome, fun and family oriented – whether that is a Rogan Josh, a four cheese pizza or sushi. That being said, I still love the good old fish and chips. My grandma’s family used to own fish and chips shops, so I guess it’s in my blood.  And, interestingly, the East End of London is where this dish was created.

Fish and chips at Tasha’s | © Saaleha Bamjee/Flickr

 

What is your favorite item to purchase at Borough Market?

There is a stall at the market that makes amazing British fudges that are mixed with chili – a modern spicy twist on a traditional dish.

 

Do you consider a country’s cuisine when you select your travel destinations? If you could take a culinary tour across one country in the world, where would you go?

Yes, I love to pick a place by its cuisine, and I regularly do food tours in other countries. I am off to see Thailand in a few weeks, and I can’t want to learn all the secrets of Thai cooking.
Where else in the world can we expect to see Secret Food Tours in the future?

We have a few other places in the pipeline, so watch this space!

Market | © Tnkntx/Flickr

Market | © Tnkntx/Flickr

 

Where would you advise culture lovers to go in London?

I don’t think you can beat the Science Museum; it’s fun for everyone and it’s free. The Tate Modern is another great way to spend a few hours in and around the South Bank.

 

Which high end restaurant would you advise London visitors to eat at in order to experience local cuisine? And what would you tell them to order?

I would say go to the Duck and Waffle (if they can get a table) – if only for the stunning view 40 stories up. The restaurant is all about sharing, so our group of five ordered six small plates, including the yellow-fin tuna and Foie gras crème brûlée. It’s lots of fun and tastes fantastic.

 

What’s your favorite place for a meal on a budget?

I love the Courtesan in Brixton; great value Dim Sum and such beautiful décor.

 

What are you reading or watching at the moment?

I have started the new season of The Walking Dead and, like everyone else, I also can’t wait for the new Game of Thrones. We are truly in the golden era of television. Both are epic.

 

Henry Miller penned 11 work schedule commandments in his book, Henry Miller On Writing. Number 7 is ‘Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it’. Do you adhere to a particular morning routine or way of working which helps you to be productive?

I believe that everyone should eat well, enjoy life, and make a difference where you can.

 

  • Local Favorites 2015
  • Secret Food Tours is one of the winners of The Culture Trip’s London Local Favorite 2015 Award. The Local Favorite badge is awarded to our favorite local towns, restaurants, artists, galleries, and everything in between. We are passionate about showcasing popular local talents on a global scale, so we have cultivated a carefully selected, but growing community.