After posting here with a ridiculously ambitious list of hoped-for dining destinations, off my family went to London. Having never been before, I was rather naive about how much territory it would be possible to cover in any given day. I'm happy to report that even the restaurants that we went to that weren't on any lists, weren't recommended by anyone, and were chosen only by instinct were (by and large) much better than expected. All in all we had a tremendous time.
Often we selected a place to eat by scanning the neighborhood when hunger struck rather than by making a plan ahead of time. This wasn't my choice, but did lead us to some passable food, which I'll mention first (unfortunately I mostly don't remember what neighborhoods these places were in):
Duke of York Pub: where my fish, chips and mushy peas were the hit of the table, though the peas weren't at all mushy. The cod was moist and flavorful, and the breading not too greasy. The chips were of the frozen variety, and nothing to get too excited about.
Curry Leaf: An Indian restaurant, clearly trying to serve a sort of upscale crowd. Service was cold and unhelpful, but the food was quite good, especially considering that two out of the four of us had never had Indian food of any kind before and were a bit afraid of trying new things. I particularly enjoyed the chicken tikka masala, in which the chicken was quite moist and the sauce smooth with a bit of a kick, and the jhinga piri, a shrimp dish that was quite spicy, full of whole shrimp in their shell, and a lovely aubergine dish, spicy begoon (this was good enough to prompt me to order an eggplant dish at nearly every place we went). The enjoyment of the meal may have been in part just the relief of my mom having tried a new type of food and having survived the experience.
Cafe at the Tate Modern: I had a fantastic roasted suckling pig sandwich, served on a tasty roll with a chunky applesauce. The serving was quite generous, and the pig quite simply prepared. This allowed its porky flavor to prevail. Our waiter was quite friendly, allowing my mother to ask loads of questions. She thoroughly enjoyed her simple salad, and my sisters both enjoyed their dishes. I didn't taste theirs, so I will refrain from commenting about them.
Cafe at The British Museum: One of the lowest points, food wise, but not a surprise. Food here was of the steam table variety. Unfortunately my mom and sisters were in a rush, wanting to cram in a visit to the museum before heading to a theatre matinee. My salmon was edible, though mushy beans and carrots served alongside were not.
Troia (Belvedere Rd, County Hall, near the London Eye): Another meal on the fly, as we were on our way to theatre on the other end of town. This was a Greek restaurant with a prix fixe menu in addition to a la carte. I had starter of aubergine roasted in a simple tomato and onion sauce-served with yoghurt, and my mom started with a tomato, cucumber, and feta salad. For my main I had kofti, which was quite good, spicy, juicy, but with a nice char on the outside. One sister had a skewer of chicken that she loved--I tasted it and was suprised at how moist the white meat was. It had to have been marinated in some way.
Gig's Fish Bar: The chippy near our hotel (around the corner from Goodge Station in Bloomsbury). The cod was great, but the real news here was the best chips of the trip. Thick, hand cut and freshly made, they were addictive, especially after dousing them liberally with malt vinegar.
And finally, the few places we went to that were recommended:
Harrrod's Food Hall: What fun! What an orgy of food! I surreptitiously took a lot of pictures, especially of the fish. I'll never get over the exquisite scallops lying in their shells.
Malabar Junction: Dinner with old family friends, one of whom eats no dairy or wheat. The staff was enormously helpful in assisting us in avoiding those ingredients, and we still got a strong overview of the menu. Highlights were the Ghee Roast Masala and Malabar Masala Dosa. The pancakes were light, crispy, and flavorful, and the ingredients inside (potato and spices) were fantastic. Unfortunately I didn't write down all the dishes we ordered, but I do recall a disappointing spinach dish (possibly cheera kootu). The group declared the dinner a total success--which was a relief, given that the old family friends had never eaten this type of food before (and don't forget, my mom and one of my sister's were still essentially Indian food virgins).
Gordon Ramsey's at Claridge's: This was our one "splurge" meal. First I must mention how much fun it was to go to Claridge's, an old-world kind of hotel. As soon as we entered we felt as though we were having a special adventure. We each ordered the lunch prix-fixe, a three course meal. We were brought an amuse bouche of a cold, smooth gazpacho in a tiny cup. I could taste each ingredient--the basil, cucumber, tomato, and olive oil distinctly, though the ingredients had been pureed into a smooth soup. A great way to begin.
For our starters, my mom and one sister had some sort of ham terrine with foie gras mousse. I didn't taste theirs, but they raved. My other sister had a Jerusalem artichoke dish with caramelized cioppolina onions. This was soup-like, and the nuttiness of the main ingredients went very well with the sweetness of the onions. I had a tomato risotto that was simple and delicious. The grains of rice were both creamy yet still somewhat al dente, and the tomatoes were surprisingly sweet. It can't be tomato season in London, so where such tasty fruit was obtained, I can't imagine.
For my main dish I ordered salmon, pan fried, sitting on a bed of perfectly cooked and creamy eggplant, which came with a crab-stuffed ravioli. The ravioli pasta was thin and perfectly cooked, and the crab inside was crabby. By which I mean that it really tasted of crab, not of a lot of additional ingredients that would have distracted from it. The fish was nicely pink inside, as ordered. One sister ordered the same dish, and I cannot for the life of me remember what the others had. I was too busy in the ecstasy of mine.
For dessert, one sister ordered the cheese cart (for a small additional supplement) and raved about her choices. Of course I remember exactly zero of what she chose, but it was an enormous selection and she was left somewhat uncertain of how many different cheeses she could have. The server identified which crackers would go best with which cheese, and served her grapes that he suggested as a pairing with one of the cheeses.
The other sister and I had a Valrhona chocolate and hazelnut torte, served with a milk mousse in a small glass alongside. The mousse was more interesting than anything else--though it tasted fine, it didn't seem quite necessary and after tasting it I left the rest. The torte itself was rich and lovely; the hazelnuts packed into the crust and the chocolate bittersweet and delicious.
For coffee and tea we were relocated to a small sitting room. I had a decaf cappachino, which was perfect--the coffee smooth but strong, and everyone else had tea. This was served with a bowl of the most delicious handmade caramel truffles. The dark chocolate exterior was yummy, and if you let it melt on your tongue you were then treated to an explosion of buttery caramel. When we worked our way through the whole complimentary bowl, they brought another. We didn't need it, but we enjoyed it!
This was definitely worth the expense--it felt like an experience, not just a meal. A success in every way.
Our final London meal was at Navarro, for Spanish tapas. This restaurant was right around the corner from our hotel. We tried to go our first night in the city, but they were busy and unable to seat us. With reservations we were seated immediately, and enjoyed one taste sensation after another. The shrimp with garlic and red pepper, and the mushrooms with rosemary and garlice were personal favorites-very common tapas dishes, done particularly well. I couldn't stop sopping up the olive oil with pieces of bread. There wasn't a single disappointing dish, but other standouts included a blood orange salad and perfectly fried calamari. I had crema catalana for dessert (sort of a creme brule-fantastic, with a strong taste of cinnamon in the carmalized top), one sister ordered flan, mom has recuerdos de sevilla en primavera which had a meringue nest and ice cream infused with flowers, and the other sister had brazo de gitano. I thought mom's was a disappointment--her ice cream had no lavor other than vanilla, and the meringue was nothing special. The flan was delicious, and a very generous serving. The brazo de gitano was sort of dull--nothing about it stood out. Everyone agreed that mine was the best, so I was "forced" to share!
Thus ends my report. I can't wait to go back and I particularly thank the people of Chowhound for leading us to the best food of our trip.