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Jon and I arrived in London exactly six years ago today.  It was a bright, sunny day then, too.  Little did we know then how much to appreciate weather like today’s.

Little did we know we’d still be here six years later, with a UK-born kid, no less.  There are so many things we love about London – the friends and colleagues from around the world; the vibrant restaurant scene; the ease of European travel; the work-life balance.  In fact, the list of good things seems pretty endless once you start thinking about it, and it all outweighs the famously-sh*t weather and the fact that Jon and I (as is standard for Americans who live abroad) will be hassled by the IRS for as long as we continue to carry US passports.

We did a little less travel in the last 12 months than we normally do.  Chalk that up to being preggars and having a baby, but we did our best.  Here are the highlights:

August 2010:  We spent an indulgent and relaxing weekend at Cowley Manor in the Cotswolds, and we enjoyed one of the best meals in recent memory at La Grenouillere in La Madeleine-sous-Montreuil, just across the Channel.

September 2010:  Despite having traveled to Paris often, we managed to entertain ourselves for another weekend (and found excellent restaurants that opened before la rentreeLe Chateaubriand and Spring being great choices even when all of Paris’s restos are open for biz) and then cycled through Burgundy for a week.  If I had to choose between cycling in the Cote de Beaune and the Cote de Nuits, which are both beautiful, I’d recommend the Cote de Beaune.  The picturesque towns and vineyards in the Cote de Beaune seemed slightly closer together (ideal when you’re a lazy cyclist comme moi).  And of course you don’t travel to Burgundy without a few good meals.  Chezy Guy in Gevrey-Chambertin and La Ciboulette in Beaune were two of our faves – sometimes bib gourmand is as fancy as you want to get.

October 2010:  We spent a beautiful, sunny weekend in County Wicklow, Ireland, attending a friend’s wedding, and then a week later, we traveled to Montreal, Canada for another friend’s wedding, where we sampled the delights of poutine, Montreal bagels, and maple syrup (separately).  Who knew October was the new June?  Feeling a bit tired and sick and blaming it on all the travel, I learned I was preggars just before accepting a 3-star freebie at Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester.

November 2010:  Jon and I sampled the deliciousness of Taipei, Taiwan and Hong Konggua bao, nightmarkets and dim sum, oh my!  (Truly, if you go to only one nightmarket in your life, for food, make it the Shilin).  And despite spending only 48 hours in Hong Kong, we managed to hit only high notes dining out:  dim sum at Lei Garden and Tim Ho Wan; noodle soups at Tsim Chai Kee; and the name attraction at Under Bridge Spicy Crab Restaurant.  All were excellent and hard to resist.  I lucked out with an easy first trimester (when you’re most likely to be nauseous and suffering from morning sickness).  On the home front, we made our first of many trips to the nearby Delhi Grill.  I can’t be bothered to go to New Tayyabs anymore, now that the DG is so close by.  We also hit the much-vaunted Sushi of Shiori near Euston Station, which I’m much happier with as a takeaway customer.  In fact, while recovering at UCH, Sushi of Shiori was my go-to.  (It certainly beat the hospital food by a million miles).

December 2010:  After enjoying a festive time (though underwhelming food) at Bob Bob Ricard, we made our annual pilgrimage home for the holidays and got trapped in a world of gorgeous snow, travel nightmares and the worst puns imaginable (Snowpocalypse, anyone?).

January 2011:  Having learned over the years that traveling in most of Europe in January is kind of a bummer (the weather is uniformly dreary), we stayed home and just kept up the “usual” restaurant going.  I learned I much preferred Hiba to the more-well-known Yalla-Yalla and that Dumplings Legend doesn’t hold a candle to the Din Tai Fung chain on which it’s “modeled.”  Antepliler has become my Turkish of choice in Islington, and Kopapa is now my best alternative to the Providores when I want those eggs changa without the Marylebone queues.

