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The Oriental Club (London, UK)

My primary reason for our visit to London this year was celebrating my brother’s 50th birthday in style. He invited people from a cross section of family and friends to descend upon London to toast, roast, and otherwise celebrate his 50 years of continued existence on this planet. The choice of venue was almost a given, since several years ago, Dan partook in two of the indulgences of a modern professional living in London: joining one of the City of London’s Livery Companies (The Worshipful Company of Security Professionals), and joining one of London’s Clubs, in this case, The Oriental Club.

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Leños & Carbón (London, UK)

My brother has a bit of an odd hobby, but with a good cause. London is quite multi-ethnic, and unfortunately, various right-wing sources claim that large stretches of London are now “Islamic No-Go zones” where police don’t tread and roving bands of religious police enforce Sharia law. The concept is laughably incorrect, and is what I believe most journalists would call “bull”. But my brother’s hobby is visiting these alleged zones and checking them out, often while enjoying an alcoholic beverage and perhaps some pork while at it. So when I was visiting, he decided to take a walk to one such falsely-identify no-go zone, Elephant and Castle. It’s long been a London crossroads, and it’s basically a large bus hub, a major Tube stop, and the site of a rather sad and forlorn late 1960s shopping centre that supposedly is going to be demolished any year now, but some how hangs on. What it definitely isn’t is a no-go zone. And, after a walking trip involving the Imperial War Museum, some light shopping at the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre (which is practically a 1975 time capsule), we were going to head to the nearby “box park” (London thing: pop-up shopping centre made out of shipping containers) to visit Marcel and Sons to try out some Mauritian food (and compare it to the related food over on Réunion). There was just one little problem: the box park, and Marcel and Sons with it, closed in December 2018, two weeks earlier. So, after a quick shopping trip to the nearby Asian grocery, we instead picked another well-reviewed local restaurant: Leños & Carbón

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Gopal’s Corner (London, UK)

You know, sometimes it’s good to have some misconceptions, since you can then get delighted when everything turns out unexpectedly great. On our second day in London, after a morning trip to the Victoria and Albert museum, we were meeting up with another friend of ours, Guido, who was also in town. After some back and forth, we settled on rendezvousing across from Victoria Station for lunch. Throughout the entire decade we’ve been regular visitors to London, one of the most notable truisms is that Victoria Station has been in an almost unbroken string of construction projects, and heck, even on this visit various bits and pieces of construction fencing, plywood, and such still linger. But they did finish most of the project, and one of the major construction activities was the construction of Market Hall Victoria. This used to be part of a bus depot outside of Victoria, and then for years after that it was a kinda tacky nightclub fenced in by the sorts of touristy, red-bus-keychain selling souvenir booths outside many of London’s stations, but with this last renovation, it became Market Hall Victoria. To quote their marketing material, “Market Halls are redefining the British concept of food halls. Our goal is to give you the best food and drink in London, all under one roof.” Yeah, it sounds like a mall food court. I was dubious. That was my first misconception. Well, in some respects, it actually is a mall food court. With one little detail different: the folks that arranged Market Hall Victoria really did their homework and have a solid set of food vendors with some real chops. There’s Kerbisher and Malt serving up fish and chips. Koya Ko selling some really good looking Japanese udon and ramen bowls. Bunshop selling some funky bao-like British buns (Beef and barley, rarebit, etc), and Baozi Inn selling authentic bao. And, well, a lot of other places. But the one that drew me in was Gopal’s Corner.

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A Wong (London, UK)

Like most years, this year we had another trip to London to visit with my relatives. This trip us arriving while my brother and sister-in-law were traveling, so we had a day and a half to explore London on our own. One place that had long been on our list was a small Chinese place just down the road from my brother’s flat: A. Wong. It’s been a Chinese place the entire time I’ve been visiting London, and circa 2013 changed names to A. Wong when the namesake, took over a small Chinese restaurant from his family. Since then, it’s gotten a fair amount of good press, and had long been on our “hit list” of places to check out. It’s not easy to get a reservation; ideally I’d want to do their “Tastes of China” tasting menu, but that required a 2:45 reservation and those were booked out for weeks. We were, however, able to score a 1:45 reservation for a la carte dining.

