Because this is (supposed to be) a food blog, I obviously need to go into much greater detail about the edible side of London. Because if you think Boyfriend and I didn’t take full advantage of all the delicious things there are to eat there, you’re sorely mistaken. When I lived in London during college, I was hardly a “foodie” (apologies to those who hate that term, but it’s just honestly the best one-word description) – I didn’t know how to cook, I was a very picky eater, and I was also pretty broke. In fact, my primary goal when eating out was to have enough money in my possession at the end of each meal to still go out drinking later that night. And friends, London ain’t cheap, so this lead to a lot of mediocre/unsatisfying dinners.
Plus, you have to admit, the Brits eat some…unique fare. Steak and kidney pie, for example, is something I will never get my head around. But black pudding? Love. I am nothing if not inconsistent.
So you can imagine how thrilled I was to find out, three and a half years later, that London has some really superb food. I don’t mean that in the bitchy, elitist way it sounds – I just mean that I missed out on so much the first time because I was a poor college student. And while I may not be rolling in the dough as a 23 24-year-old workin’ girl, I had significantly more fundage to donate to the eating-well cause. And eat well we did.
Boyfriend had some very specific food-related goals in London (sound familiar?):
1: Indian food
Check – Brick Lane is quite possibly the most authentic Indian food in the city. I liken it to Chinatown in NYC – you turn a corner, and suddenly you no longer feel like you’re in London. The signs around you aren’t in English, the convenience stores sell completely different products, and everywhere you look there’s a tiny, hole-in-the-wall restaurant boasting “THE BEST CURRY IN LONDON!!!” And even though it’s quite impossible that they all have the best curry, they each make a truly phenomenal (and cheap) effort. Boyfriend and I ate honestly the spiciest food I have ever had in my whole life; so spicy, in fact, that we had to order more rice halfway through the meal to cool down the inferno in our mouths.
2: Fish and chips
Done – We at in what we later realized was a chain bar/restaurant in Wimbledon. Oops. In all fairness, this was our last full day in London and we were running out of time. Plus, we’d attempted to make it to a specifically-recommended restaurant in Covent Garden on two separate nights (we were only there for four), and failed both times. It was now or freaking never.
3: Meat pie
Got it – OH MY GOD: my new most favorite place in the whole world is Borough Market. Coincidentally, we also went there on the morning of my birthday. This market, which only exists on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, has some of the most amazing food vendors I’ve ever seen: on one side of the alleyway is a stand selling decadent chocolate truffles in all shapes and sizes, while on the other, men stir huge woks of curry. There are cheese and dairy vendors handing out tiny samples of cheese and displaying (through their own photos, narrated in handwritten captions) the journey they undertook to Switzerland to bring back this cheese. There are butchers calmly slicing into hog legs that would, upright, stand half my height, and vats of mulled wine perfuming the crisp morning air. Outside the market itself, there are restaurants, bakeries, coffeehouses, and even a wine bar – all well worth the trip to London Bridge. Personally, we purchased a teeny little “birthday” cake for me (past its Christmas-themed prime, but delicious none the less), a bag of organic espresso beans (which was the result of a lengthy and very special tasting process), mulled wine, and a lamb and mint pie (that Boyfriend devoured instantly and went on about for hours). Later in the trip, we returned to the wine bar, where the wine list was the size of a book…in other words, heaven.
4: Have tea
FINALLY ACCOMPLISHED – Please don’t judge me, but I neglected to do this the first time I was London. I know, I know – it’s England! You must have high tea! Ugh. I know. But like I said, I was broke, and the best kind of high tea is not generally a cheap experience (This was no exception – it was probably the most expensive meal we had in London. It was also our favorite.). Because I hadn’t had high tea before, I was clueless as to where we should indulge. Fortunately, Boyfriend’s parents had lent us their guidebook (in addition to my dog-eared, well-loved one), and had helpfully circled several possible teahouses. So off we went to Knightsbridge where I led us to the place the teahouse should have been, but was not. Frustrated, hungry, and ready to give up, Boyfriend opted to ask a neighboring hotel about the location of our teahouse.
Boyfriend: Do you know where the Basil Street Hotel is?
Concierge: Yes, of course. It’s just down the street a ways, less than a block, on your right. And it closed five years ago.
Hey, thanks, bud!!
Two teahouses and twenty minutes later, we were finally seated in front of a pair of dainty mugs, sipping our Earl Grey. And when, moments later, our waiter brought out our three-tiered tray of sandwiches, scones, and desserts, we were thrilled. Not only was everything so petite, beautiful, and delicious, it was also much more elaborate than I’d expected. Honestly, I couldn’t think of a tea sandwich beyond egg salad, cucumber, and water cress, but the variety we were presented with was much more diverse: there were curried sandwiches, and ones involving ham and horseradish, as well as a lox and cream cheese one that I left for Boyfriend’s enjoyment. Our scones were perfectly buttery, and both he and I have a newly discovered love of clotted cream. Literally the only reason I didn’t bring some back was to save my hips.
5: Drink all the cask ale/Guinness he could
Heck yes – Listen. Have you ever been to Europe? If you have, did you notice the taps at the bars? Many British taps are, unlike American taps, reliant on actual human labor to pump them – not CO2 or carbonation or anything else (Look, I’m not a science major. I just know the beer tastes better. Look it up.) I cannot tell you what a difference this makes. Guinness, especially, is far, far superior in Europe. This is the primary reason that Boyfriend did not want to come home: there is nothing more satisfying or relaxing than having a pint of perfect Guinness at a dark, cozy corner bar when the weather dips into the 30’s. It’s just…true.
So the verdict? London has amazing, amazing food – especially if you know where to look. And if you don’t know where to look, find the nearest corner pub, have a pint, and chat up the bartender. Chances are you’ll find a real gem.
Oh, one more thing: someone send me some clotted cream and McVities, mkay? Please?