London Called…So I Went!

With the Eurostar, London is just a 2 ½ hour train from the Paris gare du Nord. Why wouldn’t you go for a weekend? I guess I could think of a million reasons why I haven’t been to London but none are very compelling. When an email from some friends who live in Hawaii announced they were coming for the weekend (which involved several flight across multiple time zones), I couldn’t come up with an excuse not to go and meet them.

People (myself included) often wonder why Europeans don’t travel more outside of their country (in fact, just a slim minority of Americans have passports) when Italy, Spain, and London are just a hop, skip, and a jump across the frontière.

So I found myself speeding Chunnel-ward for the weekend. In winter, London is bone-chilling cold. Truly. I was surprised it was so much colder than Paris. An icy-blast of wind ripped through whatever layers of clothing I was bundled up in. Another surprise was the cost of most things. A trip on the Tube was a startling 3 pounds (about $5). And although England is a nation of beer drinkers, most pubs only had French or Belgian beers.

Except for one woman I had a tangle with at Monmouth Coffee (who shall remain faceless and nameless…although the nice woman there gave me my coffee for free because the other woman was so nasty), the Brits were chipper, friendly, and witty. At the astounding Borough Market, the cheery vendors braving the cold were happy to chat and offer tastes. I had a cream scone, stocked up on cheese (more in a future post), and my first gooey Treacle Tart from &Clark’s, Sally Clark’s bakery that was deliciously sweet. Of course, I loved it.

And my dinner at Fergus Henderson’s restaurant St. John was great fun, a wonderful place. Instead of heaping on the pretense like so many other well-known restaurants, the room is block-white with pegs on the wall, like meat hooks, for hanging your coat. They’re the sole decoration in the sparse room which I believe was formerly a butcher shop as well.

We started with a big platter of rock-hard bones brimming with warm marrow, accompanied by warm grilled sourdough bread, coarse grey salt, and a garlicky parsley salad. Another salad was Shaved, Dried Venison Liver with Radishes, Capers, Soft-Cooked Egg, sauced with a warm mustardy dressing and that was followed by my main course of roasted Pintade, Guinea Fowl, with Braised Cabbage and Salt-Roasted Potatoes. Dessert was a Warm Treacle Cake for 2 that was big enough for 8 and tasted like an upsidedown cake without the fruit. It was served with a large pitcher of warm creme anglaise. We also had a decent, but unexceptional Date Cake with Spiced Ice Cream and Hot Caramel Sauce. A scoop of just-churned Chocolate Ice Cream with an unusual red dessert wine (whose name escapes me) was a nice finish to the meal, and it was all quite lovely.

Here’s some of the other things I found to eat in London:

bacon.jpg
The Brits sure like their bacon, at Borough Market.
kendalmint.jpg

I didn’t know what this was since the box doesn’t have much information. When I asked, I was told, “It’s a big block of sugar, covered with chocolate.”
Sounds good to me! And indeed it was. In fact, it was so delicous, I bought a few more to take home. As you can see, it’s like a big peppermint pattie. I’m going to crumble one into my next batch of brownies, if there’s any left.

bunnies.jpg
Is it almost Easter?
luis.jpg

This is Luis, who spends all day at Borough market slicing ham as thin as possible. He offered me a taste of the two he was working on that day and if you’ve never had real Spanish ham, it’s really incredible and puts all other hams out of business. The best is made from pigs which feed on wild acorns so the ham takes on a deliciously nutty flavor because of that. Food blogger Joanne, who I met up with, along with Jeanne, bought several slices for her lucky dinner guests that evening.

brownietower.jpg

I don’t know how they got the brownies to stack so tall, but they didn’t believe me when I requested the extra-large one, located near the bottom. My friend bought one, but neglected to share it with me so I’ll never know if they’re as good as the young bakers said they were. Still, that’s quite a tower.

bunghole.jpg
Sam, please explain your people.
fishandchips.jpg

Apparently a good plate of Fish and Chips is rarely found in London. You need to travel to the smaller villages, I’ve heard. However in London we got a list of a few good spots, including North Sea Fish Restaurant (7-8 Leigh Street). Our taxi driver knew the address well, so we assumed that was a good sign. And we were right. It was great. A huge piece of cod and fries, accompanied by malt vinegar and homemade tartar sauce, enlivened with horseradish and capers.

beefdripping.jpg
That’s an awful lot of beef fat, don’t you think?
spotteddickchocolate.jpg

At the chic Harvey Nichol’s store near Hyde Park, I scanned the chocolate aisle looking for new taste treats. I passed on this one.

28 comments

  • David
    Sorry you had such a bad experience at Monmouth. Personally, I reckon it’s the best coffee around. What made you feel so strongly about it – apart from your tussle with Mrs Anon?

