Earlier this week I wrote about some good eats from Borough Market and Hummingbird Bakery in London. Today I’m highlighting a few more places I thorougly enjoyed visiting with friends during my recent 10-day trip across the pond.
Within hours of landing in London, Adam sent me a message on Twitter, encouraging me to include Ottolenghi in my food planning. Thanks to Shel, I had a UK sim card waiting for me upon arrival at Heathrow, so I took one look at the website and knew I’d make time for a visit. In fact, as soon as Shel and I dropped my bags off at her flat, we made our way to Ottolenghi for lunch! Open their website (in another window — don’t leave me!) and you’ll see what I mean.
For balance, just beside the cakes we found plate after plate of colorful veggies, roasted or grilled with spices. While we waited for a table, a faithful stream of customers poured in, queuing for take away on a short lunch hour.
Shel and I opted to share a dish, splitting one main course and its three veggie side dishes.
Grilled organic salmon with pineapple, chilli and coriander salsa
Char-grilled broccoli with chilli and garlic
Roasted sweet potato with harissa yoghurt, dukka and chervil
Roasted aubergine (eggplant) with mint yoghurt, crushed mixed nuts, za’atar and fresh mint
We couldn’t leave without selecting a dessert (peach slice) to take home and share with dinner.
Curry on Brick Lane
Before I arrived, Shel suggested a group dinner at Brick Lane for curry. I assumed Brick Lane was the name of a restaurant…wrong. Brick Lane is a road in London, famed for its countless curry houses. After reading a few reviews online, a group of eight set off in search of a good meal.
It’s kind of hard to miss a group of eight walking down the road, looking at restaurant fronts, wondering where to dine. Within minutes, touts/spruikers were on our tail, aggressively soliciting our business. (I wasn’t sure what to call the men who compete for your business and don’t think I ever had a word for it in “American English” but I picked up “spruiker” in Oz and knew of “touts” — according to Wikipedia, they’re “Australian English” and “British English” terms, respectively.) One man cornered Gavin and gave him a hard sales pitch. A man from another curry house noticed and was immediately in Andi’s ear. One finally offered us what I learned was the offer just about everyone receives — 30% off the bill and 2 free drinks for everyone. Note: The free beers are half the size of a regular, full-priced one, so you’re really getting one beer for free. I guess free is better than nothing at all!
The place we eventually selected was hit or miss — nice starters and naan, decent curries, and a few overly dry rice dishes. My friends said they’re used to biryani being as dry as mine, but I’ve never encountered one like it before. If you ever find yourself on Brick Lane, be sure to get at 30% off your meal and free drinks or you agreed on a place to eat much too quickly.
I somehow found Spice Market on Urbanspoon before I arrived in London and organized a group dinner for five of us mid-week. The starters on the Southeast Asian menu sold me in seconds, and I thought it would be fun to order a bunch of them and have a tapas-style meal. Despite numerous visits to the website, I failed to read anything beyond the menu, completely missing that this was a kind of nice place. Oops.
A couple of folks were coming straight from work and looked presentable. I, on the other hand, wore black casual capris and a cute-but-not-dressy top. I’d just finished a long solo day of walking, so I was wearing my sneakers. This was not a good start.
The folks at front of house give us a suspcious look as we enter. “Do you have a reservation?” I respondly sweetly that we do not. They give each other a look. They whisper and contemplate whether or not they should let us in but finally take us to a table upstairs. We review and debate the menu for ages. Can we really get away with just ordering starters, a few of which cost as much as the least expensive main, or should we order starters and mains? Our server keeps giving us looks, quietly encouraging us to speed things along.
We decided to order two starters each and our server does not seem impressed.
But you know what, we enjoyed our meal! Plates began arriving in quick succession and we eagerly tucked in with chopsticks in hand. I’m missing a couple of items, but we shared:
Fragrant mushroom egg rolls with galangal emulsion
Spiced chicken samosas with coriander yoghurt
Charred chilli rubbed beef skewer with thai basil dipping sauce
Salt and pepper squid with yuzu dip and pickled chilli
Raw: Shaved tuna, chilli tapioca, asian pear and lime
Salmon sashimi, warm crunchy rice, chipotle emulsion and spring onion
Red curried duck (the only main we ordered)
Sharing is fun because you get to try more dishes, but sometimes you don’t want to share. Like with my first bite of the samosas. Heavenly. The duck was also tops. Cue angels singing.
We’d had our fill of food but had to select a couple of desserts to share around the table.
Thai jewels and fruits with crushed coconut ice: I’ve only tasted a few desserts that I could happily eat for the rest of my life, forsaking all others. This is now one of them.
Ovaline kulfi with banana brulee and spiced milk chocolate: It was plated so beautifully but was a little too rich for me.
Next time I’m in London, I’d happily return to Spice Market — only with nicer clothes and a reservation.
Urbanspoon also introduced me to the gem that is Flat White Cafe in Soho. A cafe that serves Aussie style coffees?! Yes please!
On visit one, Shel and I selected both a brunch and a lunch item to share, and I eagerly ordered my Aussie coffee of choice, the piccolo latte. Shel was surprised to learn that Aussie iced coffees come with a scoop of ice cream!
Later in the week, Gavin and Robin joined me for visit number two. We managed to snag the only empty table in the small cafe, and I ordered one of my Aussie favorites, turkish toasted with poached eggs (and of course a piccolo latte).
Both visits reminded me about the Aussie cafe culture I’ve been missing so much the last three months and wished I could find in my home town.
London: The Best of the Rest
In my next post, I’ll finish the 4-part series on the recent trip to London with a non-food (yes, that’s possible) post.