August 26, 2015
Why did I never realize what a truly beautiful city London is? Maybe because it’s been years since I was here in summer. But you can’t walk more than a block or two before coming upon a park or a garden. Fountains play everywhere, and even subsidized housing flats are a riot of colorful wildflowers.
Passed these flowers on the way to Borough Market. Has it changed this much since last time I was here? It's a madhouse, so packed it's almost impossible to move. Still, there are some highpoints.
Tiny little lamb legs at The Ginger Pig.
Wandered over to Neal's Yard, where they no longer make the fantastic grilled cheese sandwiches. "They're making those at Kappacasein’s." We found it more by smell than anything else, an aromatic scent of melting cheese floating over the market. And there it was, that fabulous sandwich of Montgomery cheddar melted onto Poilane bread with lots of different alliums.
But they also make raclette, Ogleshield (yes, the same cheese we had last night at Quo Vadis), melted onto potatoes with onions and pickles.
It's made on this ingenious melting machine.
Afterwards, walked over to the Tate Modern. If you're there while it's still on, don't miss the remarkable Agnes Martin show. Like a visit to spa: a calm oasis in the midst of madness.
Museums pop up where you least expect them. Wandering past smoky Lincoln’s Field – filled with picnickers grilling meat – we came upon the John Soane Museum. Soane was a famous architect and teacher and obviously a little mad. His house is packed with architectural models, drawings, artifacts – all piled upon each other in vast profusion. One tiny room contains 180 paintings – including the complete Rakes Progress by Hogarth. The museum is free, quirky and should not be missed.
But then it was time to eat again. We stopped for an ice cream and found this sitting on the table. Never seen such a thing before- America conquors the world!
My dinner at Dinner
Lot of hype. Number something or other on the list of 50 Best Restaurants. And I loved it last time I was there, just after it opened. So I knew I was letting myself in for a big disappointment.
But it was my brother’s birthday, and I thought he’d like the whole idea of eating history. So I, almost reluctantly, made a reservation.
I don’t think we’d been there ten minutes before we all relaxed into the experience. The service was…. wonderful. Enthusiastic. Caring. Welcoming. Endlessly professional. You couldn’t help feeling that these people were proud of what they did, wanted you to have a great experience, and would do anything to ensure that.
And the food – from the first bite of bread to the last morsel of pudding – was pure pleasure. We ate almost everything on the menu, and there’s not a single dish I wouldn’t happily order again.
To begin: great bread. Fabulous butter.
A wine list that has some stars – 82 Bordeaux abound – but also good wines at reasonable prices. And a sommelier who helps you find them.
Meat fruit. This is, believe it or not, liver pate. Fantastic. Unbelievable. Gorgeous. Delicious. A relic from the 13th century, when they loved playing with food, making one substance look like another. Back then it could never have tasted this good.
Porridge. Frog’s legs. This is what I thought: I have to start paying attention to oatmeal. It has as much potential as rice. Garlic. Parsley. Fennel.
But then, of course, there was the risotto. It’s not called that on the menu. It’s called rice and flesh- and it comes from 1390 – but it is, in essence, the best risotto you’ve ever eaten. Intense. The rice cook in saffron with red wine, tasting of beef, of rice.
Marrow’s become a kind of joke; everybody serves it now. But not like this. This was not just a blob of richness in a bone. It was chewy. Against something even chewier: snails. And served with the loveliest little pickles.
Crab and toast. What is there to say? Except that maybe it also has trout roe.
A dish dating back to 1720. Chicken oysters – the tenderest part of the chicken – served with salsify, horseradish.
This was just the start to a roller coaster ride of a meal. But this post is getting very long; think I'll save the main courses (and dessert) for tomorrow.
August 25, 2015
Landed in London, checked into the truly welcoming Charlotte Street Hotel. We walked in with some trepidation; it was a family reunion, and our little group spent months arguing over where to stay, switching back and forth between various hotels and an airbandb place before settling on this little boutique hotel. The staff was fantastic, the rooms attractive and comfortable. We settled in and set off to find a small bite. It was noon, and we were HUNGRY.
Wandering around we came upon Barshu. I stared at the menu in the window. I had a memory, in the back of my mind, that Fuschia Dunlop consulted to them. The offerings were enticing. And it smelled – well, irresistible. In we went.
We'd promised not to eat too much until the rest of the group arrived, so we ordered modestly. A few dan dan noodles.
some smashed cucumbers
and that red pepper chicken up above, which may be the most fun you can have at the table. This is food to play with, searching through that bright pile of peppers until you happen upon the crisp, lip-numbing bits of fried chicken scattered abundantly about. I could do it for hours.
