Category: Food

Answering the siren call of David Suchet

Oh, I love London Society! It is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics. Just what Society should be.
–Oscar Wilde

The conversation that led to this adventure, almost verbatim:

Me: “David Suchet is in the Importance of Being Earnest, in drag, as Lady Bracknell. I’m not so much asking for permission to buy tickets…as telling you that we’re going.”
Jeff: “Obviously.”

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Excuse the hilarious faux-fashion shot (stolen from Jeff’s Instagram) but I finally got the chance to break in my kimono evening jacket after scoring it for a bargain when good-luck-charm Caitlin was in town, and it was an event that needed to be documented.

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And if ever there was a night for pink suede stilettos, Oscare Wilde calls for it, I feel.

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Beloved in this household as the definitive Agatha Christie’s Poirot, the guy has some serious comedy chops. It’s impossible to leave an Oscar Wilde production feeling glum, but on this occasion we downright laughed ourselves silly and left in a good mood to forage up some dinner. Happily we quite literally stumbled upon Sticks’n’Sushi in Covent Garden, who proceeded to put a dent in our wallets because the food was so darn good that we couldn’t stop ordering it.

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In a final burst of hedonism, we went for their combo deserts which I cannot recommend enough. The “black” box (as opposed to the “white”) was particularly delicious, but scarfed down my bergamot creme brulee with the most enjoyment.

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Yeah to Yeah! Burger

“Yeeaaaahhh!”
– Every CSI Miami episode ever

We are always up to include a new burger in our rotation but I’ll be honest, it takes quite a lot to impress us. We know from burgers, guys.

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And so let me, with that very humble intro, make you known to Yeah! Burger. Currently serving out of two pub locations, it’s a sort of pop-up-but-not-at-all sort of joint that makes some truly gorgeous meals. We have only every made it to the Star of Kings, near Kings Cross station which is a fabulous venue in it’s own right. It’s an eclectic mix of old new, Empire, and modern Britannic goodness. Victorian taxidermy and beat up leather sofas, modern lighting in one corner, antique mirrors in the other, and the fabulous, woody smell of a really good pub throughout.

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And as for the food!

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Bonus husband objectifying. 

I have loved everything we’ve ever eaten here, each burger is a delight. Piled with toppings and sauces, it’s nearly impossible to go wrong. However I give my very enthusiastic recommendation for the hombre fries, to which Jeff adds his furious cosign, and my favorite is the O.G. because I’ve never met an avocado I didn’t like.

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In fact, the first time we ate there we were so impressed that we went back a scant week later and took advantage of the sunlight by eating on their patio. Summer in London is a lovely piece of work, but you have definitely got to seize the Vitamin D when you can. We want to make it back again in the near future, hopefully while we still have daylight during sensible hours, but the way the weather’s been recently, no promises. About the outdoor eating, I mean, the eating itself is definitely happening.

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MEATliquor – not MEAT-licker it turns out

“When people pile seven things onto one burger, it drives me nuts!”
– Bobby Flay

Jeff is extraordinarily good at managing our culinary escapades here in London. A fair amount of the restaurants, markets, or goodies featured here at SDS are due to his fairly consistent research into the city’s food scene. I mean, I enjoy a good nosh and do my best to stay abreast of the food news, but for him, it’s more of a calling. So when he read about MEATliquor, conveniently nestled just behind Debenham’s on Bond Street, he immediately put it at the top of our To Try list. Our quest for London’s best burgers is never ending, after all, and it would be a shameful shirking of our duty to let a place as favourably talked about as this go untried.

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True to its name, the menu is divided pretty squarely into burgers and booze. Although, having been raised teetotal, its nomenclature caused a moment of hilarity. Until we set foot in the joint, every time I heard the name, what I heard and saw in my head was “Meat-licker.” When the menu was set down in front of me I had a good laugh at myself. Naivete notwithstanding, there are plenty of nice things to drink for the virtuous and I can particularly recommend the Brown Cow, a root beer float. And let the record show that is high praise coming from me as I traditionally have not been root beer floats’ biggest fan.

