As I mentioned in my last article, despite the immense wealth of information available on the internet these days, there’s still a good niche for a properly-written travel guide. And since I’m hot off the heels of my last trip to Edinburgh, I though this would be a good opportunity to review Only In Edinburgh by Duncan J. D. Smith. One of his “Only In” series, these guides are based on his own personal travels, and aim to give you a lot of detailed insight into some of the unique and hidden attractions of a city. And Edinburgh, in particular, makes for a rather nice city for one of his guides.
Our visit to London this time was a short one, so after just a few days we found ourselves looking for one last good ethnic meal before our departure, and my brother decided that it would be good to head over to Kilburn and get some Afghan food. Kilburn has an interesting assortment of ethnic restaurants, with more than a few places serving Afghan food, but Ariana II is one of the best-regarded (for those curious, the original Ariana is in New York City. I’ll have to check it out sometime).
One of the fabulous things about London is that it has has a lot of ethnic foods available that aren’t easy available in the US (on the negative side of things, there are also ethnic foods that still haven’t really arrived there: most Latin American food isn’t really available aside from Mexican, which is still somewhat a developing scene). One of these is Xinjiang cuisine. Xinjiang is a really good example of how China isn’t a monotlithic country; as one of the northwest provinces, much of the population is historically more Turkic than Chinese, much of the population is Muslim Uyghurs, and the resulting culinary tradition is a blend of Turkic and Chinese traditions. Lamb soup and kebabs are standard fare, and there’s even a variation of naan. And, in the London district of Camberwell, there’s actually a well-regarded source for Uyghur cuisine: Silk Road.
After three days of exploring Edinburgh, we boarded our train and headed down to London to spend a few days with family. One of the things I enjoy about London is that, being one of the world’s largest cities, there is never a shortage of new places to try. So I figured this would be another good opportunity to get together with Krista from Passport Delicious and try out a place that had been on her radar: Padella in Borough Market.
After a long day exploring Edinburgh, and a relaxing afternoon nap at the New Club, it was time to head out for dinner. Three Birds, a pleasant little bistro (with approximately 20 seats, so call ahead) with a relaxed atmosphere located in the Bruntsfield neighborhood about a 20 minute walk from downtown Edinburgh. Focusing on local ingredients and in-house food preparation (smoking, pickling, and roasting), Three Birds is based upon doing a few things really well. They don’t have a huge wine list or beer list, but a well-selected group of decently priced wines and Scottish craft beers. They have about half a dozen appetizers all designed for passing and sharing, and a small list of entrees focusing on local, fresh ingredients.
Our first full day in Edinburgh was mostly involved in touring Edinburgh Castle (which was quite enjoyable), and then exploring the Royal Mile. The Mile is more than a little touristy (indeed, having multiple street artists performing levitation and mime displays is pretty much the definition of “touristy”). It also has more than a few food options, including an implausibly large number of baked potato restaurants. But as we got towards the eastern end of the mile, the touristy places started getting replaced with some reasonably good pubs and restaurants, and one place jumped out at us: Oink.
After leaving the Faroes, our next stop was Edinburgh. Compared to our usual UK trips that generally require dealing with either Heathrow or Gatwick, in comparison to those airports, the relatively smaller and much smoother-operating Edinburgh airport is almost a breeze of customs and immigration, so we soon found ourselves riding the tram into downtown to meet up with my brother at The New Club. After getting settled in and enjoying the views of Edinburgh Castle, it was time to head out and explore the New City for a dinner spot. My brother had spied a Japanese place near the Club, and that seemed like a particularly nice change up from Faroese cuisine. So we soon found ourselves in a quiet alley off of Rose Street (home of an implausibly large number of pubs, even by UK standards).
The last stop of my Bermondsey food and beer tour with Krista from Passport Delicious was a stop just north of the Maltby Street Market at Josẽ on Bermondsey Street. Josẽ is one of the three restaurants of Spanish restaurateur Josè Pizarro, and it’s the least formal: a casual tapas bar/eatery with a fairly nice laid back vibe. Settling in, we got a nice Rioja and started looking over the chalkboard list of tapas items.
Our last few days in London were primarily dedicated to knocking a few more items off of our to-do list. One of those has been on the list for a rather long time. Waaay back in 2009, I bought some tickets for the (long defunct) Menu For Hope blog fundraiser, and ended up winning a gourmet tour of London from a blog called Londelicious that I was going to do later in the year. Well, several things happened… First, Krista ended up moving from London back to Chicago, and several attempts for her to have someone else do the tour in her place fell through. Then, at one point I thought I might cross paths with her after she moved back to Chicago (and renamed her blog Passport Delicious)… at which point she then moved back to the UK. We basically just gave up on the idea, until last year, both her and I were both actually in London at the same time, so we managed to actually finally meet up. Since I rather like beer, she offered up a tour along the Bermondsey Beer Mile. One of the more interesting things about London’s rail network is that several segments of it were done as elevated viaducts. Due to the stone construction, that means arches. A lot of arches. Originally, they were considered undesirable rental spaces, but they are in surprisingly high demand now, and in some areas, trendy. Like in Bermonsdey, where the Viaduct coming from London Bridge Station makes for several continuous miles of arches. Part of this is now the “Bermondsey Beer Mile”, since there are more than a few breweries located in the arches, including Kernel, Brew by Numbers, Southwark Brewing Company, and Anspach and Hobday. But another part of it is the Malsby Street Market; during the week it’s basically lumber storage, but on the weekends it becomes a hopping food market. Anchoring all of this is one actual permanent restaurant: 40 Maltby, where we stopped for snacks.
One of the items that had been on my “England To-do” list for several years is to actually visit Bletchley Park, and to be honest, The Imitation Game actually lit a fire under me to make it a priority this trip. So near the end of our visit, we took a day trip by train up to Bletchley, and had a thoroughly pleasant visit to Bletchley Park (which has been nicely refurbished in recent years after decades of mild neglect). If you at all like encryption and “spy stuff”, it’s quite a nice destination: Enigma machines, decryption “Bombes”, and the like. Bletchley Park And like just about any National Heritage site I’ve been to in England, there seem to be two rules about these sorts of places: they are expected to have some sort of cafeteria, and the cafeteria must serve up a particularly dismal rendition of traditional English fare. So after seeing a few tourists noshing on some limp fish and chips with questionable-looking mushy peas, we instead decided to walk back towards Bletchley, and around a half klick down the road, we came across the rather pleasant Eight Belles.