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Archive for the ‘Everyday in London’ Category

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:

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

The Ledbury on Urbanspoon

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Bea's of Bloomsbury at One New Change near St. Paul's Cathedral

Last weekend, my lovely friends and family in London threw me a baby shower.  Baby showers aren’t big here, but from the name, you’ve probably guessed that the occasion revolves around “showering” the mom-to-be with gifts.  Essentially, this means the shower was tons of fun for me and required tons of goodwill and patience on the part of friends and family who attended.

My friends couldn’t have chosen a better venue for the shower:  afternoon tea at the newish Bea’s of Bloomsbury location at One New Change.  Unlike neighboring restaurant, Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa, which is large and loud and mediocre, Bea’s is quiet, relaxing and maintains the same high standards that you’ll find at the original Bea’s of Bloomsbury location.

meringues, 'mallows, brownies, blondies, scones . . . oh my!

The decor at Bea’s at New Change is sleek and chic, and what I most appreciated was how everything tasted as good as it looked.  The cheeky serving tiers at our tea held buttery, crumbly scones, rich brownies and chewy meringues.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the blondies, which tasted unpleasantly under-baked, but happily that was the only clunker at our tea.

cupcakes and savouries

Most cupcakes in London bakeries rely on frosting to cover up the fact that the underlying cake is dried out.  Happily, this isn’t the case at Bea’s, whose cupcakes were moist and came in interesting, delicious flavors like passion fruit and Bailey’s.  Savoury baguette sandwiches were also fresh and delicious.  We shared platters piled high with vegetarian and meat-lover’s sandwiches and washed it all down with individual pots of Jing tea.

the end of the affair (fantabulous wellies and flowers courtesy of friends)

It was a great afternoon tea, and when you compare the generous spread at Bea’s with that of London hotels charging 2-3 times the price, you’ll see why I was so impressed with Bea’s version.  Considering how tourist-friendly Bea’s location is, they could probably get away with serving mediocre food, but I’m glad they don’t.

Afternoon tea at Bea’s is £15 per person and £22.50 with a glass of Moet.

Bea’s of Bloomsbury One New Change, 83 Watling Street (aka the side of the One New Change mall that’s closest to the Thames/Millennium Bridge), EC4M 9BX; 0207 242 8330; closest Tube station:  St. Paul’s
Bea's of Bloomsbury on Urbanspoon

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Zucca restaurant

Zucca opened on Bermondsey Street back in March 2010, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve unsuccessfully tried once every month or two to get a table there.  If you think Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner is a hot ticket these days, Zucca is still going strong 14 months later. Last week, I finally gave up on snagging a weekend table and took a Tuesday evening spot.

So what’s Zucca’s appeal?  Oh, I don’t know.  Chic decor; good service; simple, fresh Italian cooking and low prices?  A dime a dozen in London, right?  Sure.

zucca fritti (£3.95)

There were plenty of tempting-sounding starters on the menu.  Jon and I ordered three to share, and while all of them were good, if I had to prioritize, I’d put the zucca fritti (fried pumpkin) at the bottom of the list.  Sure, they’re a house specialty, but diminishing returns kicked in after just one or two of these.  Perhaps better to order them if you’re with a bigger group.

grilled asparagus, egg, parmesan (£4.75)

Grilled asparagus, egg and parmesan was as described on the tin.  Each component was fresh and well-prepared (the egg and asparagus, that is), but the flavors never came together.  Maybe it needed a sauce?

mozzarella lentils garlic shoots (£4.25)

Loved the creamy fresh mozzarella complemented by the earthy, meaty lentils.  The garlic shoots lacked bite, but I’m biased towards scare-away-your-date strong garlic flavors, I must confess.  The mozzarella and lentils could have easily taken on stronger garlic taste, though.

casarecce with bolognese (£7)