February 2011Off to Paris for the sales.  Dining out, Rino was the sleeper hit, and Bistrot Paul Bert turned in another solid performance.  Get thee to the 11th, food lovers.  Sadly, I also ate the worst dim sum of my life on this trip.  I should have known better, but it was Chinese New Year!  Back in London, I loved the blow-torch sushi at Yashin but hated sitting in the basement and being shuttled in and out in under an hour.  Having started to meet lots of other pregnant women bemoaning their inability to eat sushi, I wrote this post about the fiction of many eating restrictions during pregnancy.

March 2011:  Jon and I enjoyed ourselves (and felt really old) at the pop-up burger joint, #Meateasy, which could teach a thing or two to the highly-disappointing Barbecoa (though hats off to the beautiful views of St. Paul there).  I also finally tried out the grande dame of London Italian restos, Locanda Locatelli, and for better or worse, it was what I expected.

April 2011:  Lots of golden oldies this month.  Back to Cowley Manor for another lovely weekend, though upgrading room types wasn’t worth the money.  Back to Ba Shan (now Hunanese) in search of the elusive General Tso’s chicken; and back to Murano, whose freebies are still the same and still delish.  Jon and I took a 10-day trip to the Italian Riviera from Genoa through the Cinque Terre.  And of course I never got around to putting up my Italian Riviera post because of the impending bebe craziness.  Maybe I’ll do that next month, lol.

May 2011:  I was weeks away from my due date in May and therefore uncomfortably enormous.  Still, feeling it was my last chance to get out and about easily, I ate out a storm.  I’m still thinking about that Peking duck at Zen China, the casarecce with bolognese at Zucca, the afternoon tea at Bea’s, and pretty much everything at the Ledbury.

June 2011:  My last few days as a child-free lady saw me waddle over to the Pitt Cue BBQ, ordering my favorite clay pot dishes at Hakkasan, and then, baby time.

July 2011:  Jon and I mustered all the energy we had left and took our then-two-week-old daughter, C, out for Jamie Oliver’s Big Feastival in Clapham.  The outing exhausted us, but we were glad we finally left the house.  We’ve since taken C out to lunch at the Michelin-starred pub, the Harwood Arms, which was a success, and I’ve managed to sneak out to a good meal or two at the Pollen Street Social and old-time favorite, Bocca di Lupo.  Now I just have to find time to blog about it.

Last weekend, we took C to Brussels (she’s two months old), and that was both harder and easier than I expected.  Again, lots of fodder for a blog post, though perhaps not for my usual blog audience.  Next week, we’re taking her to Paris.  She won’t appreciate it, of course, but I’m looking forward to seeing an old favorite from a new perspective.

Five years of blogging.  I couldn’t have imagined I’d keep it up this long, and it really is thanks to you, dear readers, that I feel encouraged to try for another year of this blogging gig.   Let’s see how this goes . . . .

For the 12-month lookback of previous years:

6:  The number of weeks old Celia is now.

3:  The number of dinners out I’ve eaten since Celia was born, the furthest away of which was less than a mile from my house, in Clerkenwell (Bistro Bruno Loubet, if you must know, and yes, the boudin blanc is still delish and the time limit on tables seems to have disappeared).

Jon and I are lucky to have babysitting right now.  Unfortunately, it turns out that even with babysitting readily available, it takes a lot of effort to go out to dinner because (a) we’re pretty tired; and (b) it seems that feeding the baby isn’t easily done without yours truly if you’re following all the medical and social “recommendations” to breastfeed.

You’d think that, being well educated and generally confident, I’d find it easy to do what I want to do.  But like most new mothers, I’ve been tying my sanity and quality of life to the “goal” of breastfeeding Celia.  Although the food scene is the last thing on my mind right now, I’m still constantly thinking about food — Celia’s.

