London Food Adventures: Curry, Cafes, Cakes, & More

London Food Adventures: Curry, Cafes, Cakes, & More

Written by Heather

Topics: Eats & Sweets, Experiences Abroad

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.

Ottolenghi

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.

We walked through the doors and plate after plate of beautiful cakes and tarts greeted us.
Ottalenghi cakes

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.

Main:
Grilled organic salmon with pineapple, chilli and coriander salsa

Salads:
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.

Ottolenghi in London

Peach cake from Ottolenghi

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.

With two of my girls
Brick Lane dinner

Spice Market

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.

Flat White

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!

Piccolo lattes are love

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).

Flat White, Soho

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.

20 Comments Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Gav says:

    As always you’re posts and pictures capture out imaginations, in this case brings back the memories…

    Had great day, fun, food & macarons :-)

    As for brick lane? Well I think I have something written across my forehead like “Easy Sell!” That only spruiker’s can see, I always get these spruiker types targeting me, perhaps I’m just too polite!

    I think we had 4 of them around the group at one stage, if we’d waited any longer before choosing a restaurant I’m sure we would have been outnumbered! Still, it was a nice meal and good company :-)

    I liked the spice market and the added amusement of bewildered staff appealed to my sense of humour. They shuffled us to a table upstairs, but it was a good table. The food was nice and it was a good idea to get the various starters and great sharing. I got to try lots of things I hadn’t had before :-)

    For dessert I was split between a couple and somehow chose the Thai jewel dessert, again it was good sharing and trying the other desserts. However, Thai jewels and fruits with crushed coconut ice – Wow, that was really nice – happy to have helped adding another dessert to your list of desserts to eat eternally.

    In this week I drunk more coffee than I had had all year! All of them lovely coffees, Flat White Cafe was a nice cafe with good directions to the toilets ‘down the road round the corner somewhere’ :-P, good food and coffee. With the company and everything else I think it was the best way to experience my first Aussie style cafe :-)

    Good times, good memories, thank you. Looking forward to the next time.

    • Heather says:

      I’m glad I was able to introduce you to so many things! You were a really good sport at Spice Market and I cannot thank you enough for ordering the Thai Jewels or I would have seriously been missing out. When you come visit we’ll have to explore Cville food :-)

  2. Shel says:

    That peach cake was amaaaaaaaazing! And I didn’t realise broccoli could taste that good. Need to visit Ottolenghi again soon. I loved the spice market too but might save going back until your next visit – will need to save up to do it properly (with watermelon cocktails!) I’m still dreaming about the salmon sashimi though…

    • Heather says:

      I forgot about those gorgeous cocktails!! Picture perfect and the color was so vibrant!!

      Save up because I am looking forward to going again, dressing up, and having a fabulous time. Hopefully before the March 2013 wedding *crosses fingers*

  3. Kyle says:

    This is kind of a random question, but I want to know how you don’t get fat from eating all this stuff! I mean, I realize you don’t eat like the way you show in your blog posts every day, but still…it’s amazing to me that you don’t weigh 200 pounds! You must have a great metabolism to still be so small.

    • Heather says:

      Haha, this makes me smile and laugh and want to give you a big hug all at once!

      I love fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and all sorts of healthy things, but I rarely write about those :-) The year in Australia was a totally new food experience and I indulged more than ever before. I *did* gain perhaps 10 pounds last year (judging by clothes — I don’t weigh myself) and I’m working on losing it (though the London posts wouldn’t hint at that). I’ve actually always had problems with my metabolism and have taken natural supplements at various stages to try to help it along because it’s dreadfully slow. I exercise and tend to eat very well but I have been one of two sizes since middle school (hello hips, butt, and thighs).

      There have only been a couple of times in my life that I was happy with my weight (one of them was just before Oz), and I was just getting back into a size 12 (HA, I am sharing that on my blog with no fears!). I tend to carry weight well.

      When I write about food, I almost always share what I’m describing with one other person — or lots of people :-) I ate 1/2 to 1/3 of most of the macarons I tasted and others helped me finish them off!

      BLESS YOU xoxoxo

  4. Gav says:

    Sorry, but I’ll have to agree with Kyle on this one – you’re looking good :-)

  5. Adam @ SitDownDisco says:

    Wow. Massive post. Lots of good info there… I wish I could go to ottolenghi. I might if I decide to take a European sojourn in the near future… Which I’m contemplating. Flat white sounds a good one too!

    • Heather says:

      Flat White was nice but no Three Bags Full or Ish. Still quite nice :-) Had a quick chat with the staff as I was leaving on the second visit about my time in Oz!

      Thanks for suggesting Ottolenghi. Never would have known about it otherwise!

  6. Mom says:

    All I want to say is, “Take me with you next time you travel”!!!

  7. Nicole says:

    You know, I can think of at least one solution to the problem of no Aussie style cafes in Cville . . . you could start one up yourself!! ;)

  8. Dina says:

    Great eating guide if one day we arrive in London!! London UK, obviously. We were just in London last week, and going to be in London again next week. London Canada though, with only about 3 hundred thousands of people :)

    • Gav says:

      There a lots of nice places to eat in London, England.

      As someone that lives just a 10 minute train journey from London, I find it amusing that it took a visitor from the US to introduce me to the delights of eating there! :-)

    • Heather says:

      I haven’t been able to keep up with where you guys are since I’ve been home :-) Love that you’ve been on the move!!

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