Highlights of our dinner were definitely the pastas and the main we shared.  Rustic casarecce pasta retained a chewy al dente texture, and the pork ragu was stunningly good with a great balance of acidity, sweetness, salt and meatiness.

taglierini with fresh ricotta and spring herbs (£7)

The taglierini with fresh ricotta and spring herbs was lifted from ordinariness by a slight citrus flavor.  If I had to complain, I’d ask that the kitchen go a little lighter on the olive oil next time.

grilled veal chop (£14.75)

And the veal chop is as good as everyone says it is.  Tender, juicy, charred.  Unbelievably good value for £14.75.  I contrast Zucca’s version with the similarly-excellent one I ate at Paris’s L’Agrume a couple of months ago, which cost 32 euros.

affogato (£4.25)

I couldn’t resist ending dinner with affogato, which was a generous serving but how sad that there were bits of ice/freezer burn in the scoops of vanilla.

The room is large and comfortable, and while the furniture isn’t quite as luxurious as that of L’Anima, the all-white contemporary look of the two restaurants is similar.  And Zucca is about 1/3 the price of L’Anima.  With a couple of glasses of prosecco and wine, our total for two came to £65.

If you can afford to be choosy about tables (i.e., you’re not like me and just incredibly grateful to have finally landed a reservation), avoid the one or two right in front of the kitchen pass.  The servers hover there waiting to ferry dishes to customers, and you’ll end up feeling like there are four pairs of eyes watching your every move (which I assume you agree is a minus, but if you consider it a plus, then by all means request it).

Zucca, 184 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 31Q; 0207 378 6809; closest Tube station:  London Bridge (it’s still a 15-minute walk from the Tube station, though).
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Over the last three weeks, I’ve been eating out at a lot of cheap Asian places, and while none of them have been so stellar that I felt like blogging about them, there have been a couple of stand-out dishes worth mentioning.  So with the caveat that the following restaurants don’t constitute destinations on the basis of all their menu offerings, if you happen to be craving a good example of a particular dish, they are worth a visit.

pad thai with prawns (£6.95)

First up:    Charuwan Thai in Tufnell Park/Archway, which benefits from a rave review in TimeOut.  It’s hard to find good Thai food in London.  I’m not sure why.  Usually, I end up at Busaba Eathai or Rosa’s, which aren’t perfect, but are cheap, serve a spicy-sweet green curry and are conveniently located near my home and office.

Charuwan Thai is a bit of a schlepp to reach, but it’s a nice-looking place with super friendly and attentive service.  While the two curries we ordered (a green curry and chu chee pla — crispy fried fish topped with red curry in coconut milk) were overly-sweet and not very spicy, Jon and I really enjoyed Charuwan Thai’s pad thai.  The rice sticks had great texture (not oily or clumpy the way it too often is served in restaurants), and the sweet, sour and salty flavors of the sauce were perfectly balanced.  Prices were cheap with most mains costing less than £9.

Charuwan Thai, 110 Junction Road, N19 5LB; 0207 263 1410; cloest tube stations:  Archway or Tufnell Park (Northern Line)
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Assa is one of the several Korean restaurants lined up around Centre Point.  The atmosphere is cheap and cheerful.  Highlights were the starters (banchan), particularly the pickled radish and sesame spinach (skip the flavorless bean sprouts).  Although Assa’s beef dolsot bibimbap was bland and the pajeon was greasy, limp and filled with flavorless seafood, the kimchi hotpot was excellent.  Spicy, filling and warming the way great hot pots should be.  (Koba, by the way, remains my fave place in London to eat crispy pajeon).