Here are several now-obvious things about feeding Celia that I hadn’t realized before bringing her home from the hospital:

  1. She eats little but often.  Whether you’re giving her the boob or the bottle, someone’s got to be up and feeding her, say, every three hours around the clock.  Subtract out the feeding time from this 3-hour period, and you’re looking at maybe 1.5 hours to yourself, max.  During this 1.5 -hour period, you’re supposed to do things like sleep and feed yourself.  Good luck.
  2. Giving her the boob is incredibly tedious.  Is there such a thing as hands-free Internet?  Because watching TV or listening to audiobooks or radio isn’t my thing.
  3. Giving her the boob hurts.  As another new mum said to me this week, babies are practically feral when they’re eating.  Now picture this ravenous little animal on your boob for 30 minutes at a time, 8 times a day.  (It sucks.  Ha ha).

I’ve got Celia on a mix of boob and formula now.  The formula gives me a lot more freedom to get out of the house, mostly because I couldn’t get the hang of busting out a boob when out and about.  (Even at “baby-friendly” places like John Lewis, which have a dedicated space for nursing mums, the nursing room is depressing and unpleasant).

I hear that breastfeeding works great for a lot of women, but for me, not so much. Don’t ask me why I haven’t given up the breastfeeding altogether, though.  I guess all the medical and social pressure to breastfeed worked me over more thoroughly than I suspected.

I take Celia out with me for lunches these days, but not for dinners, and lunch tends to be within a 1/2-mile radius of home and at places you wouldn’t consider a destination.  I’m trending towards creating a lunch-only restaurant blog, but wondering if that’s worth the time and energy, both of which are in desperately short supply these days.

I do love my blog and hate to see it go, hence the dilemma.  The traveling-with-baby blog idea sounds fun except that even the most ambitious travel-loving parents I know will travel only every two or three months.  I’d be short on content, I reckon.

Long story short:  I’m still figuring out what to do with this blog.  It’s just one of the many parts of my life I’m trying to adjust post-baby.  Thanks to everyone who’s still with me.

Celia, very concerned about the clouds rolling in at Jamie Oliver's Feastival this weekend

I’ve been supremely distracted these last two weeks.  I’m now a parent.  Celia is two weeks old, and all I can say is that while labour is pretty rough and breastfeeding even rougher, I’m a fan of this parent gig so far.

Celia came into the world via emergency C section.  Thumbs down to the midwives who didn’t identify that Celia was a breech baby until after I’d labored for what felt like forever.  Thumbs up to the surgical team at UCH for being great communicators and total pros.

Feeling restless and with Jon on his last day of paternity leave, we spent this afternoon at Jamie Oliver’s “Feastival,”  a three-day music-slash-food festival this weekend on Clapham Common.  While I’m no music connoisseur and therefore generally characterise the bands performing this afternoon as fun for a sunny day out, I was pleasantly surprised that the food stands were as good as they were.  The restaurants represented are pretty legit from a food lover’s point of view, and the mains sold are all priced at £5.  It was good value once you forgot about the sunk cost of admission to the festival (£35 at the door, but do some googling and you’ll find a few half-price deals on-line).

porchetta muffuletta sandwich from Fifteen

popcorn shrimp from Redhook

chicken satay and roti from Awana

roast lamb and minted yoghurt sandwich from Providores

I enjoyed the food we sampled and am happy to report that La Fromagerie has its own large-ish tent selling freshly-fried donuts and chocolate chip cookies for £1 a piece, and enormous brownies for £2.50 (all of which I’ll vouch for because, umm, I ate one of each).

"cocktail bar" at the Feastival on Clapham Common

Peter Gordon (The Providores) does a cooking demo

In the “cocktail bar” area, we snagged seats on comfy outdoor sofas and enjoyed Pimms (a somewhat-pricey £7.50 a glass) in the sunshine, and then we checked out the Providores‘ Peter Gordon doing a cooking demonstration (winner tip of the day:  cook couscous in cold or tepid water so that it doesn’t get claggy).

