Among the items on my London culinary bucket list were fish and chips, a scotch egg, sticky toffee pudding, and pie. But not sweet pie. British pie, full of meat and gravy, accompanied by mashed potatoes in some shape or form. Well, done, done, and done. Katy and I ate our fair share of British comfort food during our visit. And we started with pie.
The pie came from Pieminister, a smallish chain with locations around London and nearby towns. The mushy peas were minty with a good mix of smooth mash and whole peas for texture. But the mint was a bit much on its own, it improved when it was included in bites of potato and pie. My pie was the Spanish inspired Matador. It was filled with chunks of chorizo and steak, olives and butter beans. I liked it, I didn't love it.
Katy's first choice got nixed because they ran out and, for the life of me, I can't remember what she ended up ordering. All I know is that she ordered her pie tricked out, topped with crispy onions and cheddar cheese. This was heavy stuff. We were ready to burst by the end of the meal. The giant rosy cider I ordered (shoulda shared) didn't help the situation. The only thing I regret not ordering - a sausage roll. Not that I had room.
Better then, were the fish and chips from the Golden Hind we ate the following day. Crisp, crunchy, and oversized, this plate of deep fried cod and potato was serious. A sprinkle of malt vinegar here, a dollop of tartar sauce there, made for an excellent lunch. Then again I could eat fish and chips any day of the week. The shop was clearly a family affair, bustling with customers (tourists and locals) and staff filling orders and delivering food. On our way out, the owner asked where we were from. We said - Indiana, he asked - Bloomington? Turned out his brother worked at IU, what a small world.
After fish and chips we took a tour of the (free!) Wallace Collection. It's full of rococo masterpieces and gilded to the max with ornate everything. I felt like I'd been transported back to one of my favorite Regency romance novels.
As for the rest, we hit up a pub, The Sir Richard Steele, located conveniently close to our apartment, for a late Sunday roast and dessert of sticky toffee pudding. It was just fine. We arrived in the awkward in between time, post-lunch but pre-dinner. That afternoon we'd been to an English Premier League match, QPR vs Reading. After spending our day outside all day, we were ready for a warm comforting meal.
The pub had unluckily run out of Katy's choice of roast chicken. But fortunately she liked what she got instead even better - another pie. This pie was a lighter affair, physically smaller than Pieminister's, with better crust and more vegetables. My traditional roast beef had its pluses and minuses. Tender, but lukewarm beef, was nicely medium rare and improved greatly with a liberal dip in some creamy horseradish sauce. Overcooked and potatoes and broccoli were outshone by a collapsed, but still tasty, yorkshire pudding.
As for the dessert, it sure was sweet. Probably not the best example of sticky toffee pudding, but it filled the quota. The cake itself was lighter than I expected, but the butterscotch sauce lived up to the sticky name. The Vanilla ice cream was essential, lifting up the rich sauce with a bit of cold, creaminess. Maybe the best thing about the pub was the atmosphere. Dark and old, with a bartender pulling pint after pint and an eclectic mix of customers. It was a nice place to spend a few hours.
I'm finishing this post up from the airport, hours away from my flight to Venice by way of NYC. I wish I could be a more prompt blogger, but that's just not who I am. So here's more on England, and it's not even the last bit!
When we were considering day trips from London, it didn't take much debating to decide on Oxford. Katy was like 'I want to go to Oxford,' and I was like 'Cool.' We bought train tickets early, while we were still in the states. And lucked out with beautiful weather. But Oxford would be a lovely town under most circumstances. Between the gorgeous stone architecture of the many Oxford Colleges and the colorful businesses in town, it's a lovely place to explore.
First we wandered down the main drag towards Bodleian Library and Radcliffe Camera. The Bodleian entrance fee was just a few pounds, which we happily forked over to visit the Divinity School-- filming location for the infirmary in the Harry Potter movies. Then we wandered, ducking into random shops and making a lap through the covered market before deciding we were ready for lunch.
Before we left, we earmarked The Big Bang as a dining option. Little did we know, locating the restaurant would be darn near impossible. Apparently the restaurant moved locations, but Google Maps had not (and still hasn't) gotten the memo. But we persevered, eventually discovering the shiny, newly renovated spot in a little courtyard behind Oxford Castle and Castle Mound.
