It isn’t often that I’m waiting in anticipation for a new cookbook to come out. In fact, like many of you, I suspect, I did a big weeding out of my book collection a few years back and just kept the essentials. Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi, based upon recipes from his column in the Guardian UK as well as some new ones, has just come out in the United States and is a welcome newcomer to my bookshelves, making it an exception to my rules. So, last night, at the Williams-Sonoma on Columbus Circle, I found myself on line with several other fans of his cooking at a Q&A, book in hand for him to sign it.
The Gallery Mess, located next to the Saatchi Gallery on the King’s Road was a surprise find on my trip. As you can see from the photos on the site, the bright interior open interior is welcoming space, set back from the road overlooking Duke of York Square. With a relatively new chef behind the stove, as the waiter told me, who is putting a seasonal and local spin on the menu, I was interested to see what was available for lunch. I was not disappointed. Following on the previous night’s theme, I had the house-cured Carpaccio which came dressed with an Endive and Radicchio Salad drizzled with Balsamic Vinegar. The peppery beef was delicate which was a great foil for the crisp greens.
My main course was a dish about which I was still thinking today, a few weeks later. I had the Wild Boar Ravioli in a Tomato-Herb Sauce. Soft, tender hunks of juicy meat just pulled apart when I cut open the pasta. Thick tomato sauce perfumed with herbs hugged every bite. It was one the best dishes I ate on my trip. It was savory, tangy, and even a bit sweet, with the thin pasta wrappers cooked perfectly. I wanted the bowl never to end. I had to pass on dessert this time, but on my next trip, I’d like to check out their offerings. Better yet, I’d like to sit at one of their courtyard tables, glass of wine in hand, sharing a few small plates, watching the sun go down.
For my next recommendation, I’m just going to send you straight to Ottolenghi’s website so that your eyes can feast for a bit. In the photos by location, you can see the gorgeous spread that awaits you as you enter their Notting Hill shop, where I stopped off for lunch. Back on the front page, I believe that the chocolate item behind the fruit tarts is the sinfully delicious, tastebud delighting Flourless Chocolate Fondant Cake. This time I did not pre-ssert, I ate in the correct order. There are several locations, but the seating is limited at a few of them so you might want to time your visit for before or after the lunch rush.
You can choose from a variety of plates with two or three of their many prepared salads like the Roasted Aubergine [eggplant] with tahini yogurt, panko-almond crust, red chilli and basil or the White Cabbage and Kohlrabi Slaw with currants, dill, spring onion ones that I tried. I also added a meat course to mine and sampled the Seared Beef Fillet with Horseradish and Chive Sour Cream Sauce. I loved the snap of the cabbage salad and the delicate meatiness of the eggplant. The beef was cooked perfectly. Even after I finished my plate, I was looking around at all the beautiful combinations that the others around me had chosen. I was completely satisfied after my meal but, being on vacation, just had to push it over the edge with the cake. I didn’t regret it one little bit. Another sweet option would have been their chewy, dark chocolate cookies as well.
The Orangery at Kensington Palace Gardens is one of my favorite places to pause after a busy day of walking around and sightseeing. I find it calm and soothing. The interior is beautifully decorated with columns and statuary, as befits a building that was once used by royalty. The afternoon tea is much the same as you would find at many places, although slightly cheaper. It isn’t the best tea that I have ever eaten in London, but I will confess that the location and setting are really what make this worth a visit. I have eaten a pretty decent lunch there as well, however, the menu is limited to soups, salads, and sandwiches. The other places that came up in discussion with friends as good places to have tea were Fortnum & Mason (where I’ve eaten several times) and Claridge’s (this was everyone’s top choice).
Back in 2007 on another trip to London, I discovered Hummingbird Bakery’s cupcakes. I have long since been over the craze for these treats, but every so often, I try to give them another chance. These do not disappoint. The Red Velvet is their post popular overall, I was told. With moist cake and just enough sweetness and tang to the frosting, I could totally see why. Their daily specials are also bit hits, like their Nutella cupcake or the Lemon Tart version that I had when I was there. Can a cupcake be juicy? I’m not sure, but this totally was a lemon-lovers cupcake. Lemon sponge cake with a blob of lemon curd nestled inside of it. Lemon frosting and an additional dot of lemon curd on top. This was pucker-icious. I could have eaten several of them.