Overall, a relaxed and tasty experience for a sunny weekend.  If you’re at loose ends tomorrow or Sunday, give the Feastival a try.  All proceeds go to charity, so even if you find the admission price a bit high, just remember the money goes to these good causes.

As for me, I’m going to take a break from this blog.  I’ll be back in three weeks (on Monday, 25 July), hopefully with an idea of what to do with this restaurant and travel blog now that I’ve got un bebe.  Suggestions welcomed!

Jamie Oliver’s “Feastival,” on Clapham Common from Friday, 1 July through Sunday, 3 July.  Admission is £35 per adult, and food and drinks are additional (but generally reasonably priced) once you’re admitted.

Half-price tickets were available earlier in the week via LittleBird, TimeOut, Lastminute.com, and Groupon, though I’m not sure which of these offers are still available.  Closest Tube station:  Clapham Common.  Look for the tents when you exit the station – it’s less than a ten-minute walk.

Palazzo Tursi in Genoa (now town hall)

Last month, Jon and I spent a week in Liguria, the coastal region of northwest Italy.  Of course, this being Italy, there were plenty of regional foods to enjoy, the most famous of which is pesto Genovese (aka pesto) and focaccia.

Because Jon and I flew in and out of Genoa, we decided to spend a weekend there before moving on to the Italian Riviera, which was meant to be the focus of our trip.  What turned out to be pleasant surprise in Genoa were the dozens of beautiful old palazzo lovingly restored and open for tour — the city was a former trade and banking powerhouse — and the food wasn’t half bad, either, though I suspect with a little more research, we would have eaten like kings.

Below is a roundup of what we ate and saw in Genoa:

baby calamari and pesto at Soho Restaurant & Fishworks

Soho Restaurant & Fishworks.  Our B&B owner highly recommended it, and the restaurant has a bar/lounge vibe going on, so we probably would have enjoyed the decor more if we’d gone for dinner instead of lunch.  In any case, seafood is the restaurant’s focus, which makes sense given its location close to the port.  Overall, our food was well prepared.  Jon and I especially enjoyed the baby calamari and pesto, as well as the squid ink tagliatelle with prawns.  We spent 48 euros on lunch, which seemed a bit pricey for two starters, a shared main and a glass of house white, but the food, while simple, was fresh and tasty.  You could do a lot worse.

Mua’ Ristorante also had a bar/lounge aesthetic.  We found the restaurant through this glowing May 2010 writeup in the New York Times, calling it “one of the city’s finest restaurants.” The restaurant aims to serve regional specialties with a twist, but Jon and I most enjoyed the dishes that skipped the “twist.”  A starter portion of mandilli al pesto (wide, flat sheets of egg pasta) for 9 euros was a highlight.  Dinner for two totaled 59 euros with a single glass of wine, and other than recommending that you order the more traditional dishes on the menu, my only complaint was the too-cool-for-school servers who seated us in the back near the loos.  I hate when that happens.

room-temperature fried anchovies at Trattoria da Maria in Genoa

Trattoria da Maria is located very close to Mua’ Ristorante, but is the opposite in style and price.  It’s homey and was described by The Minimalist (Mark Bittman) in this July 2006 New York Times article as “one of my favorite restaurants in the world. I must, however, issue a caution: this is really a workingman’s lunch place, a dive, a cheap eats joint.”  When Jon and I showed up for lunch, we were immediately reminded of another Mark Bittman recommendation, Chez Palmyre, in Nice, but this one compared less favorably.  Yes, the lunch was cheap (8 euros prix fixe for a starter and main), but our food wasn’t especially tasty.  I was most looking forward to the fried anchovies, but they were served lukewarm.  Who wants lukewarm fried food, at any price?