    As for the sugar covered with chocolate, that is Kendal Mint Cake. Intended for walkers in the Lake District, it is basically a primitive Power Bar.

  • (delurking at last.)

    i cannot believe you were at borough market & i didn’t get to bump into you! it was a cold, windy saturday indeed. i think flour power city bakery’s brownies are overrated, but i do like some of their other breads & focaccia.

    & really, a day travelcard only costs £4.90 – unlimited travel on tubes/buses within zones 1 & 2 – so you could have saved yourself some cash there.

    i’ll be in paris in april, & am already plotting my food trajectory!

  • Silverbrow: At Monmouth, I asked if it was okay to take a photo. The nice woman said, “Yes, sure. Thanks for asking.” (I always ask people and shop owners if it’s ok first, and respect if they don’t want to be photographed.)

    So I took a picture. Then the woman working behind her flipped out a bit, “You know, you shouldn’t just take pictures of people.” The other woman told her that she said it was fine, and it was nice of me to ask first, as most people apparently just start snapping away.

    After a whole bunch of back-and-forth, I showed her the picture. Her face was totally obliterated, and completely out-of-focus, but I told her I was happy to delete it in front of her. She didn’t say anything, but kept complaining about me while I tried to enjoy my coffee, while the other woman kept saying, “But I told him it was ok!”

    (When I was a chef, people would walk into the kitchen and start taking my photo. While I found it a bit strange they didn’t ask first, I would never get mad at someone for doing so. There are more important things happening in this world to get mad about.
    For example..oh, never mind, don’t get me started…)

    Anyhow, the coffee was dark and strong, but not my favorite. Maybe it was the coffee (Costa Rica) and I also don’t care much for drip coffee, which they charmingly do to order, giving each customer their own mug with ceramic filter.

    Serena: Have fun in Paris! Use my search engine to find some of my favorite places, plus some tips on the My Paris page here at the site.

    But don’t take any pictures without asking…

  • David
    Sorry to hear about that – shame that woman was so miserable. Often a guy I believe is one of the owners is behind the counter. He is a big bear of a man, but exceptionally friendly and happy to talk about the intricacies of the coffee. He’ll go to great length to ensure you walk away with the best coffee for you. I am sure he would be deeply peeved to hear you had such a bad experience.

    As for the coffee itself, I normally only have an espresso or espresso-based drink from there, which are always fantastic.

    Hopefully on your next trip over you’ll have a better experience.

  • How funny, I spent Friday at Borough Market but I had the Chorizo and rocket sandwich with pepppers. It’s from the same people as the ham but at a different stall. And wasn’t the coffee perfect on this bone chillin day? But I am bringing home a bottle of gin from Utebeer. Made in Scotland in small batches. Why can’t the markets in the NYC come close to these? I think, though we are so proud of Union Square, we really good do so much better. Oh, I also bought a jar of pear date jam. Yikes it was good,

  • The wine with dessert at St JOHN was, I believe, the RIVESALTES SUR GRAINS (2003) Domaine Boudau.

  • london is cold, you say? here is something to ponder upon.

    Banff Nat.Park(Canada): 51.30N 116.15W

    London(United Kingdom): 51.30N 0.30W

    I dont think the Brits have any right whatsoever to complain about being cold thanks to the North Atlantic’s warm currents!

  • I love your musings, look forward to the new words. 53F, in Portland Oregon and the daffodils are sturdy and bright. Thanks, Gretchen

  • How do you manage to do that everytime? Aching teeth, dead bunnies and a bung hole, all in one post? By the way, you got so ripped off on those fries.

  • I will take the Easter bunnie (if I write it is dead, it freaks me out)

    Sounds like it was fun to be amongst the Rosbeefs ;-) London is great!

  • Now you know why British food used to be the butt of so many jokes.
    It is so bloudy cold most of the time one needs comfort food, which was hot and stodgy. Spotted Dick and custard (Creme Anglaise….but my Mom didn’t speak French) for desert was soooo good, filling and warming. You missed out!
    Just in case you were not told a Dalmatian dog is called a spotted dick. Pudding is white with currents or raisons. The hypercritical Victorians would not have dreamt of being so naughty, not in public anyway.

  • Ha ha – maybe the brits uysed to be the ‘bung hole’ of many jokes. Erhmm? Explain my people? I think it’s easier just to enjoy my people (and it sounds like you did!)

    You have given me bacon envy.
    Why can’t America produce back bacon?

  • PS – You might be interested – I invited all the boys to show me their spotted dicks and their ginger nuts, just a few hours ago!
    http://becksposhnosh.blogspot.com/2006/03/whats-for-pud.html
    I’d love to see yours (before we get married)

  • I really enjoyed this! I’m looking forward to hearing about the cheese.

