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Taste of London

July 20, 2011

Traditional Pimm’s enjoyed at a Members’ Club  in London

Upon returning from London I was chatting with a friend about my trip and she said something quite curious: “The English aren’t really known for their food are they?” Well no, not really, I said. But then I quickly added that things (in the spectrum of food and dining) had changed within the last 15 years. Popularized by the Gordons, Nigellas and Jamies, English food, it seems, has now been uplifted from the blanket of ‘blandness’ into something decidedly more acceptable to the masses. I think also that  Heston Blumenthal’s ‘Fat Duck’ really catapulted a new cooking style in England that previously wasn’t being explored.

Allegedly, Fergus Henderson is regarded as the Chef who put the sexy back in scraps of animal parts. The man who deemed it necessary (damn right) to roast marrow bones and serve them with toast. It’s hard to say if it is all his doing, but he is certainly regarded as being a Chef who stressed the importance of leaving nothing to waste.

Looking back at the cooking show Two Fat Ladies, I look at the simplicity of the food they cook and, to my mind, it doesn’t look ‘bland’ at all. It looks quite fresh (at times)– regionally traditional, largely seasonal and it appears that it would be full of flavor. I’m not sure where the idea that English food is boring and bland came about, but I must confess I’ve never given the cuisine much thought.

A few days later, I had a similar conversation with another friend who was curious to know about what food I had eaten. Again it was mentioned (not by me) that English food isn’t anything special. Again, I’m not sure what this idea means, but it seems many people think this way.

Prior to going to London, I had a few restaurants on my list as well as a few cuisines. I was certainly interested in trying some Jamaican food as well as Indian food. Both cuisines are readily found in London, as a result of the large immigrant populations that make the city such a wonderful and diverse place. Sadly, though, in the short time I was there I didn’t get the chance to sample either.

I did get to eat at St. John (a restaurant high on my list), but I will explore that meal, as well as a few other notable experiences in the next post. For now I offer you some simple fare that was had on my trip. None of this was boring or bland and not all is traditionally ‘English’.

Laduree (with accent over first E.) has a London shop in Covent Garden that we happened upon by chance. What a delight it was to try an outpost of this famed Parisian patisserie.

We picked up an assortment of Macarons (for friends) and a Strawberry tart which was enjoyed on a sunny seat outside the Tate Modern.

On another day, an afternoon of shopping and a visit to Hayward Gallery led us right to this quaint little pub tucked into a side street off Carnaby St.

Had to be Fish & Chips with pints of ale. Though not quite the same as fish & chips from a shop, served in a paper bag, the chips were hot and the fish was crispy. So what more can I say?  And sometimes it’s really about the company you have while eating something that might be easily described as ‘bland’.

Apparently there is a chain of Pizza restaurants in London called Pizza Express and I was told that they were quite good. Who am I to argue with a 10-year-old memory of delicious thin crust pizza and decadent chocolate cake (of all things after pizza)?

Funghi pizza

Olive and spinach with what should have been a runny egg in the center

Everyone orders a pizza for themselves at Pizza Express. I witnessed well-dressed women eating in public, and eating a whole pizza to themselves here. I couldn’t eat it all (yes, really), though it was perfectly delicious.

The infamous Chocolate cake. Not as good as the one we picked up at M&S, but certainly tasty. In all honesty I preferred the vanilla gelato. Should have asked about it.

And another lunch at another pub (they’re hard to avoid). In Covent Garden, we stopped for lunch at Porter’s. Porter’s is one of those classic pubs that look exactly like something you’d see in a movie. An English one. Basically it’s like walking on to a movie set. Hopefully the one with a happy ending. Here is a sample of some traditional pub food we sampled on that visit.

Steak and Guinness pie with chips

Obligatory inside shot of said pie

Lamb and Apricot pie with chips

Side of garden vegetables

And what better way to complete a trip to England than with a proper English breakfast. Here it is, in all of its glory..

I’d like to say that it was I that ate this delectable looking plate of food before boarding an airplane. Sadly it was not. I choose a bacon butty. Also a perfectly civilized breakfast choice that won’t keep you hostage in the airplane’s lavatory queue.

Up next: Dinner at St.John

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