I spent five days in London, where grapes are called Sultanas, French fries are called chips, and arugula is rocket. This time it was just me and my gal pals, no Lon. Still, the only way I know how to travel is to migrate through food and let all other sight-seeing be incidental. The hard part is getting from one place to the other. It’s a busy city with lots of traffic. If you can catch a cab, which can be really difficult at times, they’re very expensive. The windy roads mean that you’ll hardly ever drive in a straight line, adding more mileage and costs. Parts of the tube (subway) shut down randomly and on weekends, and the whole thing closes around midnight.  In hindsight, we should have learned the bus system earlier on.

Jessica at Buckingham Palace 2

My second beef is that London is sensitive about photography. Many stores, restaurants, and places don’t allow photos, which is not blogger or tourist friendly. Sigh….I did my best. Let’s get on with the food in order of how I experienced it.

Pub Breakfast

We arrived on a Thursday morning, exhausted and hungry. For convenience, we chose an  inexpensive breakfast/brunch at a random local pub. It seems like most pubs here were open and serving breakfast. Simple egg sandwiches or bangers (sausages) with eggs, beans, and toast seem to be your choices but looking back, I enjoyed the experience. After all, what pub opens for breakfast over here? And, it was only 2 pounds (equivalent of less than $4).

St. John

We made dinner reservations a few weeks back for St. John, listed as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world (brought to my attention by Sheng). While I appreciate the unique focus on offal and lesser used animal parts, none of us felt that the quality really merited top 50 in the world. The signature dish of marrow and parsley was less rich and luscious than many I’ve had in New York. It didn’t amount to anything memorable.

Bone Marrow 2

There was lots to learn from the menu though. Girolles is what they call chanterelles but the overly buttery dish hardly seemed enough to call an entree. This was the first, we learned of Welsh Rarebit, a savoury sauce of melted cheese on toast. This one was salty and heavy on the stout so I had to refrain. The Roast Middlewhite (type of pig) was tender but forgettable and the Mallard and Turnips fell in the same boat. The quality of meats were excellent but the preparations rather boring.

Girolles on Toast Welsch Rarebit
Roast Middlewhite and chard Mallard and Turnips

We also had braised veal with fennel and butterbeans, hearty and rustic. We chose some steamed broccoli tossed in vinaigrette for some green balance. The large sardines were very fresh and simply grilled.  None stood out except for two in the savory category. The duck hearts had a perfect bounce to them, lightened by fresh pea puree.

Duck Hearts and Pea Puree

Then there was tender slices of grilled ox heart served with beetroot leaves and horseradish. Here was something different that wowed. There was intrigue and flavor together.

Ox Heart, Beetroot leaves and Horseradish

Surprisingly, the real winners at this restaurant are desserts. I’m not even sure which everyone favored since every one had fans fawning and scooping. I was sad to only have one bite of the moist Apple and Calvados cake, fearing that the liquor was still strong enough in the baked cake. It had the right balance of spices for fragrance and the perfect dose of nuts for texture. Good thing there was 3 scoops of the Hazelnut Praline Ice Cream because it could have cause some fighting. Perhaps one of the best darn ice creams I have ever eaten, it was creamy with just the right amount of sweetness from the swirls of praline that crunched and crumbled gently.

Apple and Calvados Cake Hazelnut Praline Ice Cream

It’s amazing how good some simply honey roasted figs with toasted brioche can be. It helps that these are better figs than what I see in NY usually. We finished with cappuccinos and teas and the price was decent.

Honey Roast Figs and Toasted Brioche

Afternoon Tea at The Ritz

Afternoon Tea at The Ritz was one of the highlights of the trip. I don’t think it has the same effect on men as it does women, but for a group of girls, it’s the adult tea party you were pretending to attend all though childhood. The teapots, teacups and saucers, and the entire setting is beautiful and regal, gold and shiny. The waiters are in proper uniform. There’s nothing that matches in New York.

tea room table setting

You can choose from a nice array of teas and change to different ones during. Perhaps one to match with finger sandwiches and another to match with sweets. Warm scones are brought out a little later to be eaten with clotted cream and preserves. The food is abundant and very good but not amazing. It doesn’t effect the whole package though. It is pricey at 39 pounds (roughly $66) but worth the experience.

3 tier platter Clotted Cream and Preserves

Paramount

Paramount is a restaurant and lounge located at the top of Centre Point, with wrap around views of the city. They don’t allow photos which is a shame since they plate  some beautiful dishes. Everything was fresh and cooked nicely. I really enjoyed my medium rare hanger steak with goose fat fried potatoes. See, I can’t remember all the other dishes now without photos…

Royal China

Royal China is known for dim sum in London. They use an ordering system instead of the carts which is already points off for me. Though its an enjoyable meal, it doesn’t come close to the variety and quality you can get in Flushing, NY. There was one unique offering I’ve never had, deer meat pastry, but it’s not enough to entice a re-visit. The prices are roughly the same to NY before taking into account exchange rate.

rice noodles

Portobello Market

Portobello Market is a busy street market in Notting Hill. The main street, Portobello Road is lined with old antique shops as well as modern yogurt and cupcake shops. Then there’s street stands that sell produce, cheese, olives, crepes, bakery items, clothing, and more. We tried grapes, cherry tomatoes, plums, pluots, strawberries and the fruit is amazing here!! I highly recommend the freshly fried churros with chocolate dipping sauce too. It’s super busy, especially where the notable spots from the movie “Notting Hill” were taken, like the Travel Bookshop.