The Big Bang menu features a wide selection of artisanal sausage and multiple variations on mash. All sausages are served with colorful sides of red cabbage and the greenest of peas. Both veg added a much needed lightness to the rich bangers and mash. The cabbage was slightly tart and still with a bit of crunch. And the peas were probably the best peas I had ever eaten, no joke. And to top it all off, there was free and unlimited water! As spoiled Americans used to not worrying about hydration, Europe can be a bit of a shock when tap water isn't freely supplied.
But back to the excellent sausage, I chose the Traditional Oxford Sausage (when in Rome and all that...) while Katy ordered the Cumberland. I was very happy with my sausage, but I may have slightly preferred Katy's more coarsely ground, garlicky pork links. I abstained from the caramelized onions but said hell yeah to the glossy red wine gravy. And don't forget about the mix and match mash. My grain mustard mashed potatoes delightful texture and a light mustard flavor. Katy was pleased with her spring onion variation.
Here's a tip, before you decide on your meal, reach under your chair for the secret menu. Of course we didn't realize this existed until Katy caught another diner in the act! Never mind though, our food was excellent. And even if we'd wanted to order something extra, there was not a centimeter of space left in our stomachs. Then again, if I could have a do-over I would order the three sausage plate just so I could sample multiple different sausages. And maybe get some sticky toffee pudding for dessert.
After lunch we definitely needed a bit of walking time to bring us back to life. We peeked around Oxford Castle before decided it wasn't quite worth the few pound admission price. Anyway, it was time to visit Christ Church! Let's be real. The reason main reason we decided to pay the £8.00 entrance fee was to see the spots that inspired Harry Potter scenes. Like the stone staircase leading into the Great Hall, aka Oxford Dining Hall. Real Oxford students still eat in the hall so you can only visit between mealtimes. It's pretty magical.
And the rest of the college is no slouch. The cathedral is rather stunning, the courtyard wide and marvelous (and exclusive, no tourists may pass through the middle,) the meadow muddy and picturesque in a grandly pastoral kind of way. We were in Oxford for most of the day, but there was still more to see. It's certainly worthy of a return visit.
Before Dim Sum, before Diwali, there was Camden Lock Market. On our first Sunday in London, Katy and I spent the morning people watching and window shopping our way around Camden Lock.
Temptation was everywhere. Luckily our hotel breakfast tided us over until early afternoon.
There were people everywhere. Mostly tourists but enough locals to make things interesting. Apparently the market used to be known for its punk atmosphere, but these days things have tamed down quite a bit.
Those cookie slabs were ginormous and even more beautiful in person. We resisted.
We were just in time to see the lock in action. It let through a couple of hipster house boat-barges.
Polish sausages and crispy edged potatoes. I did not say no to a sample bite of sausages, delicious.
Our second day in London was a full one. Katy and I started the morning at Camden Lock Market before making our way along the canals, through Regent's Park, and down to the Marylebone neighborhood for a dim sum lunch. Post food we took the Baker Street Tube station down to Trafalgar Square for the city's annual Diwali celebration.
It was packed! We mostly wandered the edges, taking in the music and colors. Booths around the perimeter sold all sorts of appetizing Indian foods. Katy and I abstained, as we had eaten a late lunch. It started to rain a little near the end. But only a light drizzle, barely umbrella worthy.
Maybe the best part of Diwali was the kids. There were so many adorable children and they all loved the festive atmosphere (and probably the sugary treats.)
We actually arrived at Trafalgar Square in the late afternoon and spent an hour or so at the celebration before detour for a visit to Big Ben. I took some shots of the clock in the rain and then we took a break on the bank of the Thames and just sat for a bit. It had been a long, full day with plenty of walking.
Phoenix Palace, off a tip from London food blogger, Eat Noodles Love Noodles. It's a pretty large and buzzing spot a block or so from Baker Street. We ordered a table full of dumplings, noodles, and buns.
First up, a trio of savory and ultra crisp pork and sweet potato croquettes. Next, three neon green wasabi prawn dumplings. I loved the shrimp, Katy preferred the pork. Of course we had to have an order of bbq pork buns. Fluffy outside, moist inside, exactly what you want out of cha siu bao.
Another favorite - the dish of slippery, saucy rice noodles pictured below. The gelatinous texture of the tofu wrapped noodles took a few bites to get used to, but before long we were hooked. The pool of peanut and soy sauce certainly helped.
And for a last something sweet, a few dense, squishy custard buns. Yum.