Monday, February 11, 2013

"Yes, London. You know, fish, chips, cup o tea, bad food, worse weather, Mary-fucking-Poppins. London!"

Luckily our experiences with the food in London were very good ones. Just like the love affair I have for London cocktail bars, I found so many wonderful restaurants in the city known for mushy peas, that I really wish I was getting back over the pond sometime soon.
 Everyone goes for Indian food while in London and I was no exception. I met my girlfriend Caitlin for lunch one day in Covent Garden at Dishoom where we had an amazing mid-day feast. We started with lassis (rose & cardamon, and mango & fennel) and Bombay Pimm's (yes, both!) and then worked our way through multiple courses of really delicious food. The snack of behl (puffed rice with pomegranate and tamarind chutney), meltingly tender lamb haleen and chicken berry biryani were my personal favorites.
This was nothing like the cheap and quick Indian food from nondescript mom and pop shops that most think of, the kitchen here is adding modern twists on lots of classics. Remembering this lunch is making me hungry!

The other thing that is synonymous with the London food scene is of course fish and chips. There is much tongue wagging about who is the best, the original, the oldest, and on and on. One afternoon Dayne and I sought out The Golden Hind in Marlybone, open since 1914 and heavily touted as the best. You chose your fish (cod, hake, plaice, or haddock) and sides (mushy peas and/or chips) are ordered separately. The fish portion was quite large but just ok, the tartare sauce lacks zip and the chips were a bit sad. Ah well, can't win them all.
While I was out playing tourist one afternoon, I came across an adorable little shop called The Wine Library at 43 Trinity Square. During lunch time you can purchase a bottle of wine and then help yourself to a cute buffet of patés, cheeses, salads, quiche, olives, desserts, etc. The manager was very helpful in finding me a small bottle of chilled white and I loved sitting in the cave-like room, listening in on many wine fueled business lunch discussions that were going on around me.
This cute shop/cafe is also just across from the Tower of London making it a great location when seeing the sights.
London is having a love affair with big, meat-centric, chop-house style restaurants. Even though Dayne's boss (who we had many dinners with since this was an extended work trip) is a pescetarian/vegetarian, he loves the atmosphere and popularity of these bold restaurants so we gladly checked out a few around town.

The first one we went to is located in the lovely Borough Market. Roast is quite popular with the locals and tourists alike, and occupies a fantastic space, bright with walls of windows, that use to be part of the flower market. The menu is full of British favorites, all ratcheted it up a notch, like my fried rabbit and side of mashed potatoes with marrow.

Roast actually does have a nice vegetarian menu as well as a daily specials, cocktail & bar menu, brunch, Sunday roast, etc. We all walked out happy and stuffed.

Dayne and I had an impromptu dinner at Hix on Brewer Street one night, on the recommendation of some good bartenders. This particular location also has the very nice Mark's Bar downstairs. My understanding is that, although there are various locations throughout the city, the menus are mostly similar. The restaurants use a lot of ingredients, proteins and cuts that we had never heard of. Things like herring milts, sea beet, and Bannockburn rib on the bone make up the menu. Dayne had a nice set of lamb chops while I tried this incredibly crazy looking game bird (name I am now forgetting). This bird absolutely was living up to its gamey-nature.
The food was all delicious and I've continued to recommend the various Hix locations to friends who have all reported back with thumbs up.

The top dog of chop houses in London is Hawksmoor. Dayne treated his workmates and me to a big, meaty dinner at their Seven Dials location (lobster for the pescatarian). Order up a boozy tiki drink while you peruse the menu and daily board of offerings. The steaks are listed by cut and weight and they are big, gorgeous cuts like Porterhouse and Chateaubriand. You can then decide if you want a sauce for your meat like Bearnaise, bone marrow gravy, Stilton hollandaise...  Holy hell, these folks are not messing around. It was amazing.

The opposite of having decadent steaks is to head to St. John's where the focus is on "poor man" cuts and offal. We chose to eat in the bar one evening, which was quite lively and much easier to get into than the connected restaurant. We had a fantastic meal of small plates including their famed bone marrow with parsley salad, a lovely dish of duck hearts and white beans, welsh rarebit, and goat cheese, roasted shallot and mint which you spread on grilled bread.

France isn't the only place with Michelin starred eateries. We chose to have our anniversary dinner at the 2 star Pied A Terre which was a fantastic recommendation from a friend who lives in the city. We had the 7-course tasting menu (they offer a 10-course also) with wine pairings. They give you a choice between classic wine styles or "discovery", Dayne took the classics and I took the discovery and they were both a really nice selection of wines.
Another higher end restaurant that we loved (and happens to be next door to Pied a Terre's sister restaurant) was Roganic.We had an excellent 3 course lunch there with a friend who was in town from Seattle, they also offer 6 and 10 courses. Can you imagine 10 courses at lunch? Oy! The staff had no problem adding in a nice cheese course for us as well.  The space is very minimalistic and a little zen like. I'd love to go back for dinner next time.

And out in Chiswick, Hedone just received its Michelin star. When we went we thought it was good but not great. It felt like a very friendly neighborhood restaurant vs a destination restaurant. Chiswick is also about as far as you can get from our apartment in the Docklands so the hour + commute on the train might have influenced our opinions. If someone has been there since their star awarding comment below and let me know how it is.

Of course you can't go to London without eating at a proper pub. And you should absolutely make a point to have Sunday roast in one. Even Gorden Ramsay is in the pub business with his place on the banks of the Thames, The Narrow. The Sunday roast was fantastic but the banana sticky toffee pudding with clotted cream stole the show.  

Another really good pub was The Charles Lamb in Islington. Around since 1839, it serves excellent food, beer and is right down the street from 69 Colebrook Row. Bonus!

The Gun was close to our apartment in the Docklands, and recommended highly. There's a very nice restaurant on one side and the pub on the other.  We chose to eat in the pub with friends one evening and had delicious pies (savory), burgers and well-pulled pints. 
All London photos here!


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