London - British Isles

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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irelandl.jpgIt's no secret that my best friend, Missy and I love to travel. We met 25 years ago in the parking lot of a Winn Dixie grocery store in Valdosta, Georgia. I was in college there and she was home on Spring Break from Pepperdine in Malibu, CA. I thought she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen and never imagined that we'd grow up together and travel the world.

She put a damper on that for a few years when she got married and had 3 boys back to back. But I think we've pretty much made up for that in the last 6 months as we have been to Italy, Tuscany, Rome, the island of Capri, Spain, the South of France, Nice and Monaco. Tunisia is in Northern Africa. I hated it, she loved it. We spent a week in Paris in December, with 5 of our best girlfriends in a rented apartment on the Seine.

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island-grillThis lively bar and restaurant is situated in the towering Lancaster London Hotel opposite Hyde Park and is a ideal spot to enjoy modern European cuisine served with panache by a friendly staff who have been trained well in the art of taking care of their patrons as well as being knowledgeable about the dishes they are serving and wines they are pouring.

Awarded 2 AA Rosettes for their eco friendly conservancy the restaurant is committed to using local produce when available and the chef early in the morning visits wholesale markets to buy fresh organic foods.

The menu is a mix of contemporary European cuisine and is well received by guests from the hotel and local residents of every nationality who live in the area. An open kitchen gives you the opportunity to watch the chefs at work creating mouth-watering dishes for your enjoyment. The restaurant is split-level with floor to ceiling windows looking out over Hyde Park and is only a minute's walk from Lancaster Gate Tube Station.

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london6.jpgIn our effort to downsize but continue to have fun, we scrambled together all our frequent flyer miles and managed to put together two return flights to London and Italy. Then, by making a small investment on a home exchange site, we found a young woman in Prato (twenty minutes from Florence), willing to do a non-simultaneous exchange with our desert house in Joshua Tree.

Our first stop was London, where a kind friend loaned us her house. Although I grew up in London I have not lived there in over 30 years. The minute I walked off the plane, I was surprised by the intense 80-degree heat, a byproduct of global warming, and something I had never encountered in my childhood, where you were lucky if it reached the mid 70’s in the summer.  After struggling with the new monetary denominations and a new subway system, I began to feel like a stranger in my hometown,  

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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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