Assa, 53 St Giles High Street, WC2H 8LH ; 020 7240 8256; closest tube station:  Tottenham Court Road
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Peking Duck at Zen China (£26 for a half and £42 for a whole)

Zen China, near the London Eye and Aquarium, is the last place I’d try out, except that once again blogger Mr. Noodles shared a valuable tip that the restaurant serves excellent Peking Duck.  The restaurant is spacious and comfortable and has great views of Big Ben.  Fellow diners were a mix of camera-toting tourists and groups of Chinese.  And in case there was any doubt Mr. Noodles would lead you astray:  the Peking Duck really is outstanding.  Crispy skin, succulent meat, freshly-made pancakes and carefully-julienned cukes and scallions.  Each element is excellent and together make a sum greater than the whole.  The duck is served tableside, so when you order it, don’t let the waiter disappear with 1/3 of the duck left on the bone.  Our waiter claimed he’d be using the rest of the duck to create another dish for us, but the additional dish was a meagre portion of diced duck meat in lettuce wraps.  Bland and skimpy.  The Peking duck was the priciest item on the menu, but worth every penny.

Zen China, County Hall, Riverside Building, Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 7PB, 0207 261 1196; closest tube station:  Westminster
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Garlic chili fish

Last but not least, there’s Golden Day Hunan restaurant in Chinatown.  Jay Rayner gave it a glowing review in this April 2010 review and in the same month, TimeOut’s Guy Dimond also had flattering things to say.  Our group of four ordered several of the dishes highly recommend in both reviews, like the dry pot chicken, and we were underwhelmed by its lack of spice and flavor.  What was wonderful, though, was one of the chef’s specials, a garlic-and-chili fish.  The fish’s flesh was tender and silken, and the garlic-and-chili topping was the sort of thing you’d gladly eat with plain white rice.

Golden Day, 118-120 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 5EP; 0207 484 2381; closest tube station:  Leicester Square

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Ba Shan restaurant interior

Like many readers of food blogs, I’m ruled by my stomach.  Like many Americans, I miss the American-Chinese classic known as “the General.”  Put the two characteristics together, and it makes sense why, when Mr. Noodles announced the appearance of General Tso’s chicken at Ba Shan (the former Szechuan restaurant now revamped as a Hunan place), I high-tailed it to Ba Shan immediately.  It hardly mattered that the last time I was at Ba Shan, it was just another inconsistent Szechuan restaurant.

pickled spicy cucumbers (£4.90)

The hard part was deciding what else to order besides the General.  This being a Hunan place, we figured it’d be wise to try the pickled goodies, and Ba Shan’s spicy cucumbers were highly addictive.  Crisp, refreshing, and with a chili kick alleviated by soy sauce and sesame oil.  We felt virtuous eating vegetables prior to the arrival of the General.

General Tsos chicken (£7.90)

Like most highly-anticipated things in life, Ba Shan’s General didn’t quite meet expectations.  For starters, the chicken pieces are too small, and the sauce wasn’t intensely sweet and salty enough.  This being a Hunan-inspired dish, I was expecting more chili spice.  And there really shouldn’t be any stir-fried vegetables in there (at most, you usually see big chunks of broccoli on the side).

Click here to see how the General is supposed to look and taste.

Still, even if the dish wasn’t quite General Tso’s chicken, it was tasty.  I mean, battered-and-fried chicken pieces dumped in a lightly-sweetened soy-based sauce.  Hard not to like it.

Pengs fried tofu (6.90)

And for the tofu lovers out there, Ba Shan’s version of Peng’s fried tofu was excellent.  Large, meaty slices of tofu slathered in chilis and sauce.  Perfect over plain white rice.

Overall, Ba Shan has improved a lot by becoming a Hunan restaurant, so I’ll be back to try some of the other dishes.

Alas, the search for the General continues . . . .

Ba Shan, 24 Romilly Street, W1D 5AH; 0207 287 3266; closest Tube stations:  Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus.
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Cowley Manor

A couple of Thursdays ago, wanting to take advantage of the recent sunny and warm weather, Jon and I called up Cowley Manor in the Cotswolds to see if they had any last-minute specials for the weekend.

