Restaurants & Bars 5

London Report, or why I love Pret

dixieday | Feb 11, 200310:16 AM

Great food in London this trip. Thanks to recc's from my sister, who lived in Notting Hill for several years, I went first to Tom's, a sweet little cafe/deli on Westbourne Grove, near Portobello Road) Good breakfast, nice cheerful scene. They also do very good toasted sandwiches (I had wild mushrooms and gruyere on foccacia), salads, and soups for lunch. Wandered up Portobello Road to Books for Cooks, a tiny shop crammed full of great, great cookbooks, with lots of hard-to-find Brit titles. They have a little cafe in the back, where they test recipes. The day I was there they were serving carrot-ginger soup and Moroccan chicken, both of which smelled great. Joined the lunchtime throngs at Kensington Place, big lively fish restaurant on Kensington Church Street. Fab steamed cod with ribbons of cucumber and chanterelles, in a lightly creamy sauce, plus I got sides of wonderful garlicky spinach and tart, German-style red cabbage. Hot chocolate pudding was very british--a big knob of fluffy, cake-like steamed chocolate pudding (nothing like the custardy stuff Americans would call pudding--more like what Laurie Colwin described as "half cake, half pudding, and the nicer half of each") drenched in thick warm chocolate sauce, with a ramekin of warm vanilla custard sauce on the side. Yum! For a romantic dinner, I'd love to go back to Clarke's (Sally Clarke's posh little restaurant on Kens. Church St, next to her great bakery) . They had a fixed menu, 4 courses (first, main, cheese, dessert, for 48 pounds), but you could order anything from 2 to 4 courses. Very Chez-Panisse-ish, down to the Domaine Tempier Bandol Rose on the wine list, where there were also lots of old friends from California--Bonny Doon etc. Lovely sheer slices of smoked salmon over arugula with watercress, beets, and dill creme fraiche, followed by grilled venison with lots of lovely veg--roasted potatoes, baby leeks, carrots, sprouts, and some slices of poached quince. Very pleasant service, too, and my fave champagne (Billecart Salmon Rose) by the glass...
Other highlights: really good sandwiches (tandoori salmon, smoked chicken) from the Pret A Manger chain; electric kettles and real teapots in all the hotel rooms, McVittie's plain chocolate digestive biscuits; the Borough Market (near London Bridge, south of the Thames) open-air food market, with lots of butchers selling whole rabbits and game pies; and amazing british farmhouse cheeses at the nearby branch of Neal's Yard.

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