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An American Chowhound in London

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Restaurants & Bars 2

An American Chowhound in London

AZ | Mar 2, 2002 09:28 AM

Just returned from a holiday in London. Here is a de-briefing of our little recky.

Visiting London with the benefit of the London Hounds’ advice or going it on your own is the difference between sunshine and snow storm (which both happened in the course of a half hour this past week in London, thank you). To avoid going on forever, I’ll not describe dishes as these are beautifully detailed in prior postings.

1837 at Browns. £45 for an 8 course tasting menu (and another £45 for a “flight” of 8 wines), which is one of 4 tasting menus (2 choices of 7 courses and another of 9 course) offered each night. This restaurant in the beautiful Browns Hotel offers the best value of any tasting menu we have enjoyed. The dishes are witty and magical. Their presentation on Bernardaud’s Fusion china (which now seems de rigueur for tasting menus, no matter which country) offers a striking and yet altogether pleasing contrast to the traditional dark wood paneled room. I suggest an early booking (we chose 7:00 pm) to allow a relaxed pacing and greater attention from the wait staff. By the time of our departure, the room was full and the wait staff were showing the strain of their burden.

The Capitol. The set course lunch is again a ridiculously good value. This small jewel of a dining room would be delightful to visit if they only offered tea and biscuits. One has the sense of haven in this place. True to form, the presentations are plated on B’ Fusion, with some clever replacements of glass bowls and covers that are not Fusion but succeed all so well. Whether inspired by necessity (who broke those domes?) or cleverness, they show the brilliant minds that are hard at work in the kitchen. This is delicate, inspired cooking at a very high level. Whoever has decided to subsidize restaurant cooking to promote the Hotel establishments (if that is what we are observing) ought to receive a Producer’s Award.

Rock and Sole Plaice. Fantastic. They haven’t left any room for improvement in the quality of their fish and chips (with mushy peas please). While I settled in with a nice cup of tea, I did notice an older gentleman at the next table develop a sparkle in his eye when the waiter informed him that yes they did indeed have Orange Fizzy. We never lose the child, do we? Had a difficult time leaving, but it was only a quick walk to opening night of A Masked Ball (all controversy and no substance) at ENO, where I noticed that our clothes still had the faint perfume of having lingered at R & SP.

BTW: Had a chance to cross the Millennium Bridge its first night open (this round) and walked across to see the Tate’s Warhol exhibit. Crossing this bridge is a splendid walk and I heartily recommend it to you, regardless the weather. As to Warhol, while I am not a fan (and thank you will never be), this is a huge collection of his work and does indeed offer strong insight into the art world in our times, in particular what happens to an artist when he discovers that he can sell anything (just anything) he decides to call art. You can indeed fool some of the people all of the time.

Wagamama. Coming from Los Angeles, which is likely one of the noodle capitols of North America, this was a curiosity we could not resist. Points to them for cleverness. I would say Wagamama is to a noodle shop in LA (or SF or choose where you will), as Starbucks is to an espresso bar in Rome.

India Club. A quintessential Chowhound experience. Walking up the stairs of the Strand Continental elevated (sorry) this moment from “this is quite interesting” to “this is such a shambles that we absolutely have to do this.” The lamb bhalti with a side dish of onions and a Cobra beer from the bar below makes for a perfect moment.

Paxton & Whitfield We love cheese, bread and wine. It is one of our favorite dinners, a custom we began in Paris some time ago (where we also adopted dry Martinis and a bowl of crisps as our official coctail hour combo - laugh until you try it). This time we descended on P & W, like a pair of large mice wearing trench coats and sun glasses, hoping not be spotted among the regular folk. We scampered away with our haul, and munched greedily in a dark corner of our flat. Well, the dining room table lit by candle light, actually.

Havelock Tavern in Shepherd’s Bush The “gastropub” strikes me as a variation of bistro cooking: straight forward presentations, little emphasis on service, good ingredients, and affordable prices. The Havelock (cash only, order at the bar, snag a table when you can without appearing too obnoxious about it) is a delightful find. Since it isn’t commented on the Board, I will tell you that our hungry tribe sampled a white bean soup with crisp Parma ham, a warm winter salad of beans, beets, and celeriac, a spinach pappardelle (“who’s the pepper deli then?”) with gorgonzola cream sauce, calf’s liver with bacon, leek & potato puree, and a pork, cepe and onion stew with mashed potato and greens. Stew was surprisingly the winner. Average price per dish was £7. A nice bottle of Sicilian Rosso was £10. I’m hooked. No fuss, very reasonable prices, every morsel was delicious. I’m going to get a day job at the BBC, endear myself to a few old cronies, and get them to spot me 2 hour lunches and a bottle of red at the Havelock, in exchange for stories I will make up there and then about movie stars I have never known. Then totter home at day’s end …

Our deepest gratitude to London Hounds (and visitors) for prior postings. Looking forward to next visit to sample some of the 47+ places we didn’t have a chance to try.

And:
Plans for daughter’s wedding in the Summer in London now finalized. We’ll host a rehearsal dinner in rented flat. Have abandoned notion of Sunday brunch for large crowd – not possible. And my goodness – why does everyone serve fruit cake for wedding cake? It was a little challenge finding creative bakers who do “sponge cake” in wedding cake format. Sorry – we’re just not fans of the noble fruit cake.

Best to all,
AZ
Malibu, CA

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