Thursday, September 16, 2010

London Callin'

When I came overseas on my little adventure, I had no idea I would find myself in the UK, but last weekend, after a hour car ride, an hour and half plane ride, and a forty five minute train from Stansted Airport, I found myself in Liverpool Station in downtown London. I had been to London twice before this trip, but was rest assured that I would experience London in a way that most tourists do not and do things that people from London, and certainly, people from the greater London (or people from the greater Southern England area) would want to do and luckily, I had a semi-local tour guide to guide me the way :)

I started the day on Friday casually, with a stroll through Camden Lock and then a tube over to Portobello Street where we had lunch at an Italian place. Seems counter-intuitive to go further from Italy then where I am in France but it was a nice selection of lighter lunches of cured meats and lovely cheeses. Plus, we were saving up for a a six o'clock dinner reservation at St John Bread and Wine before a surprise theater show.

St John the original is one of London's finest restaurants, and located in Smithfield in an old smokehouse for ham. I had dined there with my family in 2006 and it was a very memorable meal. The walls are all white, and the dining room has very natural light and an open feel that lets you see right into the kitchen. At St John, you can order more of the 'parts', as my father would like to put it, and they serve the likes of calf’s liver, lamb sweetbreads, and beef & kidney pie. I strongly remember my Dad digging out bone marrow from a pig’s foot when I was last there. They do also sell wine and baked goods until the bakery got too big for the original spot, which is why they opened St Johns Bread & Wine in 2003 in Spitalfields. Getting off at the tube spot, we walked up to discover we were in the central of a business district (I mean, it is located on Commercial Street) but after asking a few people and walking a few blocks, we found it. Looking oh-so similar to its mother restaurant with its stark white walls and simple settings, but with a more homey, less butcher shop feel.

We were greeted and seated promptly and given the menu, full of items that you are meant to share, much like a Spanish Tapas place. Their menu changes daily and we ordered:

Yummy olives
Raw rock oysters
Deep fried lamb with a minty vinaigrette
The best mussels I have ever had

Let me tell you, nothing disappointed. It was all so delicately prepared and delicious. Plus it came with fabulous bread from their bakery, which was used to mop up any last bit of sauce from the plates.

The bread with the bakery in the background

We left with just enough time to get to the show, The Lion King. Such an amazing production!

On Saturday, we started the day off early and went to Borough Market, located near the Tower of London. Our main goal was to buy food for a picnic for the Night at the Proms at Hyde Park that evening. Little did I realize how immense this market was, or how cool it was that I would want to get lost in it for hours, but we made it through with barely enough time to get back to the room, drop off the food, and head off to a rugby match. Before we left we scored some awesome pastries for breakfast and left with a bounty full of food:

Some lovely apples from England

Pork Pie

Two cheeses! The one shaped like an Eiffel Tower was one, a very smooth and creamy goat cheese
Wild Boar salami
Turkish Delight
The rugby match was between The Harlequins and the Northampton Saints in the Harlequins’ Stadium in Twickenham called The Stoop. I have never been to a professional rugby game before, so the entire time I had to have the rules explained, which meant I asked a question I think before the first was even answered. But it was a fun game, the visiting Saints won, much to the like of half our group and to the dismay of the others. I however, decided to try and be ultra-local and get the fish and chips at the stadium, a decision that would eventually cause the end of my culinary discovery in London.

The Stoop
Harlequins in the Black, The Saints in the Day-Glo Green
Wine and Flags
That night we picked up our bounty from the room and went over to Hype Park for the BBC Proms in the Park. It is an outdoor concert series but the second Saturday in September is always the last night of The Proms, and it is always a special event. The first was a wide array of groups consisting from ABBA tribute bands to Neil Sedaka and you were meant to enjoy the music while eating alongside 40,000 other people. The second half is a live broadcasted event, that is a full of very patriotic British songs-full of tradition and spirit.

Dinner with 40,000 of your closest British friends

Second half of the night
Sadly, with my weakened system from two weeks prior, plus a particularly potent batch of fish and chips,  I was left not enjoying the picnic nor the second half as much as I would I wanted to. I couldn’t even enjoy brunch the next day at the famed Wolseley Restaurant on Piccadilly. So frustrating for a young foodie to have food dilemmas.

Eggs, smoked salmon, so good, if only I was able to enjoy!

My trip in London ended with a lovely BRAT (banana, rice, applesauce, toast) diet, meant to ease stomach pains in the hotel room on Sunday night.

Jealous, right?
However even through that, it was simply a superb weekend, spent with some amazing people. Never once did I see Big Ben, Buckingham Palace or any other major London tourist landmark most would frequent. But I did experience a truly amazing local British time in the big city ;)

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