walnut pesto pasta (pansotti) at Gaia Ristorante in Genoa

Da Gaia Ristorante was the worst of the restaurants we tried in Genoa.  It came highly recommended by our B&B owner, but it was old-school in a bad way.  Pricey menu and dingy decor, with food that was weighed down by thick sauces.  We thought a place like this would make a strong showing with regional specialties like pansotti, a  ravioli filled with a variety of greens, marjoram and ricotta cheese, and tossed with a walnut pesto.  But we found it tough going to finish our two starters and two mains.  Maybe Da Gaia shines when it’s cold outside.

hall of mirrors at the Palazzo Spinola in Genoa

Of the palaces we visited, I most enjoyed the Palazzo Spinola, which now houses artwork and decorative knicknacks on the top floor (thus making it the “national gallery”), but I think the real draw were the rooms of the mansion itself.  Touring the rooms is like being on an episode of MTV Cribs, 16th-century-Grimaldi style.

San Lorenzo Cathedral in Genoa

Jon and I also spent many a sunny hour sitting on the steps of San Lorenzo Cathedral, the city’s main cathedral, eating gelato or snacking on focaccia.  There are a couple of places near the cathedral selling both, and though we never settled on a favorite focacceria, we did think that for gelato, the nearby outpost of Grom Gelato was hands down the best option.  Having sampled their wares five times in 36 hours, I consider myself an authority on Grom’s flavors.  It turns out they’re all delicious.

shared lounge area at B&B Quarto Piano in Genoa

We stayed at B&B Quartopiano, wonderfully located in Genoa’s atmospheric old town next to the Palazzo Spinola.  The living room/common area is stylish and comfortable, and our room was also clean and sleek.  However, for 150 euros a night for a small “comfort” (cheapest) room, I was expecting a much better breakfast (comprised of defrosted and toasted pastries, along with large but oddly-flavorless cappuccinos), and more importantly, a lift.  It’s not just that the B&B, true to its name, is on the fourth floor of an old palazzo.  It’s that each floor has incredibly high ceilings, so you end up climbing seven solid flights of stairs, which can be exhausting (with or without luggage), even when you’re not 33 weeks preggars.

Genoa Aquarium.  Unless you have kids, avoid the much-hyped Genoa Aquarium.  Like many port towns hoping to rejuvenate piers and wharfs that have fallen into disuse and disrepair, Genoa has splashed out and heavily marketed a newish Aquarium.  Jon and I had run out of things to do on a quiet Sunday, so we decided to check it out.  It’s dark, crowded, loud and expensive (18 euros per person).  But if you have to go, buy your tickets from a tourist information office.  There’s a particularly helpful one located on the Piazza de Ferrari.  This way you can skip one of the queues (to buy the tickets) and go straight to the queue to get into the aquarium.  Tickets are timed entry, and we found going late in the afternoon minimized the time spent queuing.

Overall, Genoa turned out to be more than just an airport in and out of Liguria.  The cheerleader materials at the Genoa Tourist Information office described the city as like Barcelona before BCN hit the tourist big time.  While I wouldn’t make Genoa a destination on its own, if you’re headed to the Italian Riveria (Portofino, Santa Margherita, the Cinque Terre), it’s worth spending some time in the city.

B&B Quartopiano, Piazza di Pellicceria, 2, Genoa; +39 348 7426779 (cheapest rooms start at 150 euros/night in May).  Closest metro:  San Giorgio.

Da Gaia Ristorante, Vico dell’Argento, 16124 Genoa; +39 010 2461629; closest metro:  Darsena.  Open Monday-Saturday, 9 am to 6 pm.

Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Spinola, Piazza di Pellicceria, 1, 16123, Genoa; +39 010 247 7061; 4 euros a person admission with no English brochure or map available.  Open Mon-Sat 8:30am-7:30pm; Sun 1pm-8pm.