Belleville Boutique and Café was one of my more delightful finds on this trip. Part café in the French sense and part housewares boutique, along with a small art gallery display up front. Hervé, the owner and creator, left a career in fashion in Paris to open up a small store in the south of France to sell specialty syrups, olive oils, mustards, and other foodstuffs. Several years later, he’s opened up this charmingly decorated spot, which has some gorgeous finds located within. Its tables make the perfect place to enjoy a cup of coffee and a croissant or perhaps a slice of quiche with salad.
While Belleville would also make a great place to stop off for breakfast, I also found a few other options, too. What was interesting is that the number of old “caffs” featuring all-day English seem to have dwindled in my old neighborhood. Some of the things that have moved in like GAIL’s Artisan Bakery are so far and above a better quality of food and experience that they have elevated the English breakfast experience to a whole new level.
GAIL’s has several locations around the city, each with its own chef. I was told by the one at the Notting Hill branch that each place really has its own distinct clientele and personality as well. The one here on a weekday morning was full of folks holding business meetings, moms and their tiny children, and a few folks like me who’d popped in to have a real breakfast to fuel their day. I had the most beautiful Fried Eggs with orange yolks served over a bed of Spinach and Mushrooms covered with Taleggio and a side of their bread. That, and the steaming cappuccino that I had with it were the perfect way to start the day. There were several other options for a hot breakfast as well as pastries available. They also serve lunch and have things to take away, in addition to selling their beautiful-looking bread.
Another place I tried out for breakfast was another semi-chain called Cotê. These are designed as French-style brasseries, which have an interesting feel being in the UK. What I really liked about this place, aside from the fact that I could reliably get my morning caffeine fix, was that they serve their egg dishes where you can get one egg in an Eggs Benedict, which I did. That way, I didn’t feel too heavy after eating breakfast. Their prices for lunch and dinner also seemed to be good as well, but I didn’t eat any of those meals there.
There seems to have been an explosion of places in Notting Hill that sell UK products and showcase regional produce. When I lived there, these would have been so welcome instead of always relying on what was in the Portobello Road market or the Tesco Metro around the corner. One of the few places that is still around and has been an anchor for the neighborhood is Tom’s. They operate as part grocery store, part takeaway lunch place, and part eatery. They also stock UK-made chutneys, jams, mustards, and other items, many of which are used in the cafe part of their operation. For those of you craving a peanut butter sandwich, I also spied jars of Jif on the shelves.
I’m not even sure that I can accurately describe the experience of visiting Borough Market. If you take the Union Square Greenmarket on Saturdays and double it, add in Essex Street Market, throw in a dash of Arthur Avenue Market, and toss it together with a few heaping tablespoons of New Amsterdam Market and the food tables at the Brooklyn Flea, you might come up with this. In fact, I have so many photos that I’m really just going to send you to the album on Facebook to experience it for yourself. A friend of mine gave me a huge and invaluable tip, to visit there on Friday afternoons about lunchtime. Many of the vendors bring out their portable stoves and burners and cook up small plates, wraps, or even steaming savory bowls of food based upon their products to sell to customers. Folks were lining up to get these reasonably-priced bites. If you want to walk around one of the historic markets in the city (and ever-changing as the construction demonstrates), fuel up here and just spend the afternoon wandering and taking in all the great food delights.
I had a wonderful trip to London. On the food front, there was just so much great stuff to try that I couldn’t possibly fit in all in, although I did make a respectable attempt to do so. I really needed my New York food festival gang with me on the Borough Market trip, as I wanted to sample everything that a saw, so much of it appeared to be delicious. While I know that you can still get less than great food in the UK, as you can anywhere, I’m really begging everyone to put their culinary biases aside and open up their tastebuds and minds to the reality that London is one of the great food destinations to savor.