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.
The next day in London, we decided to go on a walking tour of the London Underground from London Walks, which was a rather insightful romp through Baker Street, King’s Cross, Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Embankment, and Westminster Tube stations, and one I highly recommend. But at the end of our tour, we found ourselves by Piccadilly Circus and hungry for lunch. With the fond memories of our trip to Bone Daddies still fresh in our head, we were again hungry for Ramen. This time we checked out Shoryu, who has one location a short walk from the Circus.
Well, after six days in Belgium, it was time to pack up our bags, head back over to Brussels’ Station Midi, and take the Eurostar back to England. Two hours later, we found ourselves back in Central London at St Pancras station, and a short tube ride down the Victoria line had us back in Pimlico. And, after that voyage, we were starting to get hungry, but several days of eating mussels, steaks, filet americain, and the like had us craving something at least a bit healthier, so we decided it was time for a trip down the street to get some falafel. Luckily, my brother lives off of Tachbrook Street, home of the Tachbrook Street Market. While Tachbrook Street has been a nice little street market for several years (longer than I’ve been coming to London), a few years ago the Westminster City Council did a substantial renovation: the road is now more or less permanently a street market and not a vehicular passage, utility hookups are provided for all the vendors (in neat little boxes that fold up out of the street), and most importantly, it has a lot more vendors and more regular hours. Monday through Saturday, 8 am through 6pm, the places is filled with vendors, most of them food vendors, ranging from grocers, to a coffee stand, to prepared food vendors, all selling from their stalls. And one of the more regular vendors is a Middle Eastern falafel joint, Veg As You Go.