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The artwork is decidedly punk and not particularly child friendly, so I’d recommend keeping this a grownups only meet up place. However I can squarely assert that the soundtrack is fantastic, rock and blues without stop. We prefer not to deal with crowds when we don’t have to so we went during the lunch hour, but apparently at dinner the line can stretch down the street. There is a sign of hilarious “waiting line rules” that I failed utterly to snap a photo of but must try to nab on a future look in.

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This was our first visit to MEATliquor but not our last because the burgers really are very nice. And for my money, this place makes the best onion rings I have had in London to date, bar none. Jeff is a fan of the chili cheese fries but always manages to eat a suspicious amount of my rings anyway, the sneak. There are no napkins, just paper towels, the only mustard is French’s, and everything is served on a single tray when it comes to the table. It’s the precisely correct amount of gritty fun you need when you’re looking for a juicy burger on a weekend ramble.

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Flesh & Buns

“What a strange thing!
to be alive
beneath cherry blossoms.”
― Kobayashi Issa, Poems

Flesh & Buns, located in Covent Garden, is a restaurant based on the idea of Japanese after work socializing and partying at Izakayas. It’s a sister project to Bone Daddies, a ramen restaurant decorated with rockabilly art and old Japanese advertising artwork. Flesh & Buns takes the food to the next level by offering more complex food while rock music blasts. Sushi and AD/DC, what is not to like!

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The menu consists of mostly small plates to share (or keep for yourself, as the case may be), plus the signature “flesh and buns.” Steamed buns are constantly in production to be served along a number of kinds of meats that you can slice, dice, and shred to your heart’s content. But I get ahead of myself, because the small plates are delicious.

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We sat at the long table running down the length of the restaurant (communal dining is still all the rage), tucked in our elbows to minimize damage to our neighbors, and went to town on the goods! All the dishes are based on traditional Japanese cuisine, but with gorgeous modern and fusion twists. The grilled sweet potatoes and mixed seafood ceviche were the clear winners, as far as we’re concerned.

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The kitchen is open and just feet to my left, head chef Jo McCafferty was in command, with a pile of steaming bun baskets behind him. It’s fascinating to see a full kitchen in action, with various stations manned by specialist chefs producing the dishes and coordinating them into meals. It might be nerdy, but I like getting behind-the-scenes looks at things, and venues that open up the background to view are always fun to go to.

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Since moving to the UK, I’ve discovered a deep and abiding love for duck (which I frankly never ate much of before), so it was an easy choice to choose the duck breast for our “flesh.” The buns were brought out piping hot and Jeff did the honors of putting the bundles of flavor together.

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I know nothing about sake, but there is a lengthy selection to choose from, and for the virtuous or the disinclined toward alcohol, there are fun alternatives. And as for deserts, there are the weirdest but loveliest concoctions. I had a black sesame creme brulee, and failed utterly to take photos, while Jeff had a sundae made with tea flavored ice cream. We tend to favor solidly sweet deserts so these were a change of pace, but were unusual enough to be a lot of fun and worth a try.

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Flesh & Buns, 41 Earlham St, London WC2H 9LX

Two Words: Customer Loyalty

“Buy what you don’t have yet, or what you really want, which can be mixed with what you already own. Buy only because something excites you, not just for the simple act of shopping.”
― Karl Lagerfeld

Our Easter weekend meanderings was a fascinating example of the best of shop culture that I’ve found in Britain and not found anywhere else. America might be run by consumer culture, but I’ve never lived anywhere that does shops like I’ve found here. On the other hand, I shouldn’t be surprised, Britain has been built on shopkeepers and mercantilism for centuries. But in an age of brand shopping, fast fashion, ready made everything, and general convenience being king, it’s kind of great to see how personal business can be.

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Our first stop of the day was Alexeeva and Jones, to pick up some Easter chocolate. We got to chatting with the woman assisting us, and it turns out that she was one of the founders! I expressed how much I enjoy the fun and unusual chocolates they carry and she immediately asked if I was a repeat customer, and had I been given a discount? Yes, and no respectively. She immediately whipped out her business card and wrote us a personal 10% coupon, no expiry date.