Genoa’s Palazzo Ducale, the former Doge’s palace,now an art museum and exhibit space, just behind the San Lorenzo Cathedral.  Piazza Matteotti, 9, 16123 Genova; +39 01055 74 000

Genoa Cathedral (aka San Lorenzo Cathedral), just up the road from the Genoa Aquarium

Grom Gelato, Via di San Lorenzo, 81, 16123 Genova  2 euros for a small (two scoops) gelato

Mua’ Ristorante, Via San Sebastiano 13, Genoa, 16123, +39-010-53-2191

Soho Restaurant & Fishworks, Via al Ponte Calvi, 20, 16124 Genova; +39 010 869 2548

Trattoria da Maria osteria con cucina, Vico Testadoro, 14r, Genova; +39 010 581 080; 18 euros for two people at lunch.  Metro:  de Ferrari;  Open Weekdays 11:45am-3pm, 6:45pm-9:30pm; Sat 11:45am-3pm


dim sum platter (£12.50)

Hakkasan is well known for its sleek Christian Liaigre-designed interior and its sky-high prices.  The place has done well enough that there’s now a Mayfair location, as well as outposts around the world.  And with Alan Yau no longer the man in charge, you can’t help wondering if the food and service are still any good.

I have a slightly different image of Hakkasan, though, as a place that serves up very good Chinese food using quality ingredients at reasonable prices.  Hakkasan’s menu is huge and diverse in price and style, and the cost of your meal can very enormously depending on what you order.

Several times a year, Jon and I drop by for what can only be called a casual dinner.  The only thing that keeps us from going more often is the effort it takes to dress up a bit (though jeans and a black T seem to go over just fine on a Sunday or work week night).

Last Sunday night, for example, we were too lazy to cook and wanted to bring my visiting-from-the-US mom someplace good.  And she has a weakness for Chinese food.  So off we went to Hakkasan.

Normally, we don’t bother with starters, but we broke our own rule last Sunday and got the dim sum platter, which was overly steamed.  The rice flour wrappers on all four types of dim sum were gloopy and smooshy, and the reddish-colored one didn’t even taste good.  I think it might have been a tomato wrapper filled with tomato gel.  At least the scallop filling of the shu mai was good.

silver cod in champagne sauce (£35)

We did much better ordering mains, as always.  The one pricey dish I get sucked into at Hakkasan is the restaurant’s signature “silver cod in champagne sauce.”  I know it’s the equivalent of ordering Nobu’s miso cod, but it really is pretty tasty.  Silken shards of cod in a citrus-perfumed champagne sauce.  I look forward to it every time.

tofu, aubergine and mushroom claypot (£12.50)

Silver cod aside, in general, I love the humble claypot dishes at Hakkasan.  Maybe you’re paying a couple quid more than you would at a divey Chinatown place, but at Hakkasan, you get top-notch ingredients and a skilled, consistent hand at the stove.  The tofu and aubergine claypot is a star, with both main ingredients cooked to silky-smooth perfection, and the umami-rich mushrooms boosting an already powerful flavor mix.  Eaten with plain white rice, it’s the best.

twice-cooked Duke of Berkshire pork belly (£15.50)

Twice-cooked pork belly is now available seemingly everywhere, thanks to the growing popularity of Szechuan cuisine, but Hakkasan’s is spiced and flavored just right every time.  There’s just enough kick from the citrus-scented, tongue-numbing Szechuan pepper corns to cut the fattiness of the pork belly, and the medium-firm tofu and cabbage add great texture.  This one is another favorite of mine with white rice.

sauteed morning glory (£10)

Hakkasan always seems to be out of the sauteed snow pea shoots (yet it’s always on the menu), and I always end up with sauteed morning glory as a substitute.  Crunchy, slightly sweet, doing its wonderful vegetable thing.  You can’t have a Chinese meal without greens, yes?

