Sunday, April 1, 2012

Nosh and Slosh London Style

I thought I would share some of the amazing restaurants and bars we visited.  Our hometown does not have a lot of restaurant choices and most are chain restaurants so I love when we are in a city with numerous dining options.  Since we were in London for three weeks and ate out everyday we tried a lot of places!

BRITISH FOOD AND PUBS
As you would imagine, there are pubs everywhere.  We had five pubs just within two blocks of our apartment. The Kings Arms is a great pub located in Mayfair.  A lot of the pubs in London are all under the same management group, Taylor Walker, so the menus are the same.  I was actually surprised by this because I assumed each pub would have their own take on British pub food.
I had my first traditional English breakfast.  On my plate was a fried egg, large sliced (fatty) ham, baked beans, sausage, grilled tomato, a mushroom and toast.  Nothing to crazy other than the baked beans so I would have it again but would skip the sausage; didn't care for the taste and texture.
A guilty pleasure of mine is eating fish and chips.  I rarely order it but I knew coming to London that was going to be my first meal, and it was!  Cod-Fillet with mushy peas, chips and tartar sauce.  A little too much batter for me so I dug out the fish but it was still yummy!
Scott ordered this amazing black and blue burger with a side of chips. 
We had several fun nights at Kings Arms.  One night in particular we met some guys from Scotland.   
Pubs are notoriously packed from 5pm - 8pm nightly.  A lot of people live outside of the city so they enjoy happy hour with friends and co-workers and catch the late train home.  Our friend Gina, from the states, came to visit us so we were ready to have some fun at happy hour in London with her!
I guess you could say that I am not a huge beer drinker.  I will have a glass or two every so often but I am more of a wine and cocktail kind of gal.  I was however introduced to two beers that I really liked but I don't think I will find it in too many places. The first is banana beer that is made from fermentation of mashed bananas.  The beer is very popular in East Africa.  If you like bananas you will love this beer!
Another tasty treat was strawberry beer. A Belgian white beer blended with strawberry juice. Simply delicious and easy to drink!
Welcome to happy hour in London!  Pubs don't have dedicated barbacks (someone who stocks and cleans the bar) so this is what ends up happening during happy hour.

CHINATOWN
Scott and I love Dim Sum so we headed to Chinatown. There are numerous Chinese restaurants in the area but not all of them serve dim sum at night.  With my due diligence in researching, I found a great spot. Joy King Lau and it was fantastic!  There were at least 35 dim sum options to choose from as well as their full menu. Chinatown is located in the Piccadilly Circus area so very touristy but worth going for one night.

BELGO CENTRAAL
A Belgium chain-restaurant known for their 1 Kilo pot of steaming mussels and extensive list of belgium beer.  They have a very cool happy hour too called Beat the Clock from 5pm - 6:30pm.  You order your food, between those times and from a smaller menu, and you pay the price of the time you ordered for your meal.  We had dinner a bit later but I loved the happy hour concept.  This restaurant was definitely one of my favorites.
I of course had to order the kilo of steaming mussels since I love mussels.  
Heaven in a bowl!
After...ha ha
Scott has the rotisserie chicken with a sweet chili sauce which was excellent too.

LE RELAIS DE VENISE
Walking to another restaurant we passed this restaurant.  I couldn't get over the line around the corner so I had to investigate.  Turns out it is a very popular French restaurant and they have one thing on the menu.  YES just one thing. For £21 ($33 US), you start with a green salad with mustard vinaigrette topped with walnuts, followed by steak frites with their special green sauce.  Then ANOTHER serving of steak frites!  Once you are seated, your server will take your drink order and ask if you want your steak cooked blue, rare, medium or well done.  It is that simple. 
Highly recommend going to this restaurant if you can bare waiting 30 - 40 minutes for a table.  Steak was very good and for the amount of food you get the price was very reasonable.

SKETCH
Derek and Christian, who we met over St. Patrick's Day weekend, gave us a list of top five restaurants we should go to before we leave.   None of the restaurants they recommended were less than £50 per person ($80 US) so we knew it was probably not too realistic that we would be hitting all of them.  Sketch Restaurant was one they gave the highest praise for not only the food but the ambience and the bathrooms! It also was the most expensive but they are open for lunch and prices are more reasonable so I went to check it out.  
There are four different rooms to dine and all with different themes.  The two rooms open for lunch are the Parlour and Glade.  I had my lunch in the Parlour which was a unique and eccentric space.   
My fancy lunch!
The Sketch Club with Serrano ham, Emmenthal cheese, mixed with Paris ham and shrimp, sweet and sour coriander onions and a red beetroot jelly = yummy! This sandwich cost £8.50 ($13.50 US) which is very reasonable for this place.