Feeling pretty pleased, we headed up to 282 Portobello Road. I have been on the hunt for a tweed jacket for months and to be frank, most off the rack stuff doesn’t fit me. I’m a petite woman with a short waist, and a definite hourglass figure, but broad ribs. It’s a tricky business finding me any clothing that fits correctly–believe in tailoring, kittens–and I’ve not had a lot of luck with jackets in general.

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As far as I’m concerned, if you’re looking for vintage clothing that focuses on classic British houses, cuts, and tailoring, Claudia is the woman you need to see. I’ve written of my unabashed enthusiasm for her before, but life and work have been so busy for months now and I haven’t had the time to visit old favorite haunts. Well, after months of looking in all the wrong places, I walked into 282, and found a 1950s jacket almost immediately that looked like it was cut to my exact frame. The sleeve length, the lapels, the fit…it’s perfect. As she was ringing us up, Claudia glanced over at us and declared, “You guys have been here before.” We had, but as a mentioned, it hadn’t been in months. I said as much but she just beamed, “I love it when people come back and find something they love.” And she gave me an instant price reduction.

Finally, on Sunday we went to Spitalfields to get a “scotch egg brownie” from Flavourtown Bakery–maker of the finest cupcakes in the city, as determined by SDS Industries. We hang out at Spitalfields regularly on the weekends and have been buying treats from Flavourtown for months. The owner recognizes us, knows our favorites, and makes recommendations. That day was no different except that we had a long chat about how they’ve started supplying two of the most famous department store foodhalls in the city, how one of their lead team members had to leave due to family reasons, and the general ups and downs they’ve experienced. In the end, we bought a box of cupcakes (along with some helpful tips on how best to freeze them so as not to glut ourselves on sugar), and got the last “secret” flavor of the week cupcake thrown in. Pro tip, like them on Facebook, fans get extra treats.

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In rapid succession, I saw how personal relationships build business. As someone who has (believe it or not, based on this post) tried to cut down on a lot of unneeded consumerism in her life, it was an insightful weekend. A woman learned I valued her product and immediately provided me a way to enjoy it more, benefiting us both. Another woman recognized me as a repeat customer who expresses enthusiasm for what she’s enthusiastic about, and helped me get something I’ve wanted for months for just a little bit less. I know I’ll be back to buy from her again, and it has nothing to do with the discount. And finally, a guy who probably enables my sweet tooth too much, and who has countless of customers across multiple markets and shops, takes time to recognize his regulars and engage with them genuinely. As a result, we make it a point to keep coming back to say hi and see how he’s doing. We inevitably come away with a treat.

It’s not just these guys either! Now that the weather is warming up, I’m shopping at markets again and I get recognized by produce stand owners, cheesemongers, and breadmakers. I’ve asked shopkeepers for advice from cloth to cuts of meat and gotten minor educations. I don’t know if it’s the tradition, the relative small size of the country, or just something in the culture, but the British do shops far better than anywhere I’ve lived, and they seem to do a better job about sustaining them as well. It is possible to build a business out of something someone is desperately passionate about here in a way I’ve not found in a lot of other places. I hope I never have to give them up.

Easter Weekend Brunching

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.”
― A.A. Milne

A four day weekend meant that we got to get out and spend some time exploring the city with reduced crowds, since a surprising amount of the population heads elsewhere on holiday. The weather is just starting to turn to spring and daylight savings time kicked in so the light lasts long enough to get your vitamin D back on track after months of deprivation. We needed to get out, we needed to do something nice. In short, we needed brunch.

We headed to Grainger & Co. in Notting Hill, a place I’ve wanted to try for ages due to it’s reputation for Ricotta Hotcakes. Because, obviously!

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There are no reservations at this location, and there is normally a huge wait, but thanks to the holiday, we were seated in about 20 minutes. I’ve seen some tourists completely lose their cool over a wait time like that, but for plenty of Londoners that’s a breeze! You spend time talking, you gauge the menu, you chat with the people in line, you charm the staff so they provide you regular updates, you enjoy yourself. We’ve slowed our eating time since moving abroad, and it’s been much for the better.

