It’s 3 a.m.
Time to get up.
Bleary eyed, I brush my teeth and shove my toothbrush, clean laundry and a stack of books into my suitcase. I zip it up, grab my phone and order a Lyft.
There are zero people in line when I arrive at the San Diego airport. But, it’s like a full crowd scene in Salt Lake City. And in Raleigh, a kind southern lady points me to gate C23 in order to complete the last leg of my journey abroad.
A poor excuse for pesto pasta, a documentary on agave and one sleeping pill later and I’m standing in line at the U.K. border at 7 a.m. the following day, dreaming about my first stop…
“We are well known for our Shakshuka. Lots of restaurants are serving it now, but I think we were one of the first. Our chef is a bit of a trendsetta,” our server explains in a beautiful english accent.
“We’ll have that, and one of your almond croissants please.”
“Excellent choice. Our pastries are my favorite.”
A cauldron of smoky stewed onions and tomatoes glimmering with toasted cumin and coriander appears with two perfectly poached, neon orange farm eggs and two dollops of creamy lebneh nestled inside. A few sprigs of micro cilantro and two slices of house made focaccia rocking a crusty char and a soft center complete the outfit.
We dig into the croissant. A sugar coated seduction of laminated dough shatters upon impact, leaving a buttery trail of almond infused fairy dust all over the collar of my shirt.
“We’re off to a good start,” I tell my mother.
The heat, rising faster than cars racing over the autobahn, is inescapable as we walk down winding, narrow streets to our next destination…
Lamb and Flag
“it’s the oldest pub in town,” I report, leading Mom down an unassuming back alley. We stumble upon the charming two-story pub of Lamb and Flag. At 11 a.m. it has just opened for the day.
Three tables are already enjoying a round of pints and a cliche of a man dressed in traditional English attire with a mustache holds court practicing politics.
“Out of the four local gins on your menu, which would you suggest?”
The bartender doesn’t hesitate. “Why that would be the Sipsmith of course.”
He sets down a rack of clean glassware to prepare our drinks.
“I’ll have the Cornish Gold Cider,” Mom says, eagerly awaiting a cold beverage.
It’s unusually hot and this city is not equipped with air conditioning. I wonder how long Mom is going to last.
“This was one of Charles Dickens’ old haunts,” I recount from a blog post I’d recently read.
“It’s cozy,” Mom says with a loving twinkle in her eye.
Dishoom (Covent Garden)
“Do we have a table for two?” A young woman wearing a headset inquires to an army inside.
“We can seat you right now.”
The hostess leads us through tiny, crowded tables overflowing with plates of chicken tikka, soupy bowls of dahl and baskets of garlic scented naan.
The kitchen is pumping out food like it’s the Cheesecake Factory and I’m wondering how the hell they keep up with a dining room this busy.
Pau Bhaji, a classic Bombay street food snack, hits the table first. I slather the spicy, mashed vegetables onto lacquered house made buns sampling every sauce on the table: Mint-Coriander, Date-Tamarind and Chili Chutney.
Next comes grilled lamb coated in a wet rub of ginger, cardamom, allspice and garlic with fresh pomegranate seeds and mint scattered on top. The meat pulls off the bone in one swift motion.
Tiny round potatoes smothered in toasted, crushed coriander and cumin seeds, cilantro and melted scallion arrive with a side of yogurt for dipping. The grilled starchy side dish is smoky and delicious.
I pick up a piece of roti like it’s a wet rag and tear off a piece. It’s warm and covered in black spots, blistered from the tawa it was cooked in. Perfection.
“I need a reset,” Mom says. Not surprised, I encourage her to go back to the hotel to cool down and get some rest.
I walk off in the opposite direction to find more gin…
Marquis of Granby
The menu says: Gin and Ale house. My kind of place.
The gin selection is impressive. I find one on the menu called Silent Pool. The description says: “Made using the water from the silent pool in the Surrey Hills.”
“I’ll have a double.”
While the essence of 24 different botanicals delicately dance across my tongue I read a famous poem written by a regular of the Marquis of Granby––T.S. Elliot.
“Let us go then, you and I …”
Virginia Woolf, the woman who brilliantly once said, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” also frequented this pub.
As did Dylan Thomas.
I look at the menu again and notice that it includes dishes such as chicken wings and a blue cheese burger. The strings of festival posters strung across the bar don’t exactly go with the antique decor either.
