Forest Gate-born Mark may have moved to Henley to be close to his current rowing club, but his foodie heart remains firmly in the East End; from childhood memories of the pie and mash shops of Bethnal Green and the Brick Lane bagels that fuelled his apprenticeship as a Thames Waterman, to posh pizzas in Shoreditch and good food-on-the-go at Whitecross Street Market.
How does being a sportsman influence what you eat?
Food is a very important part of my life. I love chocolate and cheese, but coming up to race I have to cut those out, plus limit my red meat and liquid intake. Racing as a lightweight, a class I switched to ten years ago, means I have to be even more careful and refuel in the right way. Plenty of pasta, loads of spinach, making sure I eat at the right times, and monitoring my weight three or four times a day on the scales.
Will you be eating much food onsite in the Olympic site and what are your expectations?
At the Beijing Olympics the food offering was incredible; every cuisine from around the world and for every type of athlete’s needs. I’ll be eating onsite down at Dorney Lake in Windsor during the first week when we are racing. But in week two we will be finished and will move up to the Olympic Village to support the rest of Team GB. And I’ll really be able to indulge as I’ll have finished competing.
Your favourite place to eat in London?
I love a pizza, so I really like Pizza East in Shoreditch. There is a great atmosphere and food and I go there as often as I can. The pizzas are unique, not the normal toppings you find in most pizza places, and the ingredients are good quality.
Your earliest/oldest London food memory?
My dad used to take us to Rogg’s Jewish Deli on Cannon Street Road (since closed). They always gave tasters of the pickled cucumbers and delicious smoked salmon. It was a real friendly family-orientated business. I used to stop in Kelly’s on Roman Road in Bethnal Green on the way home from school in Bow, for pie and mash with loads of liquor (parsley sauce). And when I was doing my waterman apprenticeship on the Thames we would fill up on bagels from Brick Lane.
The best meal you've eaten in the capital?
I was lucky enough to be offered a table at Cecconi’s in Mayfair, following a talk I did for the owners Soho House Group. It was amazing. I’ve never experienced luxury dining like that. There was everything you could want on the menu, and you name it we ate it.
Your favourite food stall?
I love visiting the cheese stalls and shops at Borough Market, trying all the samples. Once I start eating cheese I can’t stop. It is like anything you can’t have when trying to lose weight - you crave it massively. And it tastes even better when you do eat it.
London's best food bargain? (shop, cafe or restaurant)
I think Whitecross Street Market is brilliant value. So many different choices, loads of good food options, and it is always hard to choose between them all. My other half works nearby so we often take a wander down there. It is one of the real hidden gems of London.
If there was one thing you could change about food or eating in London what would it be?
There are increasing numbers of chain restaurants, but I really feel we should be supporting the local independent businesses. The way you are treated can be much nicer - like my memories of Rogg’s deli, which have stayed with me all my life - and I think it is crucial we preserve the variety of places there are to eat in London. Henley, where I live, isn’t too bad for independent shops, but we’ve got a fair few big coffee chains now and I really think they can kill the food on offer in an area. Saying that, I'm really amazed by the way East London has become a food destination - when I was growing up it certainly wasn’t an area people would go to seek out the food.
By Kelly Parsons