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I geeked out irrationally over the hot chocolate, made with actual chocolate and milk that you mix together for yourself and sweeten (or not) as you see fit. The last time I had a pot made thus I was in Brussels, so it was a welcome treat to put together.

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A major joy of a long weekend is lack of makeup (minus lipstick of course) and headband you pretend are “workout chic” fashionable.

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Ricotta hotcakes, kids. Don’t just walk, run.

Pancakes as we think of them have only recently started worming their way into Britain. What they think of as pancakes is far closer to crepes in the American view, so occasionally I get a craving that typically cannot be fulfilled without substantial effort on my part (since I’ve only found buttermilk sold in a single store in hilariously small quantities). It’s bothersome, but it gives me a chance to explore when something like this comes along. These hotcakes are fluffy and light but still manage to have a slightly dense and pleasantly chewy aspect to them due to the ricotta. They are incredibly filling, topped with honeycomb butter, and sing when topped with maple syrup (also not terribly find-able in London).

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Jeff went for the “Full Aussie” breakfast which, according to Jeff, is an improvement on the Full English. Either way, I can attest that the sourdough toast is amazing and I have no idea how they get their eggs looking like that but it tastes pretty darn good.

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After brunch we decided to wander Hyde Park a bit and even though some of the trees were still a bit bare…

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Others were over winter.

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But the real highlight was seeing what was in the trees! Several years ago some parakeets escaped captivity and took up residence. Today, they can be found in all the major London parks! I’m sure there’s a valid conversation to be had about invasive species, but I can’t help be be delighted to have finally glimpsed these jewel toned birds finally.

 

Dinner at El Nivel

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

The bad news, kittens, is that while I’ve found plenty that is decent, I’ve yet to find solidly amazing Mexican food in London.

The good news is that I might have found something better.

The other week, Jeff and I were both feeling battered from a pretty shattering time at work (which isn’t yet done, alas) and when we looked grimly in the direction of the kitchen and tried to contemplate dinner, realised we just couldn’t. The very idea was hateful. So we hopped online to try and swing a last minute meal. Back before we descended into the work-fog of the last six months, we were pretty good at researching shows we wanted to see, free things to do around the city, and interesting places to eat. We’ve gotten slightly out of the habit so it was gratifying to spend only a few minutes online when we found El Nivel and immediately we made a reservation.

It turned out to be a wise move because El Nivel truly is a hidden gem and getting in is not easy. First of all, it’s housed above another food joint and if you aren’t keeping a sharp eye out, you will miss the door directing you upstairs to food bliss. Second, it is tiny. The whole dining area contained a bar and half a dozen tables, and I’m pretty sure the floor space is about equivalent to our flat, which is saying something. In spite of the size, the place is laid out for chic casual dining and the first floor windows look out over a popular pub and brewery, and slightly into some of the windows of the Adelphi Theatre where I’m pretty sure I caught glimpses of costumes and wigs.

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Blink and you might miss it!

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This is, in essence, the entirety of the restaurant!

The food purports to be Mexican tapas, and it is…but it’s also unabashedly fusion. In a way that sounds like it shouldn’t work but does–gloriously. The menu changes constantly but when we were there, items like “chili verde” were cheerful mixed up with others like “Chinese pancakes.” We just ordered a bunch of stuff and dug in because it all looked (and turned out to be) delicious! The guacamole, for instance, contained strawberries and pomegranate seeds, which turn out to rock the socks off of a humble tortilla chip. Not pictured but noteworthy is the salsa verde…the first proper salsa I have tasted since alighting on these shores and worth a revisit for that alone.

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I heartily recommend the chicken tacos. Little packets of refreshing goodness, with lime, ginger, and fresh pico doing the nicest possible things to your mouth. I ate one and then laid claim to the second of three, telling Jeff he didn’t get a say in the matter. I probably would have eaten all three but he wisely popped his in his mouth before I could get to it.

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I’ve been loving my work, but it is demanding and after some of the days I’ve had, there comes a point where you just need to throw on some lipstick and go on a date.

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Even if your boyfriend seems to be wearing a potted plant as a fascinator. My dining tastes may have improved, the photography to capture them has not.

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