Monday, October 10, 2011

London wrap-up

Sorry for going AWOL on you after that delicious Indian meal. That was the first night of our vacation and suffice it to say, the week simply flew by after that, filled with wonderful things like museums, shopping, pubs, shows and simply enjoying the daily life in a vibrant cosmopolitan city. We ate many wonderful meals and snacks, and although I don't have photos of them all I do want to offer some tidbits for anyone who might be heading to London in the near future.

Afternoon tea at Harrods: naturally, we had to get our scone fix somewhere, and while the fancy hotels apparently do afternoon teas that are legendary, they are also ridiculously priced. Harrods was not exactly a budget option, but it was more reasonably priced, and we were going there anyway to check it out. The store is seven floors of colossally expensive items from purses to perfume to toys and furniture, but the fourth floor Georgian restaurant is the only bit that's looking a little shabby-chic these days. We opted to sit in the Terrace Bar, a long, narrow glassed-in space perfect for watching planes and raindrops and wondering who lived in the old brick townhouses next door. The photo does the food only a little justice: there was a lot of it, and all of it was tasty. The best part was the utterly decadent scones, served with the obligatory clotted cream and strawberry jam. These were perfect in every way. We got to choose our tea from a lovely list; my tropical mango tisane was delicious, and Chris loved his roiboos.

Yalla Yalla, Winsley Street: this homey, warm room proffers delicious Lebanese food, from small plates to mains, and a creative list of housemade lemonades and cocktails as well. We had fantastic baba ganoush, muhammara that was lighter on the red pepper and heavier on the nuts than we were used to (still tasty), fluffy falafel, and a small mountain of fried calamari, whitebait and shrimp with yogurt dipping sauce. We shared a selection of Lebanese pastries for dessert - always a treat. Everything was tasty and well-executed. We wanted to go back but ran out of time.

Scandinavian Kitchen: a fire engine red storefront on Great Titchfield Street opens up to a bustling counter filled with open-faced Scandinavian-style sandwiches and salads. You can pick three or five selections for a lighter or heavier meal, plus they have coffee and pastries. We had tiny Swedish meatballs and beetroot salad on dark rye, shrimp and egg mayo on caraway bread, plus other tasty treats like smoked salmon, seafood salad, and blue cheese. We felt like we were in the writing bits of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, only without the drama. Everyone was cheerful and wore shirts with sayings like "May the Norse Be With You". Loved it.

Koba, Charlotte Street: this Korean place in Fitzrovia, near our flat, is very highly rated, but we went in because we were starving and everywhere was full. On a Wednesday. Note to self: make reservations for every dinner next time we go to London. We ended up sitting at the counter and having a very nice meal  - they have the grills set into the counter, so we ordered some galbi (boneless short ribs) and sweet/spicy chicken, as well as a bowl of dolsot bibimbap to share. The waitress behind the bar grilled our meat for us, sliced it up, and even showed us how to use lettuce and spring onions and sauce to make little wraps out of it. The bibimbap came with raw slivered beef, something I've never seen here, but the heat of the bowl cooks it quickly. This was the best bowl of bibimbap I've ever eaten.

Salt Yard, Goodge Street: to be fair to this upscale, yuppie tapas joint on Goodge Street, I was tired and not having the best evening when we turned up for some dinner. All of the food we had was very good, including the fresh grilled chorizo with peperonata, the duck breast with broad bean puree and mint, and the roasted pumpkin with figs, pistachio, chili and mint (one of the most interesting tapas I've ever had). The red wine we ordered was also good, right up until I spilled half my glass all over myself and my side of the table about 30 minutes into our stay. I was horribly embarrassed as I mopped myself up and tried to regain my composure, but that put paid to any thought I had of staying for dessert. Food was good, but the service was a bit cold, and the vibe was too snobby for my liking.

The Green Man, Riding House Street: this pub saved that evening from ending very dismally. We'd already been there once before, on Sunday night, when all was quiet and we had the affable French barman mostly to ourselves. We'd found the place on Time Out London's website, where it touted its extensive cider selection. I'm a cider lover, so I was in my element when the barman offered me tastes of everything they had on tap, so I could choose my favourite. We had a couple of rounds that night, and enjoyed ourselves immensely in the cozy pub, so after the red wine disaster we walked back to our flat so I could change clothes, then headed to the Green Man for another small bite and some cider. Not five minutes after we arrived they started playing the new Foster the People album in its entirety, so I was in heaven drinking my Aspall's Suffolk and snacking on hummus, baked camembert with onion jam, sweet potato frites, caprese salad and crudites. They do a wonderful house blend cider as well - sweet and lethal.

Barrica, Goodge Street: this authentic Spanish tapas place is about three doors over from Salt Yard, and just as popular, but for our anniversary dinner on Thursday I wised up and made a reservation. We were headed to the theatre for 7:30 p.m. so we were the first people in the place, but treated kindly by the waiter nonetheless. We had a quiet table in the back and thoroughly enjoyed thinly sliced cured chorizo, fantastic patatas bravas with aioli, cold marinated grilled vegetables, tiny clams in white wine with sea beans and garlic, and slices of housemade sausage topped with roast pigeon breast and elderberries, washed down with Malvasia Bianca. We ended the meal with cheese and Pedro Ximenez sherry, seen above - manchego and monte enebro (sheep and goat, respectively) with guava jam and Marcona almonds. Perfection. Highly recommended.

Golden Hind, in Marylebone Lane: fish and chips, mushy peas, perfect. This place is very old and highly touted, and we were not disappointed. A "small haddock" each was enough to keep us full until dinner, six hours later. Crisp light batter, moist fresh fish, yummy peas. I'm not a big fan of English chips (too pale) but these were indeed fluffy inside and nicely done for what they were.

Pret a Manger, everywhere: OK, Pret is basically the new Starbucks, so ubiquitous is it in London, but you can't knock the product. Pret's stock in trade is prepared sandwiches, but holy cow, these are way above average. They make everything fresh in the morning and don't keep anything overnight. Combinations are interesting and delicious, like chicken breast with avocado, salad leaves and basil yogurt mayo, or "posh cheddar" and pickles. If I lived in London I would eat lunch there every day.

Writing about all of this has made me desperately homesick for London and our fantastic tiny flat in Fitzrovia. I'm already trying to figure out how long I have to wait before I can go back.

New cooking posts coming soon; also please note the new domain name! I ponied up and bought Enjoy.

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