The good news is that they had a few “Better” rooms available.  The bad news was that these rooms weren’t offered on discount and still cost £385 a night.  (What happened to the general hotel practice of lowering prices to fill an empty room?)   Instead, Cowley agreed to waive its two-night minimum stay requirement, so we could arrive on a Saturday morning and make full use of facilities both that day and Sunday.

a "better" room at Cowley Manor

When Jon and I visited Cowley Manor last August, we’d tried out the “Good” rooms (the cheapest ones available) for £250 a night.  I was pretty happy with the room we had, which was in the Main House and had views of the beautiful back gardens.

The “Better room,” while more expensive, wasn’t as appealing as the “Good” room, I thought.  For the additional money, a Better room got you a suite spread over three floors, including your own sitting area.

I’m not sure who values having their own little sitting area, but it wasn’t me.  I’d much prefer to take advantage of the large, stylish “common area” sitting rooms in the Main House.  The other reason I wasn’t keen on our Better room is its location in the converted stable blocks, which by definition lack the Main House’s heaps of character.  So if you’re deciding between the “inexpensive” Good rooms and the pricier “Better” rooms, I say take a Good room and spend your savings on an extra spa treatment.

caesar salad

chicken sandwich and chips

On our last visit to Cowley Manor’s restaurant, we thought the menu offerings were fussy and not well executed, so this time we kept most of our meals simple.  Sandwiches, chips, salads were all  simple, freshly made, and good value at less than £6-7 an item.

Breakfast was lovely, partly because whoever supplies Cowley Manor with its croissants is a master.

We would’ve skipped dinner in the restaurant, but because it was included in the price of our room, we didn’t motivate to leave Cowley for a meal elsewhere.  The food was just as fussy and unimpressive as we remembered from last August, with the low point being dessert.  I asked the waiter if the “cinnamon donuts” were freshly fried, and he replied that they were and highly recommended them.  I also asked if the accompanying “apple crumble sorbet” could be replaced with just plain vanilla ice cream, and again, he swore the apple crumble sorbet was not to be missed.

Sadly, our waiter was 100% wrong on both fronts.  The donuts were hard as a hockey puck.  totally bizarre, and honestly, a 50p bag of Tesco donuts would’ve been superior to what I was served.  The apple crumble sorbet was watery and gritty.  Just awful.

gardens at Cowley Manor

fountains at Cowley Manor

But food isn’t Cowley’s strong point.  The grounds and spa are.  Taking advantage of the lovely weather, we did lots of walking around the gardens, which have both manicured bits and wilder bits.

wellies on loan

Key for getting through the wilder, muddy bits:  wellies.  Lots of wellies in every size are made available for guests.  Definitely a great, practical novelty for us Londoners.

outdoor (heated) pool at Cowley Manor spa

indoor pool at Cowley Manor spa

And of course, the Cowley Manor crown jewel:  the spa is as peaceful and pampering as ever.  Treatments are long and relaxing, and all the staff super accommodating and attentive.

If you’re looking for a lovely country getaway, it’d be hard to surpass Cowley Manor.  Ideally you drive there so you can sample food in nearby Cheltenham, though, and while you’re at it, save yourself the train and taxi fare, which add up.

Cowley Manor, Cowley, Gloucestershire, GL53 9NL; (0)1242 870 900; reachable via First Great Western train from Paddington Station to Kemble Station (1.5 hours or less depending on whether you have to switch in Swindon) and about £40 per roundtrip ticket. Then a 30-minute taxi ride costing £35 each way.

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lobster and hand-rolled linguine at Murano

You’d think that after my recent disappointment with dinner at Locanda Locatelli that I’d swear off high-end Italian restaurants for a while, but it was my friend L’s birthday, and a celebration was in order. We figured we were due for a revisit to Murano, Angela Hartnett’s flagship restaurant in Mayfair, so off we went.

