A London Odyssey, Part 1
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.
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I first learned of Gourmet’s closing while having dinner at St John Bread in Spitafields. i was slightly cheered by the magnificence of the meal and the warmth of the staff.
i believe the pastry chef Justin Gelately has opened his own bakery in Borough Market.