With three bowls of rice at £2.50 a pop and just lots of tap water, our dinner for three people totaled a perfectly-reasonable £105 with service charge.  If we’d avoided the £35 silver cod, I’d say £70 for three people would have qualified as a particularly reasonable cost for a filling and delish dinner.  Point is, you can go to Hakkasan for more than the scene and pricey cocktails.  You can go for the food!  So try to ignore that raucous party of Russian oligarchs nearby and just enjoy the cooking.  There are some real gems on the menu.

Hakkasan, 8 Hanway Place, W1T 1HD; 0207 927 7000; closest Tube station:  Tottenham Court Road.
Hakkasan Hanway Place on Urbanspoon

Pitt Cue Co. BBQ stall under the Hungerford Footbridge

With the weather so nice yesterday (Friday) and these three recent blog posts (by Hollow Legs, Food Stories and Tehbus) in mind, I checked out the Pitt Cue Co. BBQ stall at just after 8 pm.

Unluckily, at that hour, they’d run out of pretty much everything edible except for three orders of BBQ ribs, which we snapped up pronto.  Not going to lie, though:  I’d schlepped down there with a strong craving for pulled pork, which I’d read was amazing in texture and marinade, and I’d even stopped off at a bakery for my own buns as an accompaniment (i.e., I love pulled pork sandwiches).

But OK, I don’t want to lose *all* touch with reality, lol.   There are worse things one could “settle for” than smoky BBQ ribs, so we paid our 21 quid (£7 a serving) and found a patch of grass near the London Eye to enjoy the Thames view and our smoked goodies.

BBQ ribs served with a few pickles and slaw (£7)

Oddly, our ribs had an amazing texture, a good ratio of fat and meat, and pretty much zero seasoning.  How is that possible?  Based on the texture, the ribs had obviously been cooked for a long time.  But I tasted no spice, little salt and definitely no tang or sweetness.  Maybe we were supposed to get a separate dipping sauce?

The wonderfully tangy pickles at the bottom of the cardboard take-away box added some much-needed flavor, and I was hoping the slaw might help out, too.  But here’s what the slaw looked like:

overly-rough slaw

Whoever was on chop-up-the-cabbage duty totally slacked off.  I don’t mind the odd big piece of cabbage, but the majority of our slaw was comprised of huge chunks of red cabbage, and I didn’t taste much dressing (whether vinegar or mayo based).  A pretty pointless accompaniment to the ribs.

I almost forgot to mention the hunk of greasy grilled bread that comes in the box.  The bread is soaked in fatty pig juices, which is nice, but it’s *so* soaked in juices that it’s soggy, which is not so nice.

So maybe you have to show up earlier in the day to get the good stuff.  Or maybe this is just another summer food stand that we shouldn’t take too seriously.  But it seems that Pitt Cue Co. aims to be something better than “just another food stand,” in which case, there’s room for improvement, at least on the consistency front.

(If you try out Pitt Cue and they’ve run out of food, I’d recommend walking a bit east to the Dishoom pop-up restaurant next to Royal Festival Hall).

Pitt Cue Co. BBQ, under the Hungerford Bridge near Royal Festival Hall from 1pm to about 10pm (but the later you show up in the day, the more likely they’ve run out of food), 7 days a week; closest Tube stations:  Embankment or Waterloo.

bacon-onion roll at the Ledbury (aka my beloved)

Considering how often I recommend the Ledbury to friends (and how often they report back that they’ve had a marvelous time there), I don’t know how I let over *two years* go by since I last ate there.  It’s sad, really.

Two weeks ago, Jon and I met four close friends for Sunday lunch there.  We were joking about how far we’d all traveled to get to Notting Hill (coming from Islington, Hoxton and Shad Thames).  But you know, the Ledbury is well worth the schlepp.

I’d never been to the Ledbury’s Sunday lunch before, which is a shame because at £40 a person for three courses and several amuses, it’s great value.