The other room for lunch, Glade room, was created as an enchanted fairy-tale forest.
The Gallery, open for dinner, was probably my favorite room and the other dining room was not open to view but from pictures on their website it is the most over the top. 
But the craziest place in the entire restaurant was the bathroom!  Yes that is the bathroom....
Upscale porta potty!  The "capsules" have nature sounds going on while you are in there - hysterical!

TIROLER HUT
Scott and I lived in Vienna, Austria for seven months and every so often we crave Austrian food.  There are just two Austrian/German restaurants in London and this place get rave reviews so we decided to go and get our Austrian fix.  The restaurant is located in the Bayswater neighborhood, by Notting Hill, and is very popular so you need to make a reservation.  
We didn't know what to expect when we arrived but we made our way down the stairs.  The restaurant is actually in the basement and the ceilings are pretty low so anyone who has issues with small spaces might have a difficult time here. With the entire staff dressed in lederhosen, the dark wood interior and the over the top decor you are transported to Austria.  
Joseph is the owner and the entertainer.  Because there is live entertainment, they try and get all reservations in by 8:30pm so the music and fun can begin! It was pretty gimmicky and I never experienced this in Austria but it was fun nonetheless.   
The prices are fairly reasonable especially with the amount of food you are given. I had the Weiner Rostbraten with fried onions and potatoes.  Too many fried onions but overall it was very good.
Schweinshax'n (pork knuckle) with potatoes and red cabbage

WAGAMAMA
In Japanese means 'naughty child', willful and determined. This is a great restaurant with multiple locations around the city. They are modeled after ramen bars popular in Japan and I absolutely loved this place!
Chicken ramen - so good! Noodles in a pork and chicken soup topped with a marinated and grilled chicken breast, seasonal greens, bamboo shoots and spring onions

THE PUNCH BOWL
Another one of our favorite pubs in the Mayfair neighborhood. It is part owned by Guy Ritchie, the English screen writer, film maker and previously married to Madonna. The pub is not that big but they do have a small dining area with an amazing menu.
The pan fried Gressingham duck breast, fondant potato and star anise puree
 Brixham wild Sea Bass, bok choy, and romesco sauce
The fancy version of Bangers and Mash 

MEXICAN
Scott's sister and husband live in Northern England and they came down for a weekend visit.  We headed to Notting Hill on Saturday to see the famous Portobello market that takes place and stopped at a Mexican restaurant, Tequila Tex-Mex, for lunch.  You might ask why we picked Mexican with all the numerous choices in the city but we all love Mexican and it was an inexpensive choice. We are not sure why but the staff thought it would be fun for our table to wear sombreros and cowboy hats.

LITTLE VENICE
Maida Vale is located in the north west area of London and is primarily residential but also known for great shops and restaurants.  While Scott's sister, her husband and our friend Gina were in town we thought it would be a fun Sunday afternoon to visit the area.  One of the most popular areas is called Little Venice, located on the Regent's canal.  There is also a waterbus you can take, most of the year, that stops at the Regent Park Zoo and ends in Camden Town. 
The Warwick Castle pub is just down the street from the canal so we headed there for lunch.  
 I had the Roast for lunch that is a customary British meal served on Sundays.  It consists of roasted meat, potatoes and accompanied by Yorkshire Pudding, vegetables and gravy. 
 We normally don't get desserts but we decided to try a few of the traditional British desserts.  This dessert is called Spotted Dick (no joke) which is suet pudding with currants and served with custard.  We had no idea what to expect but as soon as the first bite went into our mouths we knew why it was so popular. 
We also ordered the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream.  This was our favorite and so easy to make.
We are ready to dig into the desserts!

GILGAMESH
A pan-Asian restaurant located in Camden Town.  I used to work at House of Blues and in many of their venues they have a private membership club called the Foundation Room.  The rooms are decorated in dark, ornate fixtures from around the world and the walls are covered in Gujarat tapestry.  To me, Gilgamesh resembles the Foundation Room with its dimly lit and tranquil space and elaborate decor. When you arrive to the restaurant you are greeted by a doorman, at the entryway, who will confirm you have a reservation. That was a bit odd to me since we had to check in again with the host stand but maybe you are not allowed to just have drinks in the lounge.