  • Your trip sounded very interesting!
    Regarding the Kendal Mint Candy, I always heard from my English grandparents that it was like an energy bar that walkers and mountain people ate in order to keep on going… I can’t say if it’s true, but it sounds plausible to me. I’ve also seen another version without the chocolate. In any case, it’s also fine to eat as it is or to use it when baking!

  • Good Reporting, The chocolate brownie Eiffel tower is my favorite. The spotted Dick hilarious, even though he was covered!

  • Nancy: Surprised I didn’t run into you! Perhaps you were hiding behind the brownies?

    Bea: You’re French and freaked by dead bunnies? Vous êtes très americain!

    Michèle: There was a big basket of fries nearby but my artistic sensibilities prevented me from heaping them too high on the plate. But my voracious appetite didn’t prevent me from eating more than I should have. That place was great, a find. Almost as fun as coming across a Bung Hole on the street.

    Catherine: Will post more about Neal’s Yard soon. I hope! Right now I’m enjoying all my cheese.

    Sam: I would never enter anything called the ‘Bung Hole’, nor will I eat any Spotted Dick. But your contest on your site is sure to arouse a lot of responses.

    …and everyone else, I loved my Kendal bar(s)! Luckily I stocked up on a few. And I don’t believe in sharing, so they’re sure to last me a while.

  • Glad to see you managed to meet up with Joanna! Isn’t she lovely?

    And I’m SOOOOO jealous that you’ve gone to the Borough market. We have a trip to the UK planned at the end of April, but it’s for a wedding near Peterborough and I don’t see my chauffeur being willing to stop at London-Borough.

    Sniff.

  • Hello again! Lovely to meet you at Borough on Saturday and to hear the grouchy-Monmouth-woman story practically as it happened. As I said, good thing there wasn’t a child in the picture too – otherwise we could have spotted you by following the sounds of the lynch-mob!!

    Bung hole… spotted dick… Next time we’ll have to take you to the Spread Eagle for lunch, methinks. Or maybe the Hung Drawn and Quartered. Possibilities are endless… ;-)

  • Try melting the Kendal bar on top of your brownies. Pull the pan out of the oven about 5 minutes before they’re done, and cover at regular intervals with pieces of the bar. Finish baking the oven, then spread the melted mints with an offset spatula. When the brownies cool, you’ll have an incredible frosting layer.

  • Adele: I’ll have to try that (although at this rate, my Kendal bars aren’t going to last much longer.) I know that you can take After Eight mints (unwrapped, of course) and place them atop a warm chocolate cake. Let them warm up for a few minutes, then spread them over the cake: instant frosting!

  • Just found your blog, and I am hooked. Your musings are a great read.

    BTW – I always make it a habit to ignore people in coffee shops. I usually chalk up the pissy attitudes to lack of caffeine. :)

  • Here in Massachusetts we have a place call Bunghole Liquors. They’ve recently begun to take advantage of their name by selling gag gifts but they’ve been around for a long time.

  • Oh, this brought back so many memories of when I lived in London. I love the Borough Market. (And I spotte the sign for wheat-free bread behind the brownies! Oh great — I’m a gluten-free geek now.) But the Bung Hole? That’s just silly.

    What are you doing drinking coffee in London anyway? Silly David — it’s only going to be tea.

  • David, this is very interesting stuff but I must correct one thing. I don’t know where you went but you can get great English beer everywhere. Ask for a pint of bitter at any pub. For coffee the best place is Caffe Nero a chain but a lot better than Starbucks’ watery muck.

  • Gideon: Thanks, but I don’t think I’ll be heading back to London anytime soon. Unless I win the lottery. (… was that place expensive, or what?!) Although there is Neal’s Yard to go back to….hmmm.

  • David, I’m catching up on my blog reading today. Just 2-1/2 hours to London by train! Brilliant! Sounds to me like you were quite brave at St. John’s (although I couldn’t tell if you actually liked the marrow bones and dried venison liver). I haven’t been to London since I was 12, but I would love to go to try Moro, River Cafe, and all the posh Indian spots.

  • David, Monmouth Coffee is not the only place to go in London.

    If you venture into Soho, you will find The Algerian Coffee shop on Old Compton Street. Although they specialize in beans, they do sell coffee to drink then and there. It is such a beautiful, charming shop and the staff are very helpful. You can find their site here:

    http://www.algcoffee.co.uk/index.htm

    Neal’s Yard Dairy is truly amazing, I will never forget going in there for the first time some years back and being given wedges of every imaginable cheese as I made my decision. I’ve been told it’s a blast to work there – when you were given a piece of cheddar by the assistant, did you see them cut themselves a piece by any chance? The girl working there the first time I went told me that one day she’d end up so fat they’d have to roll her out of the shop like a big wheel of cheese.