Harrod’s

The food hall on the first floor of Harrod’s is quite a sight to see. There is a room for chocolate, a room for teas, a room for candy (yes, separate from chocolate), a room for pantry items, a room for baked goods, and a room for meats and seafood. I’m probably forgetting some areas and there’s some little restaurant counters scattered through: a sushi bar, an oyster bar, a seafood grill, a gelato cafe, etc. The displays are magnificent and enticing. Unfortunately, they don’t allow photos in most areas. (This one is taken outside and looks fake doesn’t it? It’s real with a pink stretch jeep in the back. I swear.)

Angie and Tracie at Harrod's - pink limo

We bought a few bites to try like a pork and apple pie. We were told that some pies are meant to be eaten warm and some cold. We opted for a cold pie because they don’t heat them at that counter. Ironically, it tasted like it needed to be heated to us. The straight-out-of-the-fridge taste was not appealing, cold and clumpy inside with a dry and hard crust. The mixed berry brioche bun was much better.  (Forgot to snap a picture of it. )

Pork and Apple Pie

Roast

We went to Roast for Sunday Roast, a tradition of heavy meat eating on a Sunday in London. It’s a modern and bright restaurant that overlooks Borough Market, which is closed on Sunday!! (This is my biggest regret on this trip, not getting to see Borough Market in action.) The food was heavy but showed refinement. They have a nice 2 course with plenty of choice for 29 pounds and it’s a generous amount of food with some live jazz.

I really enjoyed the buffalo mozzarella with damsons and fresh pea shoots. Simple and fresh.

fresh mozzarella and damsons

They serve an interesting little pot of salted beef, seemingly cured and shredded, then sauced. It was accompanied by pickles and bread. I wonder if this is a common dish in London or unique to Roast…

salted beef

Another appetizer was pork patties lightened with a slaw, while two chose tomato soups that had great flavor but didn’t come out hot enough.

tomato soup

For mains, two of us got roasted pork belly and it was humongous! The meat was tender and juicy but the best part was definitely the the thick and crunchy skin. It’s on top of a little bit of apple sauce that adds a touch of sweetness.

crisped pork belly

Two got sirloin which was cooked so nicely, also served in a generous two slices. The fresh and sharp mustard and horseradish give a great zing. The puffy popover is a nice touch.

Sirloin and Popover

I didn’t try the haddock casserole because of mercury but I don’t like fish with cheese anyway. We all shared sides of very fried potatoes and buttery cabbage with carrots. Food in London is really pretty heavy and this was no exception. No one could even fathom dessert at this point so we decided to walk on and explore.

Cabbage and Fried Potatoes 2

Vinopolis

Vinopolis is marketed as a wine tour/exhibit with tasting so you can buy a ticket as a drinker/taster and as a non-drinker. One of the girls didn’t feel like drinking early afternoon and she and I thought we would just enjoy the tour, information, and knowledge. Nope, it’s really not much inside but tastings so the 12 pounds is a rip-off. That’s nearly $20 just to sit around and have access to a bathroom. Four girls went around doing tastings (for about 30 pounds) and none were all too impressed either. Skip this while in London because drinking wine at restaurants and buying bottles at wine shops is pretty cheap.

Lahore

After an afternoon at Tate Modern, a free museum, I was determined to eat Indian food. It was my last dinner in London.  We picked a place listed in Time Out London and hopped a cab, but met the most charming cab driver who favored Lahore for 30 years and so we decided to go with his choice. The prices are nice and cheap and the food is good. They are weak on the naan, which isn’t puffy enough and gets drier as it cools.

Naan and garlic naan 2

We enjoyed the rest, Vegetable Curry, Chicken Tikka Masala, Seekh Kabobs, and finishing with Kulfi pops. It’s spicier and lighter than what we’re used to in NY, using less cream and oil. Ironically, I consider Indian food very heavy in NY, but here it’s a lighter version which feels even lighter relative to how heavy food generally is in London.

Vegetable Curry Chicken Tikka Masala
Seekh kabob Kulfi pops

I finished with a mango lassi which was thickly yogurty and fresh and fruity. Mmm….

Dayles Ford

Food Shops, a concept where they sell some produce and grocery items, yet also sell prepared foods in tandem with a full seated restaurant, is growing in London. Dayles Ford, one focused on farm ingredients was a favorite spot of ours. The first time we stopped in, we bought bread, preserves, mustard, desserts, and fresh organic juices and yogurt drinks. We loved everything so much that we went back for our last breakfast in London.

BLT

I had the freshest and brightest BLT. Others had farm fresh eggs on toast or cured salmon with baked eggs. Everything tasted so simple and fresh, just as nature intended it. The cappuccinos were great too.

cured salmon and baked eggs

London

Overall, I didn’t love London. I really enjoyed time with my girls but it wasn’t because of where we were. Ingredient quality seems fantastic but preparations lean towards heavy and very one dimensional. It gets hard to eat that way for several days in a row. Gratuity gets confusing because generally it’s not a tipping culture but some restaurants add on service charges on their own. With the exchange rate (around 1.6 now), things get really expensive.

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