Hungry Wanderer London: Butterbeer, Haggis Toasties, Three Course Meals at Gordon Ramsay’s, and Other Things in BetweenJune 15, 2014
- Serna EstrellaWords
As a big fan of Sherlock, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Jane Austen, and the Tudors (the actual historical royal family, not so much the raunchy Showtime serial), England has been my dream travel destination for the longest time. During my two years of planning, and preparing for a trip to the English capital, most of those I consulted praised the city’s long, and rich history (which London’s museums and attractions showcase to the hilt), its vibrant, and varied melting-pot culture, and the efficiency of its public transportation. On the other hand, they also vehemently warned me about the food, calling it bland, boring, and prohibitively expensive. To drive the point further, a friend of mine even quoted Voltaire: “In England, there are sixty different religions and only one sauce.” Yikes.
I’m pleased to report, however, that there are actually plenty of reasonably-priced, delicious eats to be had, should you work up an appetite after a day of gawking and rubbernecking in centuries-old cathedrals and castles (or in a sprawling studio where the movie franchise about a certain boy wizard was filmed).
Angel & Crown Roast Rump of Cumbrian Beef Fillet
The French used to call the English les rosbifs as a pointed jab at how their gastronomical repertoire began and ended with roast beef. This is far from the truth, of course, but there’s no denying that the said dish has a special place in the hearts of the British. The Sunday roast tradition is proof of this devotion. It’s practically an abbreviated Christmas meal that normally consists of roasted meat, potatoes,Yorkshire pudding, vegetables, and gravy. I was able to try it at the Angel and Crown pub, and their take on the dish made me thankful that I wasn’t sharing it with anyone that evening. The roasted rump of Cumbrian beef was seared to a beautiful medium-rare, and I found no use for the little receptacles of salt and pepper that my servers provided, especially after I spooned the roasting juices over the wide slabs, and liberally applied the pungent horseradish onto the meat. The duck fat-roasted potatoes, served on the side, were equally noteworthy.
The Angel and Crown
58 St. Martin’s Lane
Covent Garden WC2N 4EA
Beigel Bake’s Salted Beef Beigel
Beigel Bake isn’t so much a bakery as it is an institution. This 24-hour joint is the oldest bagel shop in London, dating back to 1976, when the East End was dominated by Jewish migrants. This eatery also serves a variety of sweet pastries like Danish rolls and apple strudel, but it’s their bagel sandwiches that have been drawing crowds of hungry patrons (not to mention drunks hankering for a bite at 3 in the morning) for decades. Called “beigels,” the round pillows of dough are baked in the traditional Jewish style, and are stuffed with salted beef, chopped herrings, or the classic salmon and cream cheese duo. I popped in for a salted beef beigel after the Jack the Ripper Evening Tour, and the sandwich made for a decent supper. The beigel itself was a little too chewy for my liking (then again, I stopped by the place at around 9 in the evening), but the thick, generous slices of salted beef were intensely flavorful, and made gloriously tender by the fat trimming its edges. The sharp, bracing kick of the English mustard also prevented the beigel from being too one-note, though I should’ve asked the none-too-friendly lady behind the counter for more of the bright yellow stuff.
Beigel Bake Brick Lane Bakery
159 Brick Lane E1 6SB
Burger and Lobster’s Lobster Roll
At the aptly-named Burger and Lobster, they serve only three things and any of them can be had for GBP20: a burger, a grilled or steamed lobster, and a lobster roll. I ordered the latter as a Lenten Friday dinner, and didn’t miss meat at all. It was chock-full of perfectly cooked fresh lobster coated with a light mayonnaise dressing, and stuffed into a thick, toasted slice of pain de mie (i.e., “tasty” bread), along with a side of arugula salad and chips (fries). The lobster was dressed in just the right amount of mayo so it was neither dry nor soggy, and the bread held up nicely, maintaining its crunch as a counterpoint to the shellfish’s briny springiness. A squeeze of lemon, and a drizzle of melted butter made this dish the sort that you would happily stuff your face with, never mind the trail of grease it might leave onto the corners of your mouth and down your chin as you dazzle your date with your prodigious appetite.
