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a recent trip to London


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a recent trip to London

tealeaves | | Dec 26, 2006 08:46 AM

My wife and I were in London from 14-21 December.

Food was a difficulty. I know about the usual snickering when English cuisine is mentioned, but Escoffier has words of praise for English roasts and game, and I think his attitude is properly scientific. I am also enthusiastic about Yorkshire pudding, trifle, scones, jams and jellies, cheeses, and other things, so I went to London hoping for more discoveries. I had intended to visit St. John's Restaurant ( ) for traditional English fare, but they were booked for all meals during the time we were there. The Notting Hill Brasserie (92 Kensington Park Rd), advertised as modernized English cuisine, was overpriced and pretensious - a few tiny pieces of venison and a squirt of liquified sweet potato cost £23 (abt $45) but there was nothing to be done once the plates were in front of us.

Hotel breakfast buffets were generally expensive, crowded, and disgusting, and the one Indian meal we took in was poor. We eventually found interesting Italian and Chinese/Japanese food at a small shopping center next to our hotel (built within the distinctive Brunswick Centre housing project; ; ). The mushroom soup at the Italian place (part of the Carluccio's chain, ) was probably the best food we ate on the whole trip, although the laksa I had at the Chinese/Japanese place (Hare and Tortoise, http://www.hareandtortoise-restaurant... ) was also authentic and very tasty. Soups, then — it was a trip about exotic soups — I am still trying to digest what that means. Fish and chips at an Indian-run deli ("patisserie") with strong-smelling, unwashed male waiters opposite the Gloucester Road Underground Station (77A Gloucester Road) was a very unhappy experience, and brunch at an attractive little Russian-run café (Deux Amis Patisserie, Judd St. south of Euston) was strange because of the relative inattention to the food (they had no way of heating anything except water). Boureka at a Turkish-owned Italian restaurant (35 Woburn Place) was sodden and the lasagne was bland. Coffee, even "regular coffee", is generally espresso-based, as elsewhere in Europe, although I did find potable drip coffee here and there. The second half of the trip I stuck to chamomile tea, which placated my angry basur condition.

We had a traditional afternoon tea at Brown's Hotel, which was tasty: five kinds of finger sandwiches and a variety of sweets and clotted cream, with one's own choice of tea. We took a student of mine and his father, and followed that high-calorie meal with a multi-hour walk to and along and back from the Thames.

I visited one "cafe" ([khæf]), the English equivalent of the American diner; "café", by contrast, means the continental coffeehouse. A lot of the beer we had in pubs (both the darkened bar-like pub for young professionals and the brighter traditional kind where you can see and talk) was watery, and I think the tastiest beer we had was the strong Belgian brew Leffe — we were urged only to drink half-pints of it rather than full pints.

Of the many interesting crackers and deli foods in the supermarkets we sampled just a little because we had no real eating facilities in our hotel — I tasted white Stilton for the first time (in New York I have seen only the blue variety) — it tasted of residual whey, somewhat like Cheshire, one of my favorite cheeses, but was a little too salty for me. As in Berlin, Paris, and Barcelona, one really appreciates the culinary variety made possible by the absence of US food import restrictions, even without being able to partake.

Of other traditional English foods, I only tasted a commercial black pudding (in a cafe), which I found coarse and too salty. I saw jellied eel for sale in Harrods (in a sealed container) but decided not to buy it because I had no access to refrigeration. Two other Harrods items — bittermints and Victorian mints from Bendicks — were well worth the price. The unusual tisanes of Whittard of Chelsea were delicious (especially their nettle, fennel, and aloe vera tea; ).

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