Okay, here it is finally: the last report from our London trip in June. Yes, almost exactly nine months ago. We spent 10 days in London after a week in Scotland; it was mostly a nostalgia trip. We spent three months there as a family in the spring of 2017 and loved it to the point of fantasizing about ways to move there, either now or in retirement (there are no such ways). We particularly loved being there with our kids—with wonderful parks and free museums and a wide range of food, London is really a wonderful place to visit with children. And so we’d hoped we’d be able to go back with them. We didn’t expect, however, that it would happen as soon as it did. But a conference in Edinburgh that we could both attend presented itself and we decided to splurge and take the boys with us and add on extra days in the north of Scotland and in London. They’re still so young that they’re unlikely to remember their longer time in London clearly without added reinforcement; and with work paying for airfare it was doable without too much of a wrench. Continue reading
Here now, almost nine months after our return to Minnesota, is an account of the last restaurant meal we ate on our trip to London last June. After our very good meal at Tandoor Chop House we were ready for one more good Indian meal in London before returning to the land of interchangeable currry houses. Alas, it turned out to be the least of all the meals we had on the trip. This came as a big surprise because a) Indian restaurants in London are generally pretty good, and b) it has been reviewed very well and is apparently very successful. We found it to be all flash and no substance. The food wasn’t bad but it wasn’t very good either. Continue reading
I have been mocked cruelly on at least one food forum for posting meal reviews eight months after the fact. Well, not only does this review come eight months after the meal was eaten, I have seen fit to post it despite the fact that it only involved three dishes. I am not ashamed. We first ate at Rasa Sayang—one of the two Malaysian restaurants in London’s Chinatown (C&R is the other)—on our extended stay in London in the spring of 2017 (here is my first review). We’d planned to go back again before we left but when we did we found that it was closed for renovations. On that occasion we went to the nearby Baiwei instead and had a very good Sichuan lunch, but we still came back to Minnesota with a laksa-shaped hole in our hearts that the version at Peninsula in Minneapolis couldn’t quite plug. Accordingly, on our trip this past June we stopped in for a quick meal before park, museum and theatre action. I am glad to report that the changes in the restaurant’s look have not affected the quality of the food and nor have the prices gone up. Continue reading
If Fergus Henderson of St. John is one of the most important figures in contemporary British cuisine, Yotam Ottolenghi is another. Their food does not have much in common—where Henderson is famous for cooking in a re-articulated English vernacular, Ottolenghi’s food slants more Mediterranean. But in other ways their philosophies seem similar: both do a lot with vegetables; both eschew the trappings of high-powered fine dining for more casual service—Ottolenghi is most known for his delis which offer mostly take-out service, and even at the locations with formal seating the menus are not heavy on cooked to order items; both also embrace a non-fussy approach to cooking and plating—at neither St. John nor at Ottolenghi are you going to find multiple elements and techniques on a plate and nor is prettification a goal in the presentation. Both seek, you might say, to elevate the humble; both also embrace communal dining as an aesthetic/experience: at St. John you are at separate tables but feel like you are in a mess hall; at Ottolenghi long communal dining tables are the norm.
Back to London in June, this time not to a restaurant (though I did eat some tasty food there). No, this is a brief account of an evening spent in the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s Members’ Room in London. I am not a member of the Society. It never seems to make sense to join in the US, but if I lived in London or Edinburgh I would be all over it. This is because while in the US we only have a few “Partner Bars” where SMWS whiskies may be sampled, London and Edinburgh have Members’ Rooms where you can try whiskies from current and recent outturns and even get a taste of things about to be bottled. And the Members’ Room at 19 Greville St. in London is very nice indeed. How did I get in even though I am not a member? Well, a member can bring a guest and I was the guest of someone who is a member not just of the SMWS but also of the OWI (Online Whisky Illuminati): Billy Abbott. Continue reading
There are many things that make living in London superior to living in Minnesota—better theatre, museums full of colonial loot, amazing parks, great cheese, proper public transportation, the lack of polar vortexes (and 18 months of winter more generally) etc. etc.. It should be said though that while the food scene is generally far superior it is not consistently so: the Twin Cities metro has better Mexican and Thai food and our Sichuan is not far behind either. However, when it comes to Malaysian food, London is in a different league; to be fair it’s far ahead of any city in the US in that regard.