Despite my having only good memories of both a lunch and dinner at Murano, I haven’t been back in over a year.  The place still feels cozy and plush, and happily, while you’re scanning the menu, Murano still serves fresh-from-the-fryer, truffle-perfumed arancini, great breads and silky charcuterie.  It’s nice when the good things haven’t changed.

In the past, I hadn’t noticed a contrast between the tasting menu offerings and those of the a la carte.  This time around, though, the tasting menu read a lot more Italian with its appealing-sounding scapece, bresaola and vitello/veal courses.  Unfortunately, having arrived for a late seating and having already filled up on snacks at the nearby and excellent Connaught Bar, our group chose the a la carte.  Three courses for £65; four courses for £75.

My starter of lobster linguine (pictured at top) was the highlight of dinner, with generous chunks of juicy, sweet lobster served with gorgeously al dente linguine.  There was chili and garlic kick, smoothed out by the sweet tomato sauce.  This beat Locanda Locatelli’s version by a mile.

sweetbreads with cauliflower puree and smoked maple dressing

A friend’s sweetbreads ticked the silky-meaty box, though the piece I tried didn’t taste much of the smoked maple dressing, which I’d been curious about.  L’s carnaroli leek risotto with braised oxtail had great balance between meat and creamy starch until the last overly-sweet notes of vinegar kicked in.

Middlewhite pork belly, braised cheek and chervil root puree

Not to get too possessive, but “my” pork belly was also outstanding, though lacking in identifiably Italian characteristics.  The braised cheek added texture and meatiness to the lusciously fatty pork belly (with skin crisped to perfection).  If I had to choose only one adjective to describe the best parts of our meal, it’d be silky.  So yes, the pork belly was silky silky silky.

monkfish Meuniere, lardons, squid ink, fregola

Jon’s monkfish Meuniere was the only real clunker I remember from the evening.  The ingredients sounded brilliant on the menu, but nothing really blended in actuality.  A crispy lardon here, a perfectly-battered piece of fish there . . . .

pistachio souffle

Pistachio soufflé, served hot and airy.  Picture perfect and tough not to love, though it was a tad too sugary for me.  The warm bittersweet chocolate helped balance out the sugar, though.

Overall, while we had a few misses this time on the a la carte, Murano remains my fave of the high-end Italian restaurants in London, though admittedly it is the most Frenchified of the Italian restaurants.  (The cheese cart is a wonder).  If you stick with the tasting menu, the place will feel more Italian, though.

Murano’s service was attentive and friendly as ever, though entertainingly a couple of servers must not have noticed I was preggars because they kept pushing the wine (“Oh come on, it’s Friday night! You should have another glass!”).  I guess the spacious table miraculously hid away my enormous self and the servers don’t communicate this sort of thing with each other, but I could have done with less pressure as I was already feeling a little guilty about two large glasses I’d enjoyed.

Murano, 20 Queen Street, W1J 5PP; 0207 495 1127; closest Tube station:  Green Park.

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view of St. Paul's cathedral from our table at Barbecoa

When Barbecoa opened last fall, Jamie Oliver’s name got thrown around a lot.  For me, though, the draw was his partner, Adam Perry Lang, whose BBQ shows and cookbook many of my barbecue-loving friends in the US swear by.

Early blog reports were not good.  Neither Cheese and Biscuits nor Food Stories enjoyed their meal there, but because their reviews were written so early and left me with the impression that they’d hated their steaks, I thought perhaps over time things might improve on the barbecue front.  After all, when I go out for barbecue, I’m not looking for a steak.  In fact, I’d be surprised if a barbecue place in the US even offered steak on the menu.  So query why reviews like this one in TimeOut seemed to suggest a good barbecue place should be serving lots of steak?  (“For a barbecue restaurant, the choice of beef steaks is very limited . . . .”)

Jon and I turned up on a Friday night.  It was my first trip to the shiny New Change shopping mall (where Barbecoa sits).  In that sense, it definitely felt like America.