We decided to have a drink at the bar before dinner.  The bar area was absolutely beautiful!  The actual bar was handcrafted in India by 10,000 workers and is the longest bar in the world.  The lounge area had wonderful large cushioned horse-shoe style seating with silk pillows.
 With all the hype about this restaurant and the high price tag, I expected a little more.  The restaurant is stunning, great extensive cocktail list and nice food presentation but when you get down to the most important element, the food, I was not overly impressed.
Beef Bulgogi is a Koren dish that is made of thin slices of marinated grilled beef.  I have had this several times and always loved it.  When I saw beef bulgogi on the menu I immediately knew what I was getting.  However, when my entree arrived I was very surprised because this looked more like a steak and mashed potatoes entree then beef bulgogi.  It was a huge portion, I will give you that, but the steak was pretty tough and the mashed potatoes where somewhat tasteless so for $35 US I would not recommend it.
This is the crispy chicken chili in a black vinegar sauce.  Probably my least favorite entree I tasted.  The vinegar was so strong it was almost to difficult to eat.
Scott ordered the Beef Penang with malay curry and coconut rice.  This was another entree that needed more flavor and heat.
 We did have a very nice evening but I am not sure I would say this is a "must go to" restaurant when you are in London.


BE AT ONE
A favorite spot of mine is Be At One in Soho.  There are multiple locations around the city but this is the closest to our apartment.  The only thing I knew about the bar before going was they offered over 190 different types of cocktails.  I pictured the place to be an upscale lounge bar but it actually looks just like the inside of a pub.  A casual hot spot that serves £7.50 ($12 US) cocktails.   We don't go too often but a nice treat when we do.

My favorite is the espresso martini.
We invited Fred, who we met earlier, to the bar with us one night.  
The bartenders are hysterical!

HARRODS
Most people know Harrods as a luxury department store but the hidden gem to me is their food hall!  I could spend hours walking around looking at all the amazing varieties of food, wine, teas, cheese, gifts, chocolates etc... They also have several restaurants scattered around the hall.
Meat pies!


FOOD AND SHOPPING MARKETS

BOROUGH MARKET
One of the largest and most renowned food markets in London is Borough Market and has existed since 1014.  The market takes place on Thursday - Saturday with Saturday being the busiest.  There are over 100 food and beverage stalls.   Stallholders from all over the UK come to sell their fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, cheese, meat, poultry, fresh baked bread and pastries.  Most stalls give out samples and the food is amazing!

BRICK LANE
Located in East London this bustling area has artistic shops, galleries, bars and restaurants.  On Sundays the streets are filled with people taking in the lively atmosphere with street performers, food vendors and individuals selling their second-hand goods.  Brick Lane area is also associated with the scene of the crime for the Jack the Ripper murders.
Another reason to head to Brick Lane is to try a famous bagel at the iconic Beigel Bakery. Brick Lane was once a Jewish area and although it is no longer, the bakeries have remained.  No matter what time of day there is a line out the door and although the ladies behind the counter were not the friendliest, they move the line quickly.  There is only one kind of bagel offered, plain, and it will not be toasted.  Most bagels are already pre-filled with either cream cheese, salmon and hot salt beef all stacked up ready to be purchased.  
I thought this sign was hysterical but like a friend of ours said "I know a lot of people who would never leave that spot but Scott would not be one of them"  So very true!

OLD SPITALFIELDS MARKET
London's oldest market, located in East London is open every week Tuesday - Friday and Sunday, there are over 100 stalls ranging from artwork, vintage fashion to jewelry and accessories.  It is a great place to spend a few hours browsing all the unique stalls and they also have an incredible restaurant with amazing food.

PORTOBELLO MARKET
Probably the most famous street market in the world is located in Notting Hill, West London just north of Hyde Park.  Of course anyone who has seen the movie Notting Hill with Julie Roberts and Hugh Grant know this area was filmed the most in the movie.  But if you have not seen the movie, Portobello Road goes straight through Notting Hill and has numerous antique, clothing and jewelry stores as well as restaurants and cafes. Saturday is the best day to go to the market but it is also the most crowded so I decided to go during the week and then I knew we would go again on Saturday when Scott's family arrived.

CAMDEN LOCK MARKET
Located in Camden Town, the north west part of London, is a huge open-air and indoor market that takes place everyday but it is busiest on the weekends.  In a vibrant area set along the canal there are over 1,000 shops and food vendors


BLUES KITCHEN
I found this place in Camden Town that has live blues nightly and since Scott loves blues music we went to check it out.
Inside has a nice dining area and cocktail seating in the back by the stage.
Trying to be a bit artsy in my photo...
Southern style food! Scott got the ribs and pulled pork combo.  The BBQ sauce on the ribs was really good.
I ordered gumbo but I think I got jambalaya.  Either way it had great flavor and was such a huge portion I had leftovers.  
Well we definitely did not go hungry in London!  We got to experience some wonderful cuisine and met some amazing people along the way.  We are heading to Northern Ireland next and I have no doubts there will be amazing food and pubs to try in Belfast.
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