London - British Isles

cheese02.jpgI don’t get it, I really don’t.  Some people still think that London has lousy food.  London has fabulous food.  The city has seen an intense food revolution in the last 15 years or so, and cooks like Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay are stars here because of what they’ve accomplished there. 

You can now find superb food of every tradition, nationality, and ethnicity in London; food that reflects every new trend, political movement, and neurotic eccentricity; food at any and every price…for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

So I was stunned the other day when I said to my friend Craig that I was going write a column on the best sandwiches in London, and he said, “There are no good sandwiches in London.”  This from a man who grew up there and has only lived here for 12 years!!!

So here is the first part of my rebuttal to Craig, a man who’s clearly eaten one too many meals from a movie catering truck.  And yet he might feel at home…given that you must order all of these standing outside on a line.

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merrion20facade.jpgWith St. Patrick's Day around the corner, I'm reminded of a spontaneous weekend trip to Ireland last December, where I discovered the warm comfort of authentic Irish cooking.
 
I'm always watching for weekend getaways to new and interesting places, partly because it's hard for me to be away from home for much longer than that, but more likely due to my slightly obsessive need to accrue airline miles. (I'm saving up for that big free trip around the world).  After hours of scouring travel websites and, with a little luck of the Irish, I happened upon a great fare to Dublin on American Airlines and quickly booked the trip.
 
I arrived on a bitterly cold yet unusually sunny Friday, and headed off to the Merrion Hotel, which had been recommended, indirectly, by ale heir Sebastian Guinness. Although tired after the 14 hour journey from Los Angeles, I resisted the impulse to nap, and instead responded to my pangs of hunger, which were exacerbated by the enticing aroma of freshly baked soda bread wafting throughout the hotel.

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raw_bar_interiorpicture.jpgOne thing I sadly miss living on the west coast of the USA are the Atlantic sea offerings in all their glorious whiteness and taste. So when I returned to London in September I set out to eat as much fish as I could. This led me to the Wright Brother’s emporium just a hop, skip and a jump from Carnaby Street actually on Kingly Street and Kingly Court (such noble sounding places!!).

A multitude of rooms met my eyes plus a large outdoor patio and great sit around eating bar. I thirsted for a good white wine and the menu answered all my seeking. Lots of champagne and sparking prosecco, a long long list of whites from France and Italy starting with a vin de pays d’Oc and reaching into an 07 Meursault from Dom. Jean Philippe Fichet, and much to chose from in between. For lovers of rose and red there are some great choices too from the Veneto, Provence and Burgundy even a pinot noir from California circa 2009!  Digestifs, armagnacs, cognacs and whiskeys add to the multiple choices for those of us who love to imbibe.

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hawksmoormainSince (finally) it has been discovered that the fat in beef – oleic acid – is the same heart healthy fat that is found in olive oil, and since fat in beef actually decreases heart-disease risk (something about the ratio of good and bad cholesterol), and if you are not devouring sugars, a good, fatty steak is a good thing! Yes!

While it is still a bit hard to believe, it does make eating steak a bit more of a righteous thrill. And, I have found just the place to indulge in all things beefy! No, not in Peter Luger’s, not even in the stockyards of Fort Worth but at Hawksmoor, in the old Combe’s brewery in the heart of Covent Garden.

Covent Garden? London?? Oh Yes, and if you also like anything British with the word “sticky” in front of it, this cavernous, un-pretentious but friendly brew house is worth a destination journey. It is also quite possible that a corner table might host one of the West End’s glittering stars dining incognito. It’s that kind of place.

There were three of us devouring the menu like children: Ooooh Tamworth Belly Ribs, Oooooh Bone Marrow with Onions, Yum, Roast Scallops with White Port and garlic, Potted Beef and Bacon with Yorkshires… (Oooooo Yum)

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shardbuildingIt may have started with the London cabbies, but the city’s new skyscrapers all have affectionate but cheeky nicknames: Can of Ham, Cheesegrater, Gherkin, Walkie-Talkie, and the Shard to name a few… They are all easy to spot; their height and outrageous design makes them obvious. It is said that the Walkie-Talkie has created scary wind patterns with its Downdraught Effect and worse, “A Death Ray” as one report called it “channeling the sun in its concave façade to temperatures capable of melting cars!” YIKES! All in all, 230 such towers are in the planning. Wow!

It is the Shard AKA Shard of Glass, Salt Cellar or London Bridge Tower, however that took our fancy! Called the Shard as it truly does look like a large sliver of broken glass, this structure houses, according to its architect, Renzo Piano, “a tower as a vertical city, for thousands of people to work in and enjoy.” Besides offices, the Shangri La Hotel and numerous bars on the top floors, it has the sexy HUTONG – my new favorite Chinese Restaurant. If you have been in London within the last two years you may have already had the pleasure of experiencing Hutong, or if you have been to Hong Kong you will recognize this as an outpost of the renowned restaurant with the same name. If not, let me sing its praise.

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