Burger and Lobster
5/F, Harvey Nichols,
109-125 Knightsbridge SW1X 7RJ
Deeney’s Haggis Toastie
Toasties are what the English call toasted sandwiches (as if that wasn’t clear enough already), while haggis is a Scottish delicacy made with ground sheep innards (heart, lungs, etc.), oats, spices, and seasonings. Deeney’s made a name for itself in London’s weekend markets by adding haggis, and caramelized onions to the classic grilled cheese, thereby revolutionizing a childhood favorite. Also called The Macbeth as a nod to its provenance, the haggis toastie admittedly sounds a little daunting, but it was a fantastic introduction to Scotland’s famed specialty. The savory gaminess of the haggis was wonderfully complemented by the sweetness of the caramelized onions, and the tangy saltiness of the cheese. I ended up scarfing the hulking sandwich down in about five minutes. It was that good.
St. Katharine Docks E1W 1LA on Fridays
Broadway Market E8 on Saturdays
Chatsworth Road E5 on Sundays
Harry Potter Studio’s Butterbeer
We here at Pepper.ph have our own butterbeer recipe, but I was curious about how the Warner Bros. Studio version tasted like, considering that they happen to have a monopoly on bringing good old JK’s world of witchcraft and wizardry to life. I opted for the smallest available size, and it was indeed delectable, much like the lovechild of root beer and cream soda given a big booster shot of butterscotch syrup. The combination made for a lip-smackingly creamy foam, but I would advise sticking to the GBP2.95 size if you’re not big on sugar (or if you’re visiting the exhibit with small children in tow).
Warner Bros. Studio Tour
Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden WD25 7LS
Jane Austen Center’s Regency Tea Room
So I didn’t exactly have afternoon tea in London, but a visit to the country of its origin is incomplete without partaking of it at least once. I was fortunate enough to try it on a side trip to the idyllic city of Bath, where Jane Austen herself once lived. The Regency Tea Room at the Jane Austen Center was itself a delight: a small, light-filled parlor with little tables by the hearth, and even an oil painting of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy (i.e., the unofficial patron saint of all Austen fans) surveying the room as attendants dressed in period attire milled about. During our visit, my gracious guides and I sampled the ladies’ afternoon tea, which had a selection of delicate finger sandwiches, and warm scones with the traditional clotted cream, and fruit preserve accompaniments, along with your tea of choice. The sandwiches were all uniquely wonderful, and the portions weren’t delicate at all. We feasted on four kinds of filling: the classic cucumber, the crisp and tangy apple with red Leicester cheese, the rich but subtle crab with mayonnaise, and the hearty ham and chutney. The scones were a little on the dry side as we came in after 2 in the afternoon, but they were pleasant enough, and were further improved by generous spoonfuls of that divine, buttery froth known as clotted cream. The dainty little tea cups were a little dusty, but a quick rub with the table napkins made them fit receptacles for the fragrant and soothing peppermint tea that went down easy after all that excellent nosh.
Regency Tea Room
2/F, Jane Austen Centre
40 Gay St., Queen Square
Bath BA1 2NT
Unless you’re lucky enough to spot Victoria Beckham emerging from her nearby atelier, Battersea Square isn’t exactly the place to be. There aren’t any major attractions in the area, and it’s a bit out of the way if you’re traveling by tube. But since I was curious about the sort of food they had on offer at Gordon Ramsay’s newest restaurant, I managed to brave the rains while getting a little lost in the process on a Wednesday evening to show up for my dinner reservation. With its contemporary interiors and muted lighting, London House has a relaxed, if a little too casual vibe, given the slightly off-putting noise levels amplified by terrible acoustics. The kitchen is helmed by Ramsay’s newest protégé, the Irish-born Anna Haugh-Kelly, and the menu she developed is a testament to her skill at juggling diverse flavors.
