London Eating – Beyond Fish and Chips

Greetings from London, UK!

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As part of my job, I sometimes get to travel to amazing exotic places like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Albuquerque. I also usually travel to London a few times a year. These trips tend to be short and sweet (a few days at most). When I booked my latest trip to London a few weeks back, I realized that I was going to need to be here for more than just a few days and it would need to be over a weekend. That’s when Mrs. Notafoodie and I decided that if we could make it work, it might be fun if she could tag along. We dropped the little one off at grandma and pop-pop’s house (thanks guys!!!) and off we went to jolly old London town.

Once upon a time, British food was just plain dreadful. That all has changed quite a bit. They are now a food obsessed culture that pays a lot of attention to local quality ingredients. This was apparent in the few places that we decided to dine. One was more spectacular than the next. Here’s the rundown:

Death row meal

Thursday Night- The St. John : If you love food, you probably already have heard of this place. Fergus Henderson‘s restaurant is and ode to classic British fare.  Anthony Bourdain wrote that the bone marrow and parsley salad served here would be his “death row meal”. Since we weren’t able to get a reservation, we arrived early and snagged a small table in the bar area. We went to the counter and ordered the bread (cooked on premises) and butter, the aforementioned bone marrow / parsley salad, the snails and sausages, and for dessert an eccles cake with Lancashire cheese. I have been to the St. John, and have eaten the marrow before. I couldn’t wait for Mrs. Notafoodie to try it. It is one of those dishes that is so simple, but so amazing. The recipe can be found in his book The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating. As with most simple recipes, what makes this dish is the quality of the ingredients. The bone marrow is great, but when you put a little bit of delicate French sea salt on it, it becomes extraordinary.
I can write a whole post (or a whole blog) on Fergus and his food philosophy. I’ll keep it short and sweet here and say that everything we ate here was perfect. The snails and sausage were served in a small pot over chickpeas and had just the right amount of spice. The eccles cake and cheese were also the perfect ending to our meal.

Friday Night- The Hawksmoor: WOW! This place could become my new favorite bar. It bills itself as a “British Steakhouse and Cocktail Bar”. I’m a steak lover, but I’ll fully admit that I tend to prefer the huge porterhouses that you get in the good ol’ USA. The last time I went to a “British Steakhouse” it was a disaster. That is not the case here. The steak, while not the same corn-fed fatty hunk of meat that you get in the US, was dry aged and flavorful. The creamed spinach was some of the best I’ve had, and the beef drippings chips (fries that had a steak taste to them because they were fried partially in beef fat) were great. I still prefer Lugers any day for a steak, but this was pretty good!

My new church

What makes this place amazing is the bar area. It is a temple to the cocktail. The bar menu is a tome that gives the history of the cocktail and describes each one with a paragraph of amazing text. I wanted to steal the menu, but was talked out of it. I still might go back and make another attempt at petty larceny. We ordered the “Bottle of Manhattan”. The menu explained that Manhattans were usually pre-mixed and kept in bottles. Sam Spade kept one in his desk drawer. The mixture was typical- rye, sweet vermouth, bitters- but had a dash of absinthe to give it a spicy flavor (and an extra kick). It came out on a tray in a small glass bottle (enough for 2 cocktails), some orange peels, sour marinated cherries, and the syrup from the cherries in a small vial. It was a “make your own Manhattan” bar. I’m definitely incorporating this in to our next party at home.

Saturday Night – Hereford Road– This restaurant is another temple of local British ingredients and traditional cooking taken to the next level. It’s set in an old butcher shop, but once you get past the front room, you can’t tell at all. To get to the dining room, you go down a set of 5-6 stairs. The ceiling has a huge circle cut out of it and replaces with a glass window. It’s pretty cool when you look up and see the bushes and greenery surrounding the window. I had the potted crab appetizer which was like the most amazing crab dip you’ve ever tasted. For the main course, I had (of course) the pork belly over kale. This little piggy had a nice bit of cracklin’ on it. Very good. Mrs. Notafoodie had the marinated smoked haddock appetizer (which was sliced razor thin), and the wood pigeon with lentils and chicory.
One of the standout’s for me was the buttermilk pudding with thin wafers. The pudding held the right balance between tart and sweet. The whole meal was just great!

When I travel, I always try to make it a point to eat local foods. That used to be hard to do in England. The first time I came here almost 15 years ago, I stuck to the fish and chips- which can be great, but can also be horrible (and tiresome). Over the past couple of decades, the evolution of food here has been intense. Now, this city ranks as one of my favorite places to eat. What I love is the philosophy that permeates the chefs here is to cook simple foods, the foods that are ingrained in the culture, and elevate them to something spectacular. This isn’t done by drowning the dishes in complicated sauces, or molecular gastronomy, but by putting an emphasis on quality.

My kind of cooking. My kind of city.

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