Find day 1 of this trip here
I start early again today.
I’m excited to get moving after yesterday.
But first, coffee…
This local coffee shop in Covent Garden responsibly sources and roasts beans from single farms, estates and cooperatives. They use high tech Loring Roasters from California, for all you coffee geeks out there.
You can purchase beans by the kilo from their extensive selection to take home, or you can order a coffee drink to enjoy in house.
A special note…On every table lies a cereal bowl full of organic whole-cane sugar from Costa Rica (dulse) for you to add to your coffee as desired.
Here I meet Alex, a friendly woman wearing a Pulp Fiction T-shirt and thick, black-rimmed glasses. We share a table and swap restaurant recommendations while I drink my Flat White, made with Yellow Bourbon coffee from Fazenda Santa Ines grown in Brazil.
The coffee is thick and nutty with a caress of bittersweet toffee. I devour it in between heavenly bites of buttery Pain Au Chocolat made by local bakery–– The Little Bread Pedlar. Dark chocolate gushes out of every orifice with each bite.
Giddy and high on caffeine, my mom and I skip off to enjoy a stroll through manicured gardens and crowded streets along the River Thames. We take photographs of Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster and a tour of Westminster Abbey.
Inside Westminster Abbey is poets corner where legends like Shakespeare, Anthony Trollop and C.S. Lewis are buried.
Looking down at Dylan Thomas’s memorial plaque I read this quote:
“Time held me green and dying. Though I sang in my chains like the sea.”
Man, if that doesn’t seize your guts…
Down a narrow staircase, in the basement of a tiny building in SOHO, where the walls are brightly painted and covered in Indian pop art I’ve come in search of Biryani.
Biryani is an Indian rice dish that’s made with meat or vegetables and all of the spices you’d find in curry powder.
The version we try here is tasty. Tender chunks of chicken legs are cooked with fluffy, curry scented jasmine rice. Fluorescent yellow raita and crispy papadam dusted with coriander and cumin are served along side.
I appreciate the fact that they serve the sugar on the side when you order Masala Chai. I prefer mine with little to none.
It was another hot day in London so instead of sugar I infused my cup of tea with ice cubes.
A five-minute walk down the street and I’m at Barrafina.
A zippy, sleek Spanish tapas bar lined with stainless steel and good looking people.
I sit down directly in front of the hot line. The kitchen is serious. Everyone is speaking Spanish, heads are down and tweezers are out.
“Voy atras!” the dish washer announces as he slides behind line cooks to pick up dirty pans.
Along the edge of the kitchen, where the grill intersects with pantry, are two shelves filled with the ingredients of the day.
Carabineros, a prized species of deep-sea prawns, sit in a row with their striking deep burgundy shells still on. Razor clams, Tobay prawns and tiny monkfish are at their side. Leafy bunches of French Breakfast radishes, fennel, eggplant and a giant mound of dried paprika chilis spill over the shelf just above.
I order a glass of Hart Bros. Manzanilla––an aged, unfiltered white Sherry that is bottled just for Barrafina. It’s complex with that wonderful walnut essence I love so much about Sherry. It pairs beautifully with both dishes we order.
First is a plate of thinly sliced monkfish that has been cured with vinegar, sugar and pimenton lying in a vibrant sauce of fresh ginger and lime juice. Each slice is adorned with a piping of Membrillo (Spanish quince paste), avocado puree and sun-dried tomato.
The second dish is Morcilla Iberica––black pudding made with Iberico pork. Two slices of rich, juicy sausage powered by smoky paprika lay in mounds of roasted Piquillo peppers. Fried quail eggs are gently laid on top and delicate, thin slices of crostini lean across each bite for crunch.
These guys select, mature and sell high quality local farmstead cheese. They truly deserve their own blog post, so I’m not going to go into detail here.
You’ll want to learn more about them though….
I sampled two cheeses: Durrus––a buttery cow’s milk wash rind cheese from Cork, Ireland–– and Innes Brick––a silky raw goats milk cheese from Staffordshire, England.
LIving in Hawaii it’s been a long time since I’ve had cheese this good. I wish I had a whole day just to eat bread and cheese here.
Right around the corner is Neal’s Yard. A colorful courtyard full of cafes, a sweet little health food store and Fergus Henderson’s bakery.
Eagerly anticipating my dinner reservation at Henderson’s restaurant later tonight I stop in for a pastry.
I select a sugar coated, vanilla custard stuffed donut and grab a bench outside. The yard is a buzz with thirty-somethings blowing off the afternoon to enjoy life, and I’m starting to get used to these ridiculously well made pastries I keep finding everywhere.
The Dog & Duck
Just down the street I pass by The Dog & Duck, a victorian style pub in SOHO where George Orwell used to hang out.
Duke Of York
It’s beer o’clock. I’m heading back to Seven Dials in Covent Garden where I drank yesterday.
“The stranger who finds himself in the Dials for the first time…at the entrance of Seven obscure passages, uncertain which to take, will see enough around him to keep his curiosity awake for no inconsiderable time…” – Charles Dickens
Yes Charles, that’s true.
Another regular spot of Charles Dickens was The Duke of York. This was a very seedy area in his day and this pub was particularly well known for gang violence.
Anthony Burgess was also a regular. It was here, watching the bloody razor blade fights between rival gangs, that “A Clockwork Orange” was inspired.
I sip a local lager that’s brewed down the street called Camden Hells and watch businessmen talking and laughing, enjoying a late afternoon pint.
It all comes down to this:
Respect for ingredients, starting from the farmer to the chef to the diner, equals good food.
St. John restaurant has zero ambiance, a very simple menu and even simpler food. It is by far one of the most respected restaurants in London and beloved by serious cooks and foodies around the world.
Fergus Henderson made nose-to-tail cooking and philosophy a thing. His style of cooking has inspired great chefs everywhere.
By the way, this was either him hanging out in the bar when I first walked in or his doppelgänger.
If you want traditional British cuisine done well, come here.
Sauteed lamb’s brains are served with parsley-caper sauce in a cast iron skillet. The brains are plump and creamy, cooked so delicately they are able to still hold the integrity of their shape, unlike many “scrambled egg” versions I’ve tried in the past. It’s just like eating veal sweetbreads.
Light and puffy fried cod is served along tartar sauce made with hard cooked eggs. A squeeze of lemon is all you need.
I try grouse for the first time. A game bird not served in the U.S.
The kitchen cooks it perfectly, right on the cusp of medium rare. The crispy skin breaks off like shards of glass and the red currant jam along side complimented the gaminess of the tender, juicy meat.
Lightly sautéed spring greens, that taste like collard greens, and nutmeg scented bread sauce (breadcrumbs cooked in thickened milk) make lovely side dishes. And a piece of toast slathered with foie gras NEVER hurt anybody.
Per the suggestion of the man who sold me the donut at St. John’s Bakery this afternoon, I order the Madeleines for dessert. They are baked to order and come out fluffy and hot. Simply divine.
Another showstopper day in grand old London town.
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.