For starters, I had the braised pig’s head croquette, which, on its own, is worth the price of admission. Beyond their crunchy breadcrumb coating, the fritters had a well-seasoned unctuousness, perhaps best described as sisig’s more refined but equally flavorful cousin. Eating them along with the soft-boiled quail eggs, pickled carrots, and fresh endive greens on the plate results in a vivid interplay of tastes and textures dancing all over one’s palate.
The entrée of Cumbrian beef fillet was decidedly on the prosaic side, but it was still a homerun. The meat was very tender, and with a “perfect sear” (as Ramsay likes to say), while the lump of broad bean puree on the side tasted like an entire bushel of beans were pureed into it. The sautéed greens were perfunctorily so-so, though the veal cheek gnocchi would have made lovely appetizer or entrée as well.
I was intrigued by the thought of lavender ice cream, so I chose to have the chocolate tart for dessert. I would have preferred a more balanced filling-to-crust ratio (especially since the tart’s shortcrust was well-executed) despite the chocolate cream being lavish and intense. The ice cream itself had the subtle yet unmistakable soapy earthiness of lavender essence, making this dessert akin to the experience of eating chocolate-covered flowers.
7-9 Battersea Square SW11
Much like its controversial owner, Pétrus also has a colorful history. It was initially handled by the sous-chef Marcus Wareing, Gordon Ramsay’s close friend and apprentice, and was named after the exquisite (and expensive) French wine favored by both chefs. After the restaurant garnered two Michelin stars, a public war of words erupted between Wareing and his mentor. The rift got so bad that Wareing eventually left the Gordon Ramsay group, with the latter retaining the restaurant name.
Now run by head chef Sean Burbidge, Pétrus is fittingly known for its wine cellar, around which its circular dining room is built. Since I have the alcohol tolerance of a six year-old, I focused on the food. I chose the Baked Carbonara for my starter, which set the tone beautifully for the rest of the meal since it was served like a choreographed dance, with one server gracefully setting the dish down in front of you, and another pouring the Parmesan foam over it with a gentle flourish. The deconstructed pasta dish was in turns smoky, cheesy, and comforting, with the egg confit’s intense creaminess caressing each mouthful. It certainly made up for the rather bland and lackluster amuse bouche of spring vegetable gazpacho with ricotta cheese served beforehand.
My main course was very much a spring dish: a roasted young chicken in a pool of vegetable consommé and lemon-parsley pearl barley. The flavors were light but distinctive, with the broth of spring vegetables playing on the bright, citrusy flavor and nubby texture of the pearl barley grains. The poussin was moist and tender under its crisp skin, and was surprisingly substantial for its size.
Dessert was the highlight of my lunch at Pétrus. The doughnuts were more dense than fluffy, with a pleasant bite to them, and the intensity of the filling put the ‘salt’ in ‘salted caramel.’ My servers generously gave me four extra doughnuts, and I had a happy time using up the little ramekins of vanilla bean-flecked, green apple crème anglaise, cinnamon sugar, and tonka bean sugar that came with the dessert as I devoured each one of the nut-brown pockets of dough.
As though I wasn’t spoiled enough at this point, my server also presented me with two small balls of vanilla and Armagnac ice cream, thickly coated in white chocolate and served on a bed of dry ice, along with a luscious little canele for the trip back home. Talk about a fitting finale for my last restaurant meal in London.
1 Kinnerton St. SW1X 8EA
London might be notorious for its high cost of living, and the rumored monotony of its cuisine, but with a bit of research and some serious leg work, one can discover to their delight that there is so much more to British cookery than fish and chips, and that you wouldn’t necessarily need either a king’s ransom orJK Rowling’s net worth to enjoy most of what this budding culinary hotspot has to offer.