May 24, 2012|
Even though I have never lived in London, I feel very comfortable here. I’m fortunate enough to have Londoner friends who are excellent tour guides when it comes to the best restaurants, bars, events, fairs and markets—London is a true foodie paradise right now, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the possible activities and dining options. Here are some of the more memorable dining and drinking spots from my long weekend in London.
If there is only one opportunity for breakfast in London, I recommend the "deliciously British" Roast (The Floral Hall, Stoney Street, London SE1 1TL, (+44) 845 034 7300) for a stylish, fresh and classic meal. Situated above Borough Market (description and photos below), this restaurant only uses British food suppliers to create their modern yet traditional dishes. Multiple cups of coffee aside, my friend and I ordered half portions of eggs benedict and eggs royal with smoked trout, and a surprisingly crisp "popeye juice" which consists of mint, cucumber, elderflower cordial and apple juice.
Though it’s better known as a happening nightlife destination, The Metropolitan London’s Met Bar (19 Old Park Lane, London W1K 1LB, (+44) 20 7447 1000) lunch menu called out to me with items like Cornish crab cakes and farmed British cured meats. I inhaled my crispy fried strips of slow-roasted Norfolk lamb with pea and mint puree and slices of fresh Scottish salmon. Breaking to breathe, the friendly staff (this isn’t specific to Met Bar as I found the service all over London is amazing) informed me of their revamped traditional afternoon tea served later in the day. I was definitely tempted, but there were so many other places to eat over the long weekend that we had to keep moving.
New and very popular among locals is the Sunday menu at Elliot’s Café (12 Stoney St., Southwark, London, (+44) 20 7403 7436) near London Bridge. While a limited set menu can often stump fussy eaters, our entire party was more than delighted by the dishes—all created using local British produce—on offer. My advice: skip breakfast, plan a late dinner (because they are not light on the portions) and book a table. Located in Borough Market, Elliot’s uses the available market-fresh ingredients to create Sunday’s three-course menu. For my visit, the meal consisted of salmon tartare, goat curd on brioche and fried chicken to start, smoked short ribs, potato gratin, thick asparagus and garlic bread as mains and finally apple crumble, baked custard, cheesecake ice cream and butterscotch sauce for dessert (or as the English call it, “pudding”).
After a touch of shopping at the massive Topshop on Oxford Street (containing it's own brand items, boutique collections, cafe, salon and areas to get your nails and eyebrows done), we walked away from the busy tourist area for pub drinks and nibbles at The Only Running Footman (5 Charles St., London W1J 5DE, (+44+ 20 7499 2988). Still full from breakfast at Roast, we were ordered a mix of starters including local raw oysters but wished we could try the fish and chips someone at nearby table was eating.
Afternoon or high tea is nothing new to Hongkongers, yet it seemed a crime to skip it altogether in London—plus it was either this or shooting game, according to the proposed itinerary. Slightly disturbed by the idea of a shoot (and not having packed any tweed outfits), we booked the less strenuous English activity of afternoon tea at The Botanist (7 Sloane Square, London SW1W 8EE, (+44) 20 7730 0077). This swanky brassiere was packed on a Saturday afternoon with groups of 20- to 30-somethings enjoying the sun with pints of Guinness at the tables outside, couples grabbing a quick bite before heading off to the theater and young families sharing scones and tea. We ordered English Breakfast Tea and The Botanist Traditional Afternoon Tea (served from 3:30-6pm), which came with the usual suspects: homemade scones with clotted cream and jams, finger sandwiches and mini desserts. A very large and juicy-looking bacon and cheeseburger with skinny fries was also ordered and thoroughly enjoyed—not something I expected from the clientele, décor or area. I would have tried it but as it is an American dish I had to resist (though burgers and American barbecue are “in” and done very well at places around the city, according to my sources).