As I longingly reflect on my life and the modern bastardization of this lovely old pub I shuffle through my brain’s rolodex of favorite quotes to a favorite one by Dylan Thomas.
“Though lovers be lost love shall not.”
I get up from the table and walk back out on to the street before the first sign of tears can hit my cheek.
SAID Dal 1923
What is that!?
I look up to see a case full of chocolate truffles, cakes and pastries of every shape and size. There is a towering stack of brownies studded with walnuts staring down at me. And is that an espresso machine?
Time for a detour I think.
“Do you make your chocolate in house,” I ask, staring at the selection of chocolate bars laid out like greeting cards.
“Yes we do!”
“Let me get a bar of this 72% dark chocolate and one of your SAID mochas.”
A cup of coffee appears like an angel rocking a halo, playing a harp.
Two shots of espresso, a dash of steamed oat milk and decadent liquid dark, white and milk chocolate dumped unapologetically all over the rim and saucer of the cup is placed in front of me.
I suck it back like I’m making sloppy, drunk love to the Italian barista with the dark hair and tight pants behind the counter.
This is freiken amazing. Why have I never seen or had a drink like this before?
The Fitztroy Tavern
Ok, one quick pint I think as I enter the Fitztroy Tavern.
Two hours later I walk out pleasantly buzzed with a new friend named Frank.
He was sitting at the bar unwrapping a Frank Zappa CD when I saddled up. “They still make those things?” I say with a wink. He looks up through his thick glasses and laughs.
Ok, I can tell we’re gonna be friends.
We settle into a pleasant conversation discussing our favorite Netflix shows, two buck chuck and my career as a chef in San Francisco.
I ask the bartender to recommend a local lager.
“You want to try mine?” Frank says.
God, people are friendly here.
I end up going with the Samuel Smith Organic Lager which is quite guzzable.
An hour later Frank buys the next round.
“I gotta get going Frank. But, let’s take a photograph before I go!”
I shake his hand and inform him that he has just agreed to let me use the photo on my website. He laughs, indicating that it’s fine with him and I head out to catch the Underground.
Years of living in cities taking public transportation ignites a fire in me as I enter the subway. I walk up to the ticket machine and swiftly select my route like I’ve been living here all my life.
My intuition kicks in and I start navigating tunnels and turnstiles, switching trains and maneuvering through crowds without hesitation. My brain, now completely switched off, relies on my legs which innately know where to go. The rest of my body is now just along for the ride.
I happily slip back out onto the busy street like it’s an oversized, fuzzy robe. The rush of the city soothing me like Ritalin calms a kid with Attention Deficit Disorder.
Black Axe Mangal
I’m meeting Bianca here.
A young, intelligent, beautiful blond bombshell who I met through Darya Rose. Bianca is PhD bound and studying to become a therapist.
We waste no time diving right into a deep philosophical discussion before barely getting a drink order in.
“Shall we order a bottle of red?”
My mom has rejoined me too. She looks much better after a shower and nap.
Bianca is a doll and plates start hitting the table. They are shockingly good.
Flinstone sized hunks of bones split in half, roasted and slathered with braised oxtails and anchovy-herb butter with bone marrow seeping out of all sides are divine.
A “hot pocket” stuffed with chard, potato and unpasteurized English Ogleshield cheese oozes when I cut it open with a knife. We dip pieces of it in apple jelly and moan over how good it is.
A crunchy terrine resting in a pool of tart, spicy, sweet chili sauce garnished with julienned apple called “Crispy Fuckin Rabbit” arrives next.
“Oh that’s good,” I say as I construct another forkful.
A wedge of charred cauliflower appears wearing a glob of smooth, tangy goat cheese, covered in a flurry of chopped cilantro, lemon zest and bottarga is equally as wonderful.
So is the Mushroom Mapo Tofu with tempura fried enoki mushrooms with pickled red jalapeños.
I thought the meal couldn’t get any better until dessert came. A frozen candy bar that tasted like Reeses Peanut Butter Cup covered in chocolate and chopped peanuts.
I’m officially in heaven. Don’t anybody pinch me.
I wish Bianca well and Mom calls an Uber.
As we ride back to the hotel chatting with the driver I notice how clean the city is and reflect on how kind and respectful everyone is here and how absolutely perfect the day has been.
Welcome to London.
Find day 2 of this trip here
Find day 3 of this trip here
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Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and experience host whose writing focuses on cooking, holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made foods.