Barbecoa is a huge space with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking St. Paul’s Cathedral.  But I’m sad to say that like many places with fantastic views, Barbecoa should work a little harder at its food.

crispy calamari, smashed avocado, lemon and mustard greens (£10)

When Jon and I looked over the menu, we were disappointed to see relatively few barbecue dishes.  I can now see why people have been ordering steaks and burgers — the menu offerings are really heavy on those.  That’s fine for a steak place, but this is supposed to be a barbecue place!  Why are baby back ribs served only as an appetizer?  Why, for that matter, is only one style of ribs served?  And where’s the fried chicken?  Buttermilk biscuits?  Now, I’m not claiming Blue Smoke in New York is the paragon of barbecue places, but this is more what I was expecting from Barbecoa.

Jon and I tried to zero in on the more “American” looking dishes, like the crab cakes.  Alas, our server informed us that no crab cakes were offered that evening and tried to push us towards a crab salad instead.  When we ended up ordering the fried calamari, the waiter asked us why we didn’t want the crab salad, which I thought was a funny thing for him to do.  He was surprised to hear that crab cakes, in our opinion, are a special American treat – hard to find in London.  Crab salad, on the other hand, not so special.

It was probably for the best that we ended up with fried calamari given the non-existence of jumbo lump crab meat in London.  And the calamari, while a relatively small portion for £10, were good.  Greaseless and not rubbery.  The smashed avocado was pretty useless, though.

baby back ribs with an apple cole slaw (£9)

Baby back ribs as a starter had its high and low points.  It was pretty weird.  A few of the ribs were very good, with the right amount of spice and tang and a falling-off-the-bone texture.  Other ribs, though, were a bit dry and tough.  From one point of view, it’s remarkable that ribs right next to each other could taste so differently.  But it didn’t make for a pleasant dining experience.

pulled pork shoulder with jalapeno corn bread (£16)

Finding nothing else among the mains that looked “barbecuey,” both Jon and i ordered the pulled pork shoulder.  I’d hoped the cornbread would be served in a way where you could make a pulled pork sandwich (which is *the* way to eat pulled pork, imho).  But no.  The cornbread was just damp and oily, so nothing much has changed on that front since Food Stories and Cheese & Biscuits ate at Barbecoa.

Jon and I ordered the “bread board and butter” for £4 in order to make our own sandwiches topped with the cole slaw that accompanied our pulled pork.  That improved things somewhat, though the bread board, as you’ll see below, isn’t ideal for making sandwiches:

bread board and butter (£4)

With just two glasses of wine, our total came to £86 for the two of us.

Service was polite and extraordinarily fast (Barbecoa’s slick-looking ordering systems waste no time in ensuring your food gets to the table asap, and the tables turn at dizzying speed), but based on our experience, the staff don’t seem particularly enthused or knowledgeable about barbecue.

So go for the views of St. Paul.  Bring your out-of-town friends and drop by for drinks.  But don’t go for the barbecue.  *Sigh*

Barbecoa, 20 New Change Passage, EC4M 9AG; 0203 005 8555.


Fifteen on Urbanspoon

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hotel entrance to Locanda Locatelli

It’s Friday, and we’re talking to our friends about where to meet for dinner on Saturday.  They feel like having Italian food.  “Good luck with that,” I think.  I can count on one hand the reliably-good Italian restaurants in London, and they’re always fully booked on Saturday night.

Well, the last laugh’s on me, because our friends worked some magic:   Saturday night dinner reservations at Locanda Locatelli at 9:30 pm.  I’ve never been to Locanda, but I know it’s expensive, and the food is supposed to be good.   So off we go.

First impressions are good.  The room is large, but the layout allows for lots of inviting nooks and crannies.  Our table has a nice, curved banquette.  I love banquettes.

beef carpaccio (£15)

Pork sausage, Savoy cabbage and saffron risotto starter (£13.50)

Generally, the menu offerings sound pedestrian, but most of them are well executed.  Take, for example, the beef carpaccio and platter of cured meats.  There’s a generous serving of both and the ingredients are fresh and delicious.  Still, they seem more a reflection of top-notch sourcing than of top-notch cooking.

