And I have to tell you, it’s been a rough transition into the real world. Not yesterday, though. Yesterday I pretended I was still on vacation and ate lunch at Hillstone and drank rosé and went to bed at 10:30.
But today, heading back to work, it’s been tough.
Luckily, I have many, many vacay memories to keep my spirits up! Like touring the farmlands of the Lake District and taking pictures of 4 million baby sheep. Or going to Oxford on a rare 70 degree day. Or eating the best baba ganoush of my LIFE, seriously.
We ate so much good food–contrary to what they say about the caliber of British cuisine–and I need a serious detox if there’s any chance I’ll fit into shorts in a few weeks. So there are healthy recipes to come, but in the meantime, let’s talk about all the delicious things I ate last week.
There are SO many fantastic little coffee shops in London–it’s not all about tea. In fact, I kept thinking I’d made a wrong turn and ended up in Brooklyn, these places were made for the Instagram generation.
A nearly daily habit was Briki, a coffee shop in Exmouth Market near where my sister lives. Not only do they make the most gorgeous, layered iced cappuccino I’ve ever seen, but they had a gluten free AND dairy free loaf cake that let me splurge for breakfast without paying the consequences.
Actually, allergy consciousness was a running theme at London coffee shops. Another, Sampa, had a GF DF orange chocolate chip loaf that was so moist I thought they were lying.
Normally I try to either make coffee at home or drink the free approximation they have at work, so picking up a soy cappuccino or latte everyday was true vacation luxury.
Fish & Chips
Like I said, I’m big on pub food in general and fish and chips in particular. I never made it to any of the greasy fish & chip takeaways that you see on practically every corner in central London–for which my stomach probably thanks me.
But I did have a couple restaurant varieties. The best was the entire fish, deep-fried, that I had in Windermere on our Lake District trip. We went to a place called the Lamplighter Dining Rooms and I was feeling like doing something horrible to my body to make up for all the wholesome walking we did earlier.
Fish and chips were the perfect solution. I don’t know what it is about fried flaky white fish that I find so satisfying. It might be the lemon for squeezing on, or the tangy tartar sauce for dipping or, dare I say it, the mushy peas, which despite the offputting name are similar to mashed potatoes and not half bad.
Whatever it is, I love this English staple and true love lasts a lifetime…or until you get back from vacation and realize you are fat. Oh fried food, I will miss you on the self-imposed detox I’m embarking on.
A broad topic, and for our purposes I’ll be focusing on Indian and Lebanese food. Specifically, Dishoom where I had a black daal that changed my life, and Al Hamra where you can find mind-altering baba ganoush.
The important thing to know about eating out in London is that you pretty much have to have a reservation. The second thing is that if you go somewhere that doesn’t take reservations, you’ll have to queue.
This is similar to putting your name on the list and waiting for a table, but there is one key difference: while you wait, you literally stand in a line. Sometimes you can drink while you stand in line. Other times, since only one person in your group has to actually be in the line at a given time, you can take turns going to get drinks. But you will be standing in that line until your table is ready or until they let you into the restaurant to continue waiting at the bar.
It’s bizarre…and British people love doing it.
When they told us we would have to queue for 2 hours to get a table at the Indian restaurant Dishoom, in Covent Garden, I thought they were kidding. They weren’t. But also, it was worth it.
Everything at Dishoom is served family style and you should probably order two of each because you’ll be fighting over scraps. A fortuitous encounter in the queue led us to order the spicy lamb chops, which were an inspiration.
We also got the chicken tikka, marinated in vinegar not yogurt, ruby chicken which was reminiscent of tikka masala, vegetable biryani, and the life-changing black house daal. Simmered for over 24 hours, it’s a flavorful, smooth, lentil revelation. Once you go black (daal), you never go back.*
Now, on to the Lebanese. I mentioned that my father’s favorite restaurant of all time was Al Hamra in Shepherd Market. He used to go to London for work quite a bit, and was basically a regular there. After 15 years, we went back to celebrate my sister’s birthday a few weeks early.
There were a few kinks (like a waiter who was visibly pissed when we didn’t want to order our main course seconds after ordering 8+ mezze, or the fact that they wouldn’t bring us water, and then charged us when they did bring it) but the food at this tiny locale did not disappoint….which we could have anticipated since the clientele including a healthy mix of Middle Easterners. Yay for authentic eats!
We ordered hummus topped with lamb, artichoke salad, muhamara (a blend of fried nuts, chiles and spices), falafel, baba ganoush ❤ , batata harra which were some show-stopping spiced potatoes, sojuk or Armenian lamb sausage, jawaneh grilled or grilled chicken wings, and kafta yoghortlieh.
Even though the baba ganoush has my heart, this last dish deserves some recognition. Perfectly cooked lamb nuzzles into a bed of yogurt that tastes like a blend of Greek yogurt and cream cheese, with pita triangles for scooping up the goodness. It was incredibly rich, and had we ordered it first we probably wouldn’t have ordered anything else, but it was fantastic.
Now, why am I going on ad nauseum about this baba ganoush? It was perfectly creamy and amazingly smoky, but those are tablestakes. No, what I loved best was that it came topped with pomegranate seeds and mint leaves, for a harmonious flavor combination that I want to try to replicate at home.
Last but not least, they brought my sister out a birthday “cake” that was some kind of creamy filling topped with honey, pistachios and what looked like a birds nest but was possibly filo.
We ate till we were sick and regret nothing.
I want to share my experiences at Borough Market but I realize that no one is probably reading this tediously long post anymore, so I’ll sign off for now. Food market mania to come!
My body may be in a desk chair in Flatiron, but my tastebuds are still in London, eating all the lamb pasties and sausage rolls and curry and pad thai.
*Sorry, was that inappropriate?