We wandered the streets – London in the sunshine is the most glorious city – until the rest of the group arrived. Then made our way to Barafina; the raucous tapas bar doesn't open til 5, but at 4 o'clock there was already a line. Little wonder; this is a lively place where neighbors share food and the wait staff never seems to stop laughing. Can't help wondering if they remain equally cheerful as the night wears on.
This is what we inhaled in a matter of minutes.
baby octopus they call chipirones
empanadas filled with a really rich crab filling
tiny slipper soles,
langoustines. I longed to order one of the carabineros – huge prawns – but at 16 pounds a pop couldn't bring myself to do it. Besides, this was only a little snack before dinner.
We went on to one of my favorite places in London, Quo Vadis, a fantastically old-fashioned restaurant where chef Jeremy Lee is making thoroughly modern fare. This first dish was a revelation – an entirely new take on humous. Hiding beneath that sprightly mash of fresh peas and mint was a puddle of chick peas swirled with little more than olive oil and lemon so the flavor of the legume itself came singing out. It was light, refreshing, entirely exhilarating. And those crisp chips put pita in its place; I much prefer these delightfully cheesy triangles.
But there was much more to love.
Ogleshield toasts: welsh rarebit between crisp buttery slices of bread
Squid. Lemon. Tomatoes. So light and lively.
The BEST fried potatoes ever!
And a duck, elderflower and plum salad so delicious that the duck-hater in the group decided
she must be wrong.
A lovely piece of hake, bathing so elegantly in its tasty parsley and anchovy pond.
We were up early the next morning, to visit the Smithfield Market, a gorgeousVictorian edifice that was once the central market for all of London. Today it deals exclusively in meat and poultry. Our timing was off; apparently Europe's most modern meat market starts around 11, gets going in the wee hours, and by the time we arrived at 7 a.m. it was nearly deserted.
Happily, we encountered Biffo, who made the entire trip worthwhile:
If you've seen My Fair Lady, you will instantly recognize (and love) this man. He’s a philosopher who’s been working in the market for 47 years. “We’re family,” he said. “You spend more time with your mates 'ere than with the people at 'ome.” He told us that in the old days men swung the beef carcasses up on hooks. “You had to be professional. If you missed it fell – and that was your lot. Broke your back.”
Tomorrow: a little-known museum, a few surprises, and a memorable dinner at a truly great restaurant.
August 22, 2015
It's the weekend. And you are – if only in your dreams – in the country. In June 1984 Gourmet offered a few recipes to celebrate summer.
I particularly like the idea of this cold lettuce soup – accompanied by what were – at the time – very racy hot pepper toasts. Today I'd probably use Sriracha – and top them with some of the fresh hot peppers which are starting to fill the stands at the farmers market.
And for dessert – how about this frozen cappuccino? You'll note two things about this retro recipe: it was long before the coffee craze, so it asks for nothing more than instant coffee powder. (The truth is that instant espresso powder was a Gourmet staple for years.) It also predates the egg crisis, when salmonella became a household word, so while the whites remain raw the recipe lacks the now-ubiquitous warning about danger lurking in uncooked eggs.
August 21, 2015
It’s 1952 and Gourmet columnist Lawton Mackell is about to try tofu for the first time. The host of Ho-Ho restaurant, George Seto, has persuaded him to deviate from his usual favorite, winter melon soup, and order dow fo choy sum instead. What follows, under the title “Cowless Curds" is pure delight – and a reminder that the magazine was ahead of the curve in acknowledging New York's culinary diversity:
“Abandoning the idea of winter melon soup, a specialty which the Ho Ho’s chef does superbly, I put my soup fate into their hands. Result: Chinese tureen of dow fo choy sum— clear, flavorful chicken broth containing sliced water chestnuts, hearts of bok choy (Chinese cabbage), julienne of pork, and quite a few cubes of delicate bean curd. Though the admission came hard, honesty compels me to acknowledge that the opaque white cubes were as fascinating in taste and texture as the translucent green ones of my yearning and that the soup was an equal success.
I was puzzled, though, by soy bean’s ability to be always dark in soy sauce and always snow-white in curd. Host George explained that soy sauce, besides being a vehicle for salt, contains caramel. The curd, on the other hand, is made from crushed bean sans coloring. It comes from the manufacturers in square flat cakes which, even under refrigeration, deteriorate within twenty-four hours. Hence, they are a rarity in restaurants anywhere outside the radius of an active Chinese colony. I might add that cubed curd melts in the mouth."
August 20, 2015
Sometimes the ads are as interesting as the editorial.
We're still in 1951, here, still in that same issue of Gourmet. I don't think I need to explain why each of these ads delights me. Although it's possible you'll miss that little line in the Blue Nun ad about vintage 1937 Auslese. Blue Nun, incidentally, was the largest international wine brand in the fifties.