Sadly, the one starter we ordered that was served in an unexpected way (i.e., the pork sausage and risotto) wasn’t especially tasty.  I wasn’t expecting the risotto to be a fritter, and while I am normally a lover of all things fried, having a crispy wedge of fried risotto to accompany a massive ball of sausage, all drizzled in a rich sauce, was just unrelentingly heavy.

And an artichoke salad with rocket and Parmigiano Reggiano was a total disappointment, especially for £15.  There was no interesting blending of flavors or textures.  It was as if it were a plate with three separate ingredients on it, which just reinforced my impression that it’s tough to get a decent salad in London.

We did much better with mains, which I’d say were the highlight of our dinner:

lobster linguine (£24.50)

Thanks to ingenious use of lobster stock, the lobster linguine was packed with lobster flavor despite a very stingy portion of lobster meat.  I greatly enjoyed this one, though the presentation was a little scary.  What’s with the random lobster leg jutting out like that?

Potato and mushroom gnocchi with black truffle (£19.50)

Potato-and-mushroom gnocchi with black truffle was my second-fave pasta course of the evening.  Pillowy-soft gnocchi perfumed with truffle.  Perfect.  Presentation is what you’d call rustic if you were being generous, though.

orecchiete with turnip tops, garlic and anchovies (£18)

Orecchiete was the low point of our pastas.  It was a giant plate of mush, really.  The pasta tasted as if it’d been sitting around a while, and again, the flavors didn’t blend at all.  Jon and I make a much better version of this dish at home.

braised lamb neck with polenta (£27.50)

The braised lamb neck with buttery polenta ticked all the boxes for a good braise:  fork tender, lots of rich fatty bits and a strong sauce for you to mop up.  A little more polenta to accompany the enormous portion of meat would’ve been ideal.

Contorni were a very mixed bag.  The fried artichoke (£6) was masterful, with each artichoke leaf perfectly battered and crisped, but the rest of the contorni were skippable.  Fried potatoes (£4.50) were just crispy cubes of potatoes – dressed up chips, really.  Regular ol’ broccoli and chili was £4.75 and lacking both kick and flavor.  Sauteed spinach (£4.75) was satisfying, but it’s garlic and spinach, yes?

terribly un-tasty tiramisu (£6.50)

Worst menu moment was the tiramisu.  A total crime.  Stale ladyfingers doused in a runny mascarpone and drowned in amoretto.  Despite sharing one portion among four people, we didn’t come close to finishing it, and I was mildly disappointed none of our servers bothered to ask why a little martini glass of tiramisu went only half-eaten.

With extras like a £77 bottle of a very tasty Sicilian red wine and a couple glasses of digestifs, our total for four came to £300 (£75 a person).  It was a fun evening out with friends, but given the generally-pedestrian and unven food, I wouldn’t recommend a visit.  And I definitely can’t help comparing our dinner at Locanda with my repeat dinner at Trullo just this past Monday night.

At Trullo, I paid £26 a person for a starter, an excellent pasta, a shared main of braised lamb neck, and a shared dessert (i.e., the tastiest caramel pannacotta, ever).  Service at Trullo was friendly and helpful, so the only thing that was superior about Locanda was its comfortable seating and dining room, and that’s not worth the price premium, I reckon.

Locanda Locatelli, 8 Seymour Place, W1H 7JZ; 0207 935 9088; closest Tube station:  Marble Arch

If you’re looking for Italian restaurants in London, you might also be interested in:

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The chalkboard menu on the wall at #Meateasy

First, I saw this interview in January by Helen @ Food Stories and this post by Lizzie @ Hollow Legs.  The former gave me all the background context behind temporary burger joint, #Meateasy,  and the latter let me know that I could easily (i.e., using the Tube system) reach New Cross on the new East London line.  Fair or not, I figure anything that requires use of National Rail is a lot of hassle.