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Kazan (Pimlico, London, UK)

One of the cuisines I rather enjoy when I’m in London is Turkish food, since the London area has more than a few really delicious Turkish places. Previously, I’ve rather enjoyed outing to Tad in Hackney, and Likya in Golders Green, and there are literally dozens of other good Turkish restaurants around London. One of these, Kazan, is literally just down the road from my brother’s flat, and it’s been on our to-do list for a while (at least 2009, when we actually had breakfast at their sister restaurant Kazan Kitchen across the street). But various complications seem to always happen when we attempt to go there; three times our visit fell during a period when Kazan was closed for the holidays. Another time, we were unable to secure reservations. Yet another time, a power outage caused us to have to re-plan. But this visit, we made finally visiting Kazan a priority, and were finally able to visit.

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St John Maltby (Bermondsey, London, UK)

The day after our March, it was time to change gears a bit and recover. After a satisfying breakfast, it was time to head off to Bermondsey, meet up with Death Marchers that remained ambulatory, and do the Bermondsey Beer Mile, adding another handful of miles visiting eight different breweries as we relaxed from the previous day’s hike. However, mid-way through our Beer Mile, we ended up back at the Maltby Street Market for a short lunch break. While there are many great food options to be had there, like 40 Maltby, this time we had a more specific destination, and menu item in mind. It was finally time to get a bacon sandwich from St John.

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Health Check: The Regency Cafe (Pimlico, London, UK)

Every once in a while it’s nice for me to do a followup on old favorites, revisiting them and make sure that they are staying in form. One of my oldest reviews on this site is almost 12 years old: a visit to the famous Regency Cafe, which is pretty much the canonical British “Greasy Spoon” for the London area, attracting a wide cross-section of London society all looking for the classic, stick-to-your-ribs old-fashioned Full English Breakfast, aka a “Fry up”. Actually, this is probably my dozenth visit to the Regency “Caff” since first coming in 2006, I usually make it a point to visit at least once every trip (although holiday closings and my odd travel schedules have prevented that a few times). So, while they neighborhood has changed a bit (like much of London, sprouting newer, taller buildings), the Regency is still going strong.

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Nana Fanny’s (Borough Market, London, UK)

Despite the lack of reviews associated with our 20 mile “Death March” itself, don’t be fooled into thinking we weren’t eating. In addition to stopping for German Food, by mid-point of the March we’d also stopped for pork buns, a beer break, another 99 Flake, and even some mini donuts on the Thames. So we weren’t lacking for sustenance. But a bit after the halfway point of our walk, we hit one of our major stops: Borough Market. Long one of London’s major produce and specialty food markets, on the weekends (now expanding into most of the week) it’s a pretty major food destination, with one of the larger outdoor food markets. It was here in Borough Market that I found Nana Fanny’s and stopped for a quick “salt beef bagel”.

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German Food Truck (Portobello Road, London, UK)

Despite “eating” being one of the more substantial goals of our annual “Death March” tradition, there aren’t a lot of reviews from the walk along the way, mostly since Death March dining is primarily a matter of “grazing” as we hit various markets, train stations, and other light dining opportunities. However, we did find a few interesting and notable places along the way. The first of these was at London’s Portobello Road market. Portobello Road has long been known for its antique stores and Saturday morning market where people set up shop at various stalls hawking their antiques. But in recent years, it has increasingly become a street food market, with both a few vendors intermixed among the antiques, and a larger dedicate food market along Cambridge Gardens right after Portobello road passes under the A40, and a few of the vendors throughout Portobello Street are actually quite good and notable. One of these that caught our attention was a truck simply named “German Food”.

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Breakfast at Dishoom (Kings Cross, London, UK)

Sometimes I really enjoy when cuisine takes some interesting voyages to get from its origins to its current state. A good example of this is the concept of the Irani Bombay café. The Irani café concept dates back to the 19th century, when a large wave of Zoroastrian immigration into India resulted in a large number of cafés opening that were welcoming to a good cross-section of society; Sikh dining next to a Hindus and Zoroastrians, with an interesting Indo-Iranian cuisine focusing on chai, fragrant Biryanis (a dish that actually traces back to Iran), omelets, curries, and naans. It’s also, unfortunately, a culinary heritage that’s dying out, with fewer than 30 classic Irani cafés still remaining in Mumbai, and similar number in Hyderabad. Into this scene comes another migration, with British restaurateurs Shamil and Kavi Thakrar who decided to bring the concept to London. The result was Dishoom, a small chain of “Bombay-Style Cafes” (although the Thakrar cousins sold the chain in mid-2017).

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