London was the first city on the trip and we enjoyed a good combination of touring and eating. Highlights from touring include: Tower of London, Big Ben/Parliament areas, The British Museum, The Soane Museum, and the Tate Modern. All museums in London were free, so it saved us quite a lot of money.
While the neighborhoods in London all have distinct characteristics similar to NYC, some are more exciting and much more overwhelming than others. While tourists tend to flock to the Covent Garden/Soho area, it’s not always the best choice for a long stay since it’s home to the majority of the cities hoppin' restaurants and nightspots. During our stay in London, we stayed in the much more residential Southwark area of the city, specifically the Borough neighborhood. This area is not as lively as its north-of-the-Thames counterparts of Central London, but it is quiet with several historic hot spots, and best of all, the famous Borough Market. The market is home to local vendors selling dairy and produce products, and also boasts some of the best-prepared sandwiches and ethnic foods in the city. Whether its mushroom pate, a fresh wheat-grass banana smooth, or a variety of different curries from around the world, chances are you’ll find something you like here.
|This is my portion of seafood paella|
One of the best sandwiches, that I usually eat every single week while in London, is found at the entrance of the market near the Southwark Cathedral. You know you’ve found this place when you see a long line and hear Caribbean music, mostly Bob Marly, despite the blistering cold temperatures outside. These guys serve a variety of amazing sandwiches, including beef with fresh jalapenos, chicken marinated in lemon parsley and fresh garlic, and venison and wild boar with red wine and fresh apricots, all served on a freshly baked bun with homemade cole slaw. We chose the lamb with fresh mint coriander, smoked paprika and cumin.
And being the foodies we are, decided to take it a step further by getting it topped with grilled Halloumi cheese. Heart attack on a bun perhaps…well worth it!
Another thing we tried at Borough was the raclette vendor. Raclette is a Swiss dish made with raclette cheese, which is grilled and served over potatoes. I was first introduced to raclette in college when my roommate actually owned a special raclette grill. I wasn't really sure what to make of it...I mean, how good can cheese and potatoes be? To me, raclette was always a bit bland tasting, but this vendor serves it with a side of little pickles and onions, which were delicious complements. To grill the cheese, they had huge half cheese wheels under small grills. Once the cheese got bubbly, they scraped a layer over the potatoes.
Meanwhile, the sandwich line was building up and looking heavenly. I didn't get to try to sandwiches, though they are supposed to be delicious with a little onion in them. Just watching these ladies make them was enough to make my mouth water.
With a large Indian population, London is known for having some amazing Indian food. This was definitely something I wanted to try during my stay, and to our delight we found a restaurant called Imli that serves a little twist on traditional Indian food – small plates! The small plates are pretty big, so about 3-4 was enough for both of us. To start, we got a bowl of crispy papadum (really thin crisps) with 3 different types of chutneys. A perfect start. Next, we ordered 3 different small plates:
1. Aloo tikki ragda: Potato cakes with coriander, ginger and other spices, served with a little relish of chickpeas, onion, and chutney. We loved these cakes with the fresh coriander and ginger flavor, plus they were nice and hearty.
2. Kheema pav: Minced lamb with peas, which is simmered in sauce with ginger, tomatoes and cumin. This is served with 2 thick pieces of toasted bread. The sauce was so rich and flavorful, I only wished they had given us more toasts. Thank god there’s always naan, a must have for any Indian meal!
3. Spicy squid: Not much to say on this, it was basically calamari with just a hint of spice and lime.
Wine & Cheese
Between some intense touring, it was necessary to take a quick wine and cheese break. One of the coolest little wine bars tucked away down an alley near Trafalgar square is Gordons. Its an old wine cellar used in the 18th and 19th centuries to store wine coming straight off boats. The bar opened in 1890 and is considered to be one of the oldest wine bars in the world. It is only lit by candles, and you have to keep your head low in fear of hitting it on the ceilings which are roughly only six feet high. When you walk in you have a choice of a variety of cheeses and anti-pasta dishes to snack on while drinking one of their some hundred different bottles of wine they have, half of which can also be drank by the glass. If you do decide to make a trip down to Gordons, it’s a good idea to get their early, because after 4:00 P.M. its tough to find a table, as the locals all roll in after work. Luckily, this joint opens at 11, so stop by early!
Sushi at Yashin
Though we both love all different kinds of food, we do admittedly have an extreme love affair with one particular cuisine, and this is sushi! We had read a lot of great reviews about Yashin, a small sushi restaurant in Kensington. And so, we made the hike out there. Sitting at the sushi bar is by far the best way to eat sushi, especially in a place such as Yashin where you can watch the talented sushi chefs craft each piece with their hands. It truly is a work of art. Three chefs work behind the counter, one who makes the maki rolls, another who slices the fish and makes the sushi, and a third who finishes the sushi pieces off with various toppings. As recommended, we tried one of the omasake tasting menus with a little sake to go along. To our delight, we were also given free samples of what was quite possibly the best sake we’ve ever had.
Each sushi is made with wasabi already tucked in the rice. The pieces are then embellished with perfect combinations of toppings. From refreshing cucumber relishes, to fancy foie gras, to a simple brush of soy sauce or ponzu, the toppings were carefully selected to bring out the best flavors of the fish. Some pieces were also quickly cooked using a blowtorch. To cleanse the palette, large pieces of fresh ginger are given. The ginger was so fresh it even had sweetness to it. All in all, Yashin ranks as one of the best sushi meals I’ve tried, and it was a perfect way to end what was a very long day of touring London!