One of the nice things about visiting London is that it is one of those metropolitan cities that still has a real Chinatown (well, like most any Chinatown, it is in constant flux and has a mixed history, like how it’s also the home of some of the French historical sites, like the Church of Notre Dame De France), and that means a chance for dim sum. This wasn’t our first London Chinatown dim sum foray (that being New World Chinese a few years back), but more than a few of London’s more reputable review sites all age that Imperial China is the ne plus ultra of London dim sum joints (hey, I can use French, it’s literally across the street from the French church!). So when my brother and I wanted to take my parents out for a Sunday dinner after church, we wandered over to Chinatown to check out Imperial China.
During our visit to the UK, my parents were also visiting as part of their 50th anniversary celebration (sorry it took so long to write this one up, folks…). My brother and I decided to take them (and our aunt) out for a nice family outing, so we opted for a trip to the Kew Gardens area, having a nice dinner at The Glasshouse followed by a walk in the Gardens.
On our last night in London, it was time to pay another visit to one of my old favorites, Zeret Kitchen in Camberwell. We reviewed them back in 2008, when they were a shining beacon of flavor in an otherwise fairly dismal stretch of Camberbell. You can read my 5 year old review here. Well, the intervening five years has seen one major change, since they’ve recently expanded into the next storefront (where it still says "Tony’s Cafe"). But more importantly, the food is still excellent.
As I mentioned in my recent review of Veg As You Go, the street outside my brother’s flat is now home to the fairly busy Tachbrook Street Market, with coffee vendors, fruit and veg vendors, and quite a few food stands. One of the better ones is Pad Thai, a vendor of, well, Newdlez Pad Thai, and the usually are sporting a 30 minute queue for food. But this time, we happened across them on a particularly rainy day, and were able to take advantage of the shorter lines due to the poor weather. Being a street vendor, Pad Thai doesn’t have a huge menu. The main courses are basically Pad Thai (six varieties, including chicken, shrimp, veggies, and related varieties) and Thai curries (yellow, red, green, and panaeng), as well as a few other noodle dishes. They’ve also got a variety of starters.
We always enjoy some good Vietnamese food when traveling, since it’s one of the cuisines that we really don’t find around rural NH. So, on our last Sunday in London, we decided to head up to Shoreditch. While London definitely doesn’t have anywhere near as much of a Vietnamese population as the United States, it still has enough Vietnamese people to have a reasonably good community and several restaurants, mostly centered in Shoreditch, mostly located on Kingsland Road, and one of the best-regarded places is Sông Quê, where we were meeting up with Sophie’s brother and family for lunch. We had tried to go here before (in 2010, when Rick and Sarah Scully were with us), but they were closed, and we ended up down the street at Tay Do, which was quite good as well. This time, however, Sông Quê was open.
Every once in a while I encounter a place that’s not really a restaurant, but still deserves at least a mention here. In this case, we were walking through London, on our way to meet up with some folks for Vietnamese food in Shoreditch, but were running early, and decided to stop and have a coffee. Doing a quick search of the area, several people recommended The Bridge Coffee House, so we decided to check it out.
When my brother moved to London back in 2008, I thought it was neat that the building he lived in had a pub right downstairs. Problem was, that particular pub, the Pimlico Tram, was actually a lousy pub with a not terribly great clientele. But then something marvelous happened: the Pimlico Tram closed, and instead pub owner Martin Hayes refurbished the place and re-opened it as the Cask Pub and Kitchen. And, practically overnight, the lousy pub downstairs became the hip new pub downstairs, with a particularly good selection of British and imported beers, eight hand-pulled handles, and a reasonably good selection of pub grub. And starting that year, they’ve continued a run of excellence, with several awards including multiple winnings of The Publican Magazine Pub of the Year, Great British Pub Awards’ Best Cask Ale Pub in London, and CAMRA’s West London Pub of the Year. Enough so that I can’t even keep track of it. Meanwhile, they’ve been expanding, including more beers on tap, and, more importantly, sister pubs, with several locations of the Craft Beer Co open throughout Greater London (Craft is basically the same concept as Cask, but without the food). I hadn’t reviewed Cask before, since I generally don’t review pubs unless there’s something particularly notable about them or their food, and, quite frankly, I hadn’t been terribly impressed by Cask’s pub food in the past. However, starting in 2012, Cask significantly re-tooled their menu. On Sunday nights they still do the traditional “Sunday Roast”, but the rest of the week their kitchen transforms into Forty Burgers.
And we always like to go to at least one higher-end restaurant every time we visit London. This time, my brother picked Bocca di Lupo ("Mouth of the Wolf") in Soho, with a lunch reservation (since it turned out that, six weeks out, a reasonable dinner reservation for four was difficult) for lunch. In any case, Bocca is regarded as one of London’s best Italian Restaurants, despite the issues in getting a seat (although the brave and the individual traveler should note that Bocca di Lupo’s bar overlooking the kitchen is reserved for walk-ins). It’s also one of the places that seems to be embracing the open kitchen concept. While that concept has been raging in the US for several years, it doesn’t seem to be nearly as common in the UK, but at Bocca you can see most of the cooking happening mere feet from some of the diners at the bar (not always to ones’ benefit, since at one point someone working the line obviously burnt some onions).
Our next evening in London was a bit of an exploration. We started off by heading to Seven Dials for drinks at Detroit. Despite a name that makes most Americans snicker, it’s actually a rather good cocktail bar, and for bonus points, we got to meet up with Richard Barnett, the author of the most excellent Book of Gin. After Detroit, we decided to do dinner in the area. The immediate Soho/Covent Garden area has rather a few decent Indian places (in particular, we’ve previously enjoyed The Punjab, London’s oldest Indian restaurant, which was booked solid this time). We ended up at Mela, an Indian place on Shaftesbury that has a rather good reputation as well.
Our next day in London, we decided to do the tourist thing. Out in East Greenwich, Emirates Airlines built the Emirates Air Line, a cable car from the Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Docks. It’s a bit of an odd transit option, connecting two points that normal people nor tourists usually need to go between, but it’s also shockingly high and gives a great view of the city. We also used it as an excuse to take the Thames Clipper river boat service to get there, which was a surprisingly pleasant and efficient way to get from downtown London (Millbank Pier) to Greenwich. On the way back, we were hungry, so we decided to stop off in Greenwich and check out the Gipsy Moth, a modest pub that’s near both Greenwich Pier and the Cutty Sark.