There was only one place I insisted on taking my guides, after eating at its other location in East London a year ago: St. John Hotel (1 Leicester St., London, (+44) 20 3301 8020). Positive this restaurant is what sparked my fascination with game, I had to go back and try more. Last year I had one of the best meals in a long time, consisting of venison, quail, mussels and an Eton Mess (strawberries, cream and bits of meringue) for dessert. On this visit, to the Leicester Square location, we ordered lamb sweetbreads and broad beans, artichokes, rabbit pie, asparagus with a butter dipping sauce and made-to-order madeleines. Our sweet waiter was not only very well-informed about the menu but completely accommodating to such an indecisive group who were all somewhat new to this “nose to tail” British cuisine. The lamb sweetbreads were fried and seasoned very well but the texture of the actual meat was just a bit soft for my taste. Everything else was delicious, but the star of the show was definitely the rabbit pie. The crispy golden brown top flaked and cracked in all the right ways when we dug in to find the tender pieces of rabbit meat. When visiting London, this restaurant should not be missed, especially if you want to try real British food.
With the warmer summer air also comes an array of street food. Luckily I was in town during the Street Feast Night Market (Sclater Street Car Park, 91 Sclater St., E1) which is running until July 20 and only takes place on Friday nights. There’s a fully licensed cash bar serving pints and cider, and a host of top London street food vendors, including Big Apple Hot Dogs, The Rib Man, Home Slice and Kimchi Cult—which had long lines all night (but don’t worry, they move quickly). We feasted on huge hot dogs, a mountain of fall-off-the-bone ribs and a cider to wash it all down. If you get a chance, hop on the tube to East London to meet the local hipsters.
Hawksmoor Spitalfields (157 Commercial St., London E1 6BJ, (+44) 20 7426 4850): I wasn't able to visit this juicy steak house on this trip but remember the bone marrow, wine and thick steaks very well from my previous visit the year before.
Borough Market (Stoney Street, London SE1 1TL (+44) 20 7407 1002): A Thurs-Sat food market offering the best local produce, cheeses, desserts, breads and more.
Touching down in London, I immediately noticed the sun was shining. If you’ve never been to England before, you may think this an odd bit of information—but after weeks of steady rain in Hong Kong, you might understand how happy I was to hear my entire trip was to be sunny. One way to enjoy the glorious English sunshine (if you’re lucky enough to experience it) is to have a pint at a table right on the River Thames at Founders Arm Riverside Pub (52 Hopton St., Bankside, London SE1 9JH, (+44) 20 7928 1899). This pub was bustling and obviously a summertime destination popular with the after-work crowd as well as tourists coming from the nearby Tate Modern.
Tired from window-shopping and strolling along King’s Road in the beautiful (and very posh) Chelsea borough, we stopped off at Blue Bird (350 King’s Rd., Chelsea, London SW3 5UU, (+44) 20 7559 1141). This is another spot I would frequent if I lived in London. Sitting outside in Blue Bird's seasonal Courtyard surrounded by garden furniture, a food area, comfortable couches for groups and everyone sipping Pimms set the scene for pre-dinner drinks.
Highly recommended by my guides is a dark and slightly intimidating Victorian-themed molecular gastronomy bar called Worship Street Whistling Shop (63 Worship St., London EC2A 2DU, (+44) 20 7247 0015). This bar works more like a kitchen specifically because right behind our table was a mini laboratory where they “constructed” our cocktails. Ask one of the waiters and they’ll happily take you into the lab room and show you the equipment (evaporators and vacuums and acids, oh my indeed) that they use to make your unique drink.
Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen (2-4 Hoxton Square London N1 6NU, (+44) 20 7613 0709): After a long East London night of sampling street food in a carpark and sipping on cocktails made by (well this is how I picture it) mad scientists, we grabbed a table here amongst the eclectic crowd looking for one last drink.
If that Underground ride is a bit too tedious, order an Addison Lee cab ((+44) 844 800 6677 or download the app and book on your smartphone, or go to www.addisonlee.com) for a cheaper ride than a standard taxi as well as your choice of a range of cars (and the option to pay by credit card over the phone).
How to Get There
If you’ve got the dough, a very comfortable, quiet and easy way to get there is on Hong Kong Airline’s brand-new, all-business Club Class flight. Because of the free Wi-Fi, it’s a great way to get some work finished while you travel. Book online or call 3151-1888.
Where to Stay
The Metropolitan London in Mayfair not only puts you close to all the action, but it’s also right next door to idyllic Hyde Park and lovely Green Park. Call (+44) 20 7447 1047 or book online.