The downside for food lovers when ordering a la carte, though, is that a lot of bargaining and bickering breaks out over who orders what.  This is where the Ledbury’s stellar service made its first appearance of the day:  our server noticed several of us wanted to try the Saint-Nectaire truffled toast with buffalo milk curd and onion broth, so with grace and style, she stepped into our conversation and offered that course as an amuse for the table.  This gesture freed us up to try out the other starters.  We both laughed at ourselves for having drawn her attention and loved that she solved our “dilemma” of who would order which starter.

my Sunday lunch starter: courgettes, crab and frozen parmesan

The weather being warm and sunny, and having eaten about five of the Ledbury’s outrageously-delicious bacon-and-onion rolls, I ordered the courgettes, crab and frozen parmesan starter.  The dish was, indeed, super refreshing, though the frozen parmesan wasn’t as interesting a texture or flavor as I’d thought it’d be.  My bad for ordering what amounted to the “chicken option” on the menu.

my friend's Sunday lunch starter: turbot roe, fried turbot and stunningly-good radish

My friend J’s starter of turbot in multiple forms and served with assorted root veg deserves mention for being both visually attractive and surprisingly delicious.  Who would’ve thought radish could steal the show?

a starter the Ledbury threw in as an amuse: Saint-Nectaire (cheese) and truffled toast

Fresh curd of Hampshire buffalo milk with wild mushrooms, and a broth of grilled onions

The major highlight among the starters, though (perhaps of the entire meal) was the truffled, cheesy (Saint-Nectaire) toast served as an amused to our table.  You dip the truffled toast (wonderfully nutty, floral and earthy on its own) into the curd and it’s like the ultimate comfort experience, bringing to mind egg-and-soldiers.  What an outstanding dish.  Next time you eat at the Ledbury, make sure to have this course.

crisp pressed suckling pig with white carrot, Pedro Ximénez and toasted grains

My main course of suckling pig was lovely, though as I get older, I have to say I become less excited about main courses.  It always has to be a sizable portion of protein, so is it just me, or do you feel like the creativity of most kitchens shines in the starter courses?

Jon opts for the (generous) cheese course (£7 supplement)

Dessert time.  Jon goes for the groaning, tempting cheese cart.  He’s a greedy one, but the Ledbury doesn’t hesitate to plate his sizable selection.

wild and Gariguette strawberries, meringue, ewe's milk yoghurt and beignets

Me?  I’m stuffed by the time we get to dessert, but I’m thinking beignets are calling my name.  (Donuts fresh out of the fryer!)  Turns out the beignets of my strawberry, meringue and yoghurt dessert are the least interesting.  I thought I was in for a competent tarting up of Eton mess, but actually, my dessert was mind-blowingly intense and refreshing.  The tangy, creamy ewe’s milk yoghurt was a great foil for the sweet, fragrant strawberries.  Crunchy meringue bits for texture.

Rave reviews around the table for desserts, especially the Ledbury’s creative pairings of creme brulee flavors and ice creams.

caramelised banana galette with salted caramel, passion fruit and peanut oil parfait

Our server noticed that we failed to try one of the desserts on the menu, so once again brought it out as an amuse for our table.  It’s the banana galette with salted caramel, passion fruit and peanut parfait.  A great mix of textures and flavors, but most of all, we love the gesture.  Although we were here for a 3-course Sunday lunch menu, we feel like we’ve gotten a tasting menu.

Our spirits high and our tummies full, we all rolled out of the Ledbury four hours later wondering why we hadn’t been back sooner.  With all the trimmings (aperitifs, wines and coffees), our meal came to £75 a person.  If you’ve eaten out reasonably often in London, you know that there are too many places charging a lot more money for a much lesser experience, so on that basis, I’d call the Sunday lunch at the Ledbury a great value.  Go!

The Ledbury, 127 Ledbury Road, W11 2AQ, 0207 792 9090; Closest tubes: Notting Hill Gate, Westbourne Park, Ladbroke Grove. £40 Sunday lunch menu.  Best deal in town.

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