In one of my reviews from 2017 I noted why this should be so: the Malaysian diasporic population in the UK is far larger than that of the US and is concentrated in a much smaller area. As with South Asian cuisines and populations, these disparities—of demographics and food quality—have to do with colonialism. You can basically tell which first world countries (neo)-colonized which third world countries by looking to see which immigrant cuisines are the best there. As unfortunate as the historical reasons are, it does mean that London has very good Malaysian food compared to anywhere in the US, and as we love Malaysian food and get very few opportunities to enjoy it here we eat it in London every chance we get. Continue reading
Having managed to post all my Hong Kong meal reports a mere month after my return from that trip, I am now going to try to finish up with restaurant meals from our trip to London in June (!). I have previously written up a Sichuan meal in Earl’s Court and a Korean meal in New Malden; here now is an Indian meal in Covent Garden. Tandoor Chop House, which vaguely marries the concept of a steak house with a menu heavy on meats cooked in a tandoor, had flashed on my radar when we were living in London for three months in 2017 but a poor review from Jay Rayner in the The Guardian had made me wary. He’d compared it unfavourably to Tayyab’s and while I liked our lunch at Tayyabs fine, I was not particularly impressed by it either. Since then, however, I’d read more encouraging reports and so decided to give it a go on this trip. With us were three Indian friends—two friends from my Delhi University days who were coincidentally visiting from the US at the same time as us, and one visiting from Delhi. All of us liked the meal very, very much. Continue reading
Okay, back to London in June and back to Sichuan food. We’d planned to eat at the Sichuan Chef on our much longer trip in 2017, after seeing a Fuchsia Dunlop tweet about it but somehow it never came to pass. It had apparently just opened then, a branch of Sichuan Folk in Spitalfields—which we also did not eat at. But on this trip we were staying within walking distance of it in Chelsea. As it happened, we ate there right after moving to our AirBnB from our friends’ place in Kingston, building up our appetite with a 25 minute walk, and then walking off our meal at the Natural History Museum. Continue reading
Okay, let’s take a break from Hong Kong and go back to June again. After the end of our Scotland sojourn we went down to London for ten days. For the first few days we stayed with good friends in Kingston and then moved to an AirBnB in Chelsea. While in Kingston our friends took us to a Korean restaurant in New Malden, a nearby town which is apparently one of the Korean hubs of the Greater London area—indeed, when we lived in London in 2017 New Malden is where we came from Korean groceries. We were all very interested to see what the food at Sorabol would be like. In 2017 Korean restaurants didn’t seem to be very prominent in London—I’m not sure what the Korean population in Greater London is or if our impression of the presence of Korean restaurants is accurate. At any rate, we quite liked the food at Sorabol. Continue reading
Here now, a scant 8.5 months after our first meal there and a mere 5.5 months after we returned from the UK, is a writeup of the first restaurant we ate at in London: Ma La Sichuan, a hop, skip and jump from the door of our flat in Westminster. When we were flat-hunting a few months earlier, long-distance via the help of a friend on the ground, one of the things that had caught our eye about the one we ended up taking was that it was about a 45 second walk from one of London’s better-reviewed Sichuan restaurants. We figured Ma La Sichuan would be our regular go-to for dining-in and taking out. Things didn’t quite work out that way, though we did eat here a few hours after arrival, after dropping our luggage off at the flat, and one more time after that. Why didn’t we eat here more often? Read on. Continue reading
Not counting lunch at Pret a Manger at the airport the next day, this was our last meal on our big UK trip earlier this year. We returned from Glasgow that afternoon to find that in the 10 days we’d been gone a heatwave had hit London. We managed to get from King’s Cross to Heathrow with our luggage without dying of heatstroke and took a cab to our hotel (in the ring of business hotels around Heathrow). The dinner options were to eat expensively at the hotel or to look for things close by. Sipson Tandoori was a short cab ride away and as the internet did not disclose mass deaths by food poisoning among its customers, it was there we repaired. It’s a regulation curry house but it seemed appropriate to end our UK eating at a regulation curry house. As it happened, it was not a bad meal. Continue reading
I said in my review of meals at Smoking Goat, the hip and casual Thai restaurant in Bloomsbury, that it’s not the kind of place where you should expect tom yum or drunken noodles or large bowls of curry. Thai Square, however, is. It’s a chain with a large number of locations in London (though very far from the ubiquity of Itsu) and they all serve fairly mainstream Thai food. Having walked by a number of their locations over our first few weeks in London, we finally succumbed to our curiosity on leaving the V&A at lunch time one Friday and seeing their South Kensington location close at hand. Herewith the details. Continue reading
Salaam Namaste in the general Russell Square/Bloomsbury area, within walking distance of Chilli Cool and Noble Rot—and also the British Library and the Dickens Museum, for those whose lives are driven more by their brains than their bellies—would be one of the best Indian restaurants in most American cities. In London it occupies a middle ground between curry houses like Punjab and Ajanta and far more ambitious and fancy (and expensive) Michelin-bait places like Tamarind, Trishna, Quilon or the Cinnamon Club (yes, I know Cinnamon Club doesn’t actually have a Michelin star). Of the last mentioned set they’re closest in conception to Tamarind, presenting updated curry house fare along with putative regional fare. I organized a large group dinner here towards the end of our London sojourn. Continue reading
There were four restaurants we ate at in London that were within a few minutes walk from our flat. I’ve already written up two of them: Cinnamon Club at the pricey and ambitious end of the spectrum and The Laughing Halibut at the fish and chips end of the spectrum. The others are a Sichuan restaurant we ate our first meal in London at (and another later) and Munich Cricket Club, where we would have eaten our second meal out in London if they aren’t closed on Sundays (we ended up at Quilon instead—fair trade). We didn’t actually ending up eating there till our last evening in London proper (right before we left for Scotland; we had another evening in Hounslow on the way from Scotland back to Minnesota). I know these details are deeply fascinating to you all. You’re welcome. Continue reading