Soon after I saw those blog posts, there was this rave review by the anonymous pros over at TimeOut.   And yet #Meateasy remained one of those things that sounded good but which I never motivated to visit, and then I was recently reminded of it by this post by Critical Couple.  So off we finally went.

Jon and I arrived last Friday at 6:40 pm and were given raffle ticket number 80.  When the lovely people at the till call your raffle ticket number, you place your order.

At the time we arrived, raffle ticket #20 was just getting called, so we were glad we showed up 2 hours before we normally eat dinner.

We snagged the last two open seats at a communal table and Jon set off for the bar.   Drinks were great (the much-praised bartenders there def live up to the hype) and cost just £4.50 each, but I’d definitely recommend going to #Meateasy with more than two people so that one person isn’t sitting alone at the table for long stretches while the other is at the bar.  On that Friday evening, the wait was at least 30 minutes to order a drink, so with a bigger group, you can rotate that responsibility around.

#Meateasy’s allure stems largely from its relaxed, lively honky-tonk atmosphere.  It’s fun just to be there.   Servers were young and attractive, though a bit careless and insensitive when one server tried to get me to give up my seat at the table “because people need to eat.”

Lady, I’d be glad to eat if you let me place my order so that I could do that (at that point, we’d been waiting an hour for our number 80 to get called).  Plus, did anyone notice I’m 27 weeks’ pregnant?  In case you’ve never seen a 27-week-old pregnant lady before . . . at this point, I’m huge and it’s getting uncomfortable.  I’m not saying people have to give up their seats for me, but kicking me out of a seat that I claimed fair and square seemed particularly harsh.

Mild rant aside, feeling weird about playing the pregnancy card (she obviously didn’t care), I just said our number was about to be called anyway and we’d be eating soon, so she moved on and kicked out another would-be diner.

Bacon cheeseburger at Meateasy (£7)

Finally, at around 8 pm, about 1 hour 15 minutes after our arrival, our number was called and we ordered our food.  15 minutes later, our food was served, and 15 minutes after that, we were done eating and there was a long queue out the door and down the stairs.  #Meateasy was now operating a one-in-one-out system.

How was the food?  Delish.  But you’ve probably already heard that from others.  I just thought I’d give you a sense for what the experience is like.  It’s crowded, it’s fun, but it has its downsides.

Philly cheesesteak (£7), fries (£3) and onion rings (£3)

My favorite part of the cheeseburger is how #Meateasy lightly steams the bun.  It’s all soft and hot and soaks up all the meat juices and melted cheese.   Philly cheesesteak was impossible to eat as a sandwich, but I mean that as praise.  The cheese, onions, peppers and chopped steak were bursting out of the bun.  Onion rings were good and fries were fine.

ending on a visual high note: an extra sh*t photo of macaroni and cheese (£5)

Mac ‘n’ cheese was the one thing I tried that I wouldn’t order again.  It lacked bite.  As if it were all bechamel and milk and not enough sharp cheese.

Go for the atmosphere and a good time with a group of friends.  Think of it as a great place for drinks with some excellent food as a side benefit.  Arrive two hours before you normally get hungry.  And try to save room for the milk shake. You have until Saturday, 16 April 2011.

However, if you’re interested just in the food (which was good, but in the end not worth all the waiting and hassle), then just stick with your local Byron Burger.

And yes, I know all these photos are sh*t.  I blame the deadly combo of mobile phone camera + #Meateasy’s dark interior.

#Meateasy, 1st floor of the Goldsmiths Tavern, 316 New Cross Road, SE14 6AF; no phone number but it’s no reservations anyway.  Cash only.  Closest Tube station:  New Cross (East London line);  Open until Saturday, 16 April 2011.